“I Feel Your Pain”: What It’s Like To Have Mirror-Touch Synesthesia

In Harper Lee’s iconic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus tells his daughter Scout, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” People with mirror-touch synesthesia don’t have to climb into someone’s skin to understand how they feel — all they have to do is look at them. Mirror-touch synesthesia is the ability to see and feel what other people are seeing or feeling. It's like empathy, only 100 times stronger. It can be so severe that it disrupts your life if you have the condition. Only about 2% of people in the entire world experience mirror-touch synesthesia, so it's a pretty rare condition. People with mirror-touch synesthesia report experiencing first-hand sensations when viewing touch or pain in others. Let’s say they saw someone being touched on the face: they would feel it on their face. The first reported case of mirror-touch synesthesia occurred in 2004 in a patient called C. When observing someone else being touched, she would also experience the same touch on her body. Although she had experienced this sensation her whole life, she didn't realize it was abnormal until reporting it to someone else. After realizing that her perception was abnormal, she realized that her first cousin also has mirror-touch synesthesia, suggesting that it could be genetic. Most people with mirror-touch synesthesia are able to manage their condition through medication and therapy to minimize the sensory overload.