Some Sort of Trinity
What a pleasure it has been over the past few years moderating the Facebook Mirror-Touch Synesthesia page. In committing to this project, I’ve found the loveliest opportunities to create MTS community, and to connect with fellow MTS synesthetes. It’s been both surprising and inspiring to field inquiries from folks who are curious about mirror-sensory phenomena, or to point these people to the best source for answers to their questions about MTS. I’m rather awed by the international reach of the mirror-touch page, and while Facebook is going through some serious growing pains, I’m confident that the global synesthesia community will continue to benefit from our capacity to connect via the interwebs and social media.
While I’ve managed this page for more than 2 years, I’ve noticed a recent increase in queries, most certainly fostered by Maureen Seaberg’s fascinating article in Glamour Magazine featuring Megan Pohlmann, a pediatric nurse who has mirror-touch. And, I anticipate this uptick in interest to continue over the course of 2018. Dr. Joel Salinas MD has an upcoming Cambridge TED talk, and both Megan and Joel will appear on the Today show on Tuesday April 10th. The CNN Mirror-Touch “Great Big Story” will hit 750,000 views in the next few days. And, as mirror-touch synaesthetes become increasingly vocal, I anticipate we will hear more fascinating stories about living with this neurological trait.
The questions and comments that come my way regarding mirror-touch synaesthesia have helped me understand how difficult it can be for people who don’t have synaesthesia to understand what it’s like to have conflated senses. But what’s even more challenging is fielding inquiries from people who seem to have experiences that are similar to MTS, but aren’t (to the best of my knowledge) synaesthetic in origin.
Every week, I get at least a few responses on the Mirror Touch Facebook page from someone who writes that when they walk into a room and find another person who is sad or troubled, they feel those emotions. Or, they write about how keenly they feel other peoples experiences…their joys, fears, and heartaches. These individuals often tell me how relieved and happy they are to know there’s a name for this….mirror-touch. What these people are describing, though, is not mirror-touch; it’s empathy. Some of these respondents are so profoundly in touch with other people’s emotional experiences, I think it would be accurate to call them empaths.
Dr. Judith Orloff MD writes extensively about the topic of empathy and highly sensitive persons. I really like her definition of the empath as one who “internalizes the feelings and pain of others — and often [has] trouble distinguishing someone else’s discomfort from [their] own. I find the empath’s tremendous sense of connection with their fellow creatures quite remarkable. Additionally, I feel fortunate to have a friend and colleague, a brilliant practitioner of Chinese medicine, who truly embodies Dr. Orloff’s description.
But mirror-touch synaesthesia is not the same thing as a finely tuned sense of empathy. MTS causes individuals to experience the same sensation (touch) that another person feels. For example, if someone with this condition were to observe someone else touching their own cheek, the synaesthete would feel the same sensation on their cheek. As an MTS synesthete I literally feel on my body what I see with my eyes. Got a rash on your skin? My skin will feel tingly in the same location. Is the wind blowing your hair onto your face? My face will feel the ticklish sensation of hair on my face. But if you’re crying, I’m not going to cry too, and if you’re elated, I won’t feel elated along with you. It’s literally that straighforward….what I see I feel. But I won’t mirror your emotional state.
I also get comments from people who work in the healing arts and share how, as soon as they see their patient, they know exactly what is wrong with that person. Or, when they put their hands on their client, they get images of that person’s health concerns. While this level of intuition is astounding, it too is not the same thing as mirror-touch synaesthesia. I think of these people as medical intuitives. I know very little about this type of perception, but I have read books by both Dr. Mona Lisa Schulz, MD, and Caroline Myss, two highly regarded experts in the field. I learned enough from reading their respective works to know that I definitly do not have that level of intuition, but I’m certain plenty of other people do.
It seems likely that there are many people who have an overlap in two of more of these conditions….MTS synaesthetes who are also empaths, empaths who have medical intuition, medical intutives who have mirror-touch. And, I’m sure there are some people who have all three. It also seems possible that the brain aberrations that foster synaesthesia also open one’s unconscious mind to other subtle ways of perceiving. As scientists continue to study synaesthesia, and artists continue to create from the experience of joined sensation, I’m certain some of these questions will be answered. But for now, I will continue thinking of these three traits as a sort of trinity, each representing a form of amplified human perception.