Synesthesia takes many forms; I see letters and numbers in color that isn’t really there. I didn’t talk about it as a child, because I thought this was how everyone saw things. I was a teenager when I learned that this was actually a condition with a name. The initial sense of disconnect from “normal” people was replaced with a sense of community between my fellow synesthetes. By sharing my experience with others, I learned that none of us see exactly the same colors. Suddenly, I went from feeling kinship to feeling completely isolated again. It was the realization that no one can see exactly what I see.
That realization is a universal truth. No matter who you are, you have a wholly unique experience of the world. When two people look at the same picture, their eyes may see what is in front of them, but their brains fill in the context based on all they have lived through to that point. What you feel, what you dream, what you do behind closed doors, what you hope for the future, all becomes part of your very different view of the world.
The need to be understood is human nature, and feeling misunderstood can be a source of extreme anxiety and even social isolation. It can be frustrating to explain and repeat yourself, or to have people judge you without knowing the whole story. In reality, just as you may have invisible struggles to deal with, so do the people you meet, and they may not have the mental energy to observe you beyond the face you show the world. John Green, author of many young adult fiction novels, offers the advice “Imagine others complexly.” It is a reminder that, just like you, every person around you is so much more than meets the eye.
If you find yourself making snap judgments based on appearance or a single interaction with someone, take a moment to consider what events in your life may have led you to think that way, and what factors in their life may have led them to look or act the way they did.
If you feel that you have been unfairly judged, consider what cues you may be presenting on the surface, and what ways you can help people take a deeper look. Opening up is hard to do, and it may take a lot of courage to let people in (especially if you’re afraid of being judged/criticized), but you may be surprised at how that dialogue unfolds. They may not actually be as cold or critical as you imagined, just misunderstood.