Third man syndrome: What is this life-saving phenomenon that trauma survivors talk about?

Third man syndrome has been reported by certain gruesome attacks' survivors, and scientists are far from having an actual explanation. Here's what you should know.

third man syndrome
© Poor Things / Element Pictures
third man syndrome

One can only imagine the stress that people are put under when they are attacked. Whether they get caught up in a large-scale terrorist attack or they get mugged on the street, their brains usually go into fight-or-flight mode. However, there is one more thing their brains do that we will explain today, and it is a wild ride: third man syndrome.

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What is third man syndrome?

Often, when we are scared, we can feel like we're not alone and someone we cannot see is there with us. While this is usually creepy and can make us feel terrified, some people have reported getting the same feeling, but they felt comforted by this 'presence'. According to the Mirror:

The term comes from TS Eliot's 1922 poem 'The Waste Land' and back in 1919 legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton wrote about this moment in his book 'South': "…during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over unnamed mountains and glaciers, it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.”

American website BuzzFeed recently conducted a survey, asking people to talk about their 'third man experiences', and they have delivered. One anonymous person talks about undergoing massive surgery at nine years old, and seeing a 'happy and peaceful' man who made him feel safe. However, when he explained what he had seen to the nurses, they told him there weren't any men in the wing that night.

This 'other person' saved people's lives

A 9/11 survivor told BuzzFeed about being trapped under rubble for 15 hours after the Twin Towers collapsed.

I am disabled... I was buried under the rubble for 15 hours but I was never alone. I kept hearing from a voice that said it was Michael. When I was weakest, he would just keep talking to me.

However, when they were rescued, they found out that no one around them was called Michael. Another woman talked about the time her husband crashed their car into a telephone pole. According to her, they both saw a child knocking on their window and telling them they had called the police, and not to get out of the car because they were surrounded by electrical wires. She told BuzzFeed:

The police said no one called them and there was no way anyone could have gotten close to the car on account of the wires. And if my husband had tried to get out of the car they probably would have killed him.

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Sources used:

Mirror: Mysterious 'third man syndrome' saved 9/11 survivor when buried under rubble

BuzzFeed: I Just Learned About "Third Man Syndrome" And Can't Stop Thinking About It, So Here Are 23 Stories From People Who Experienced It Themselves

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