What is aphantasia?

A friend recently asked me if I knew about aphantasia and although I did not have in-depth knowledge of the topic it was an interesting question as I did take aphantasia into account when developing ‘my ABC’, proven psychological techniques, for coping with life and improving your mental, emotional, psychological and overall wellbeing.

Why did I need to consider aphantasia? Because aphantasia is the inability to call images to your mind’s eye and this impacts on how I ask individuals to do my ‘C’ of my ABC (see below).

Visual imagery and its disorders have been researched for some time. The first person to carry out studies on visual imagery was Francis Galton (1880) and studies recognises that some people can describe their imagery in minute detail but there are others who cannot visualise. However, Galton did not focus only on visual imagery and there was very little research for about 100 years. Research is carried out on visual imagery and its disorders and this is interesting to me as the ‘C’ of my ABC is using your creative imagery.

When developing my ABC techniques my research involved asking individuals, ages ranging from 8 to 90 years old, to use my ABC techniques. I then interviewed these individuals to gather feedback on my ABC techniques. From this feedback, all were able to do my ‘A’ and my ‘B’ but there were some (not all) who said that they found my ‘C’ difficult or were unable to do my ‘C’. When I questioned these individuals further the difficulty appeared to be or was due to the use of the word ‘visualise’ when explaining how to use my ‘C’.

I then decided to drop the word visualise and ask individuals to use their creative imagination by using one or all of their senses. This resulted in all individuals being able to use my ‘C’. I asked for feedback and found that individuals do not use their sense in the same way when using their imagination. Some do ‘see (visualise)’, others ‘hear’, others ‘taste’, others ‘touch’. You can check out my MindBites videos on how to do each of my ABC techniques. My video on ‘C’ explains the different ways of using your creative imagination (visualisation).

Of course aphantasia is very real to some people who cannot call images to their mind’s eye. Individuals with total aphantasia are unable to picture or create sensory experiences in their mind, they cannot see, or hear, smell, or even imagine textures. However, just because they cannot see something in their mind’s eye does not mean they have no knowledge of it. For these individuals, they have to believe they can find it.

For most people if you ask them to picture something or someone they easily conjure up a mental image in their mind’s eye. However, there are some who cannot do this. It is estimated that of the world’s population only 1 to 5% find it impossible to visualise or imagine images in their mind’s eye.

Knowing about aphantasia made me realise how important this topic is when I am writing or recording my MindBites (mindfulness meditations).

On a positive note, total aphantasia can be viewed as a gift as those with total aphantasia have minds that are naturally quiet as they do not have lots of random thoughts and mental images floating around their head distracting them. The Buddhist word for this is ‘monkey mind’ which means a mind that won’t shut up. As I type my mind conjures up an image of my late son Bruce whose mind was always filled with so many creative ideas. I recall him saying after he had visited a Buddhist retreat, that when asked to clear his mind, he just could not do it!

If you do find it difficult to use the ‘C’ of my ABC, try using my ‘B’ (breathing technique) to relax and allow moments to just happen. Think of a time you were in a group. Relax and take a note of where you were all sitting, who was sitting beside you. You can then increase this to the place where you met, perhaps what town, was it sunny, was it raining. This will help, and of course having a vision board also helps.

Of course, knowing about aphantasia definitely helps me in the way I word my MindBites mindfulness meditations.

Aphantasia is complex and the effect on individuals varies but remember it has no bearing on intelligence!

This blog is not exhaustive and if you want to know more then you can carry out further research on the topic.

I continue of course to recommend that you use my ABC so that they become your good habit, there when you need or want, like a friend on the shoulder.

Virtual hugs

Patricia x

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