I Recently Learned About "Third Man Syndrome" And I Am Thoroughly Fascinated, So Here Are 23 Stories From People Who Experienced It Personally

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a phenomenon called "third man syndrome." As someone deeply interested in all things paranormal, I was absolutely fascinated by it. So, let me tell you what I learned! Essentially, third man syndrome (also called third man factor) is a phenomenon that occurs in times of distress and crisis. It's the feeling that there's another person or entity there alongside you, even though you're all alone. People report feeling, hearing, or even seeing this "third man" who acts as a voice of comfort and support in an otherwise horrifying time...or literally saves their life. You can read more about the history and meaning behind the phrase in my original article, here.

  An Kirillova / Getty Images/500px Prime
An Kirillova / Getty Images/500px Prime

There are quite a few things people chalk the phenomenon up to. Some believe it's a way the human brain tries to comfort us in times of extreme stress or turmoil. Others believe these "third men" are guardian angels sent to protect us. Some think they're spirits of relatives who passed long before us, coming to save the day when they're needed most. Whatever it is you believe, there is one thing we know for certain — this is a phenomenon a surprising number of people have experienced in their lifetimes.

person looking puzzled
MGM / Orion Pictures

Recently, I asked BuzzFeed Readers like you to share their own "Third Man Syndrome" stories. I got a truly surprising and overwhelming number of submissions. I read every single one and picked out 23 of the very best and creepiest to share with you all. Without further ado, here they are:

1."I was driving home after running an errand with my youngest child. I was about to enter an intersection with a green light for me when all of a sudden a male voice yelled, 'Stop!' very loudly. I did, and another vehicle plowed through their red light. I looked around and no one was on the sidewalk. There was a tall cinderblock fence blocking the road from the homes and everything else around. I was even more shocked when my daughter asked who had yelled. I asked her what she’d heard, and she asked who the man who yelled, 'Stop!' was. She'd heard it, too!"


2."I'm an R.N. Many years ago, I picked up a co-worker on the way to the hospital at 6:45 a.m. We were traveling down a busy, major road and came upon a two-vehicle accident. I told my friend that I had to stop, so we did. There was a young man stuck in his car. We tried to open the driver's door several times, which was the only accessible door to pull him out. It was stuck. We saw smoke coming from the engine and were in panic mode. Out of nowhere, a man appeared and said, 'I can help.' He opened the car door with minimal effort. We then were able to get the young man out and could clearly see that his foot was broken. I turned to thank the man, and he was gone! When we asked about him, NO ONE at the scene saw him, and everyone assumed that we had opened the car door ourselves. I don't remember what his face looked like, but he was calm and pleasant. I believe in a higher power, and I truly believe he was an angel. I'm so grateful!"


3."I developed PTSD before I learned to tie my shoes, and as a result, I had a lot of 'behavioral problems' as a child. This resulted in me spending much of my elementary education in isolated suspension. Essentially, I was put in a very small room in the administrative office, which had a big glass window. There were two desks in there, and I became close friends with a boy from another class in my fourth and fifth grade years, because he was usually in ISS with me. Well, turns out he never existed."

"More than 20 years later, I still remember him better than most of my classmates. I can remember him comforting me as I cried, as I told him about my home life and secrets that I still haven't told anyone else. I went to a different school for sixth grade, but came back to high school in the same town. When I asked about him, no one knew a thing about who he was. This was a school where graduating classes were rarely ever over 100. He wasn't in any yearbooks, even in the 'absent for photographs' section."


kid's face blurred out
Damircudic / Getty Images

4."I was 14, up late reading, and the only person awake in my house. It was nearing a.m. when I suddenly heard someone whisper my name in my ear. Obviously freaked out, I launched out of bed, ready to run to my parents' or sister's room, when my feet landed in a puddle. Our sump pump had gotten unplugged, and our entire downstairs floor — where all the bedrooms were — was starting to flood. I woke my parents up, and thankfully, we sorted out the issue, but if the water had risen an inch higher, it would've hit the outlets and shocked the daylights out of us."


5."A few years ago, I got my daughter a cat for her birthday. About two months later, we were painting together and used an old sports water bottle to rinse our brushes. We were having fun, and I didn't realize how late it had gotten, so I put my daughter in the bath and to bed without cleaning up. After she fell asleep, I went back downstairs and laid on the couch, thinking I would clean up after an episode of The Boys. About two hours later, I was woken up from a dead sleep with a voice telling me to check upstairs. I looked at the baby monitor, and my daughter was asleep and breathing, so I tried to ignore it out of sleepiness. The voice repeated itself, getting more and more urgent. It sounded so urgent that I got up and went upstairs immediately."

"When I got to the landing, I saw the cat, who usually slept on my daughter's bed, lying on her side with her head stuck in the sports water bottle. It was completely fogged up, and she was barely breathing. It took me a few seconds to pry it off and start giving her CPR. Fortunately, she was alright. That voice saved my cat's life!"


6."I'm a truck driver, so I'm always up by 2 or 3 a.m. to start the 11 hours of driving time I'm legally allowed by the Department of Transportation. One morning, I was on a lonely section of US 287 in Colorado heading up into Wyoming. There are a few small grades you drive up, and in the dark, you can't see much except that which is illuminated by your headlights. I was climbing one of these grades when a voice, encased in static, chirped up on my CB radio. 'You're gonna wanna back her down, driver. There some deer in the road right over this grade,' it said. I slowed down as I climbed the hill, pulling a trailer with a fairly light load in it. 'Hey, thanks, driver,' I said on my CB. No answer. I reached the top of the grade, and sure enough, five or six deer were slowly making their way across, oblivious and uncaring of the danger they put myself and them in by nonchalantly taking their time to cross."

"If I'd been going any faster, I would have run right into them. I keyed up on my CB again. 'Hey, thanks, driver. I would have hit them if you hadn’t warned me, come back?' Again, no answer. The road was now a straight shot for miles. I realized I couldn’t see any taillights from a truck or car ahead of me. No one behind me, either. I didn’t see anyone on the shoulder coming up the grade or on the other side. There weren't any houses on that stretch I was on, either. I began to realize I hadn’t passed anyone in a couple of hours. 'Driver?' I tried one last time. Silence. I don’t know who or what gave me a warning about those deer. I was the only one out there as far as I could tell. I sure am appreciative, though."

—Travis H.

truck driver talking into a radio
Ra / Getty Images

7."When I was about 11 or 12 years old, I often swam at my grandma's house after school. These swims were usually by myself and unsupervised since I was a relatively good swimmer. One day, I was doing a backstroke, going fast, and daydreaming when I heard a young girl's voice shout my name. I immediately picked my head up to see who had called me but didn't see anyone outside or around the pool. I quickly noticed that my head was also inches away from the concrete side of the pool. If I hadn't heard that voice shout my name, I would have smashed my head on the concrete and likely drowned."


8."When I was young, my mom's favorite song was 'His Eyes On the Sparrow.' She died suddenly, and during her funeral, a woman came from the audience and told my sisters and me that God told her to sing a particular song, and she wanted to know if we'd allow her to sing it. We agreed, and she sang 'His Eyes On the Sparrow.' How could she know that it was my mom's favorite song? After the funeral, I tried to locate the woman to tell her the significance of the song she'd sung so beautifully. No one knew who she was. She simply disappeared."

—Sandy, Virginia, USA

9."I was taking a shortcut across a frozen reservoir on the way to a friend's house. Suddenly, the ice cracked, and I started to fall through. I felt two hands slam into my back, and I skidded across the ice. I was soaking wet when I arrived at my friend's house, cold and shivering. I told him the story as I changed into some of his clothes so we could throw mine into the dryer. My friend turned white, and his eyes were bugging out of his head. He guided me to the bathroom so I could look in the mirror, and I saw what disturbed him. There were two hand-shaped bruises forming on my back. 40+ years later, I still get chills thinking about it."

—Mike, New Jersey, USA

—Mike, New Jersey, USA

Fhm / Getty Images

10."Once I was cutting through the cemetery behind my house. I was looking at my house and not at what was around me when, all of sudden, I heard a male voice in my head shout, 'Stop!' so loudly and clearly. I stopped in my tracks, startled. I looked around for the source and looked down to see my feet on the edge of a freshly dug grave. If I hadn't stopped, my 6-year-old self would have tumbled six feet down into it. I thank my guardian angels for the save."


11."When I was 11 years old, I was walking home from a parade downtown that the entire town was at. I was alone, taking a long route through a residential area. A grown man in his thirties followed me, and I was scared because I didn't know the area. He got closer, no matter how fast I walked. Suddenly, I saw a dog tied to a pole in the sideyard of this large house nearby. I pretended I knew the dog and walked over to it. I then went to the house's front door, and by some miracle, it was unlocked! No one in our town would leave their home unlocked, especially this immaculate home. I went inside, locked the door, and stayed there until the stalker crossed the street and disappeared. I then ran the two miles to my house. When I met the owner of that house years later, they said they'd never owned a dog, as their son was allergic."

—Linda, USA

12."As a kid, I was in and out of hospitals for surgeries related to a genetic disorder I had. When I was about 9 or 10, there was this nurse who worked the night shift and would sit with me, telling me stories when my parents couldn't be there. She was very young and looked like a teenager. Looking back, she appeared far too young to work at the hospital and was far too energetic to be working the night shift. She wore all-white scrubs and would braid my hair when I was lonely and couldn't sleep. She'd sit with me for hours on end without having to go anywhere else."

"One night, she stayed with me when my parents couldn't. I felt a pain in my side and told her about it. It was the most intense pain I had ever felt at that point in my life. My call button wasn't working, and there were no other nurses but her to help. She told me she was going to get help. About a minute later, a group of doctors and nurses burst into my room, asking who screamed. Apparently, they had been in a separate ward when they heard this high-pitched scream that almost sounded like singing coming from right outside my door. Everyone had heard it except for me.

As it turned out, I was having complications due to surgery and internal bleeding that very well could've resulted in permanent damage or death by morning. Later, when I asked what happened to the nurse, they were all perplexed and told me no one who matched that description worked there. They checked the schedule, and somehow, all of the nurses were under the impression that someone was acting as my bedside nurse even though no one was on rotation.

That really confused me. My parents remember coming in some mornings and seeing my hair in French or Dutch braids that they assumed I had done myself when I was bored. The nurse in white had braided them, as I was and am still hopeless at braiding. The strangest part was that my doctors would sometimes hear me talking to someone when they walked past my room, but they assumed it was my parents or that I was simply talking in my sleep. To this day, I know that was a guardian angel. I haven't seen her since, but I know she's still with me."


person's face pixelated
Getty Images

13."It was 1990 and I was 23 years old. I had a horrible car accident in the rain — my car rolled three times and landed in a big ravine. I was alone...or so I thought. I heard a tapping at my window and saw a lady urging me to get out of the car slowly because it was hanging over the edge of a hill and about to tumble over. I slowly climbed out and lay on the ground. The lady brought me a blanket and sat with me, holding my hands and telling me help was coming soon. I heard the sirens and as the paramedics came down to me, she said I would be okay. I told the paramedics about her, but they said no one else was there when they arrived. I had the blanket, though, as proof. I was so thankful she was there, even though I am still unsure what happened or how she disappeared. I owe my life to her, and I try to be a better person and help people when I can, just like her."


14."One day, I was on my way out the door to drive to work. I had a pair of open-toed, flat shoes on. I was home alone, but I heard a disembodied voice telling me to put on boots. So, I immediately turned around and put on a pair of boots. As I drove to work, traffic came to a stop, and the truck behind me did not slow down like the rest of us. It plowed into me, pushing my car into the van in front of me. The front end of my car was crushed, all the airbags deployed, and the dashboard dropped onto my foot, cutting right into the top of my boot. If I had not changed my shoes that day, I would have suffered a deep gash on top of my foot. The car was totaled, but thankfully I was OK, just shaken up. This happened at least 10 years ago, and I still have those boots in my closet."


15."I loved the ballet, but was too poor as a kid to participate. So, you can imagine my delight when my husband purchased front-row, weekday tickets to the Chicago Ballet for my 35th birthday. I sped home from work, put on an elegant little black dress, donned the 4-inch velvet sling-back heels I'd saved for such an occasion, and grabbed my velvet shawl. We rushed into the city, parked, and scurried up the beautiful marble stairs to our seats in the magnificent Opera House. Five or six minutes passed before I realized I had forgotten to go to the bathroom all day. My husband saw the look on my face and frowned. He knew. I assured him it could wait, but I knew I'd have to fly down the marble stairs to the restroom on the lower level and back to my seat at intermission. And fly I did."

"When the time came, my slippery sling-backs launched me forward on the second step. I can still remember, 35 years later, the feeling that I was going to die. I was going to land on my head or break my neck on those stunning marble stairs. Suddenly, someone grabbed me from behind and set me securely on step four. I heard someone say, 'You're okay.' I turned to thank whoever had saved me, but no one was there. I asked others on the stairway if they had caught who it was, but no one had seen anything or anyone. My husband said I was still in shock when I returned to my seat."

—Deborah, Phoenix, AZ

person looking confused
First We Feast

16."This happened in the early '80s when I was about 20. It was winter and my mom and I were traveling around 1 a.m. on a federal highway in rural Georgia. Just before we arrived at the county road that led to my grandparents' house, I heard a voice say, 'Stop the car and get out!' I thought I was just tired and hallucinating, so I ignored it. The voice repeated itself very urgently. Now panicked, I pulled over, scrambled out of the car, and dragged my mom out with me. We walked maybe 15 feet away from the car when suddenly the hood exploded and flames shot about 25 feet into the air. They were high enough to be seen from the sheriff's station."

"After the police arrived and arranged for a ride to my grandparents' home, the car was towed. The mechanic said the floorboard was melted and the fire must have first burned up the wiring to the signal that should have told us the car was overheating. If I had been driving when the hood exploded, I may have wrecked it. And if we'd had the trouble after we'd turned onto the nearly deserted county road, we could have been stranded for hours in the cold. Mom and I were alone in the car so I don't know where the voice came from, but I'm grateful for it."

—Carolyn, Georgia, USA

17."When I was around 5 or 6 years old, I was swimming in our small town's public pool. In the summer, my parents used to drop my older sister and me off to swim for the day and then pick us up later. I was by myself in the shallow end and decided it would be cool if I held my breath and tried to walk along the bottom of the pool toward the deep end. I would take steps down toward the deeper water while pushing up on the side of the pool wall to stay along the bottom. Before I realized it, I was in very deep and running out of air. I wanted to swim up toward the top, but I couldn't. I was too little, and there was too much water on top of me. I remember trying to swim up, but the water was just too heavy. I was there for a little while, and right before I started to panic, I felt a hand grab my back."

"Whoever it was pulled me up until I was out of the water completely. I grabbed on to the edge of the pool and took a deep breath. I looked around to see who had saved me, but no one was around me. Everyone else at the pool was far away and hadn't seemed to notice what had been happening. The hand seemed very large to me, so I assumed it must’ve been an adult, but there were no lifeguards, no adults, and not even any other kids near me. To this day I’ve always been perplexed by what happened to me."


18."When I was 16, I was in a bad car accident. I hit the fence surrounding a school's tennis court, which went down an embankment. I couldn't get out of the driver's side but I managed to crawl out of the passenger side window. When I came out, there was a younger man who was a passenger in the truck that I'd hit. He was standing beside the older man who'd been driving. He helped me out of the car and found my glasses — I couldn't see without them. When the EMT workers took me to the hospital, I told them how that young man helped me. He said 'There was no younger man with the older gentleman."

—Douglas W.


19."When I was 19, I was completely oblivious to my mortality. I took lots of risks but none more so than when I borrowed my friend's motorcycle. After a night of heavy drinking while we were playing in a weekend softball tournament, I decided to take a ride. There’s this stretch of highway that is completely flat and straight for at least 5 miles outside of the town we playing in, and I had the bike up to 125 mph. A slight curve in the road was coming up fast, so I started slowing down. I checked my speed and saw I was still going 70 mph. Worse yet, I was already into the turn and going into a ditch. I must have blacked out for a few seconds."

"I hit the edge of a farmer’s field and flew off the motorcycle as it and I continued on separate paths for over 120 feet. Midway through my flight, I inexplicably stopped spinning recklessly through the air and turned one-quarter clockwise just seconds before my feet made contact with the ground. It was almost like someone grabbed me and turned me into the only position that would send me rolling backward somersault-style into the hay field behind me when I landed. I left the incident with just a little scratch on my leg. My friend’s brand new Honda Interceptor lay in a tangled pile of metal. I’m now almost 60 and still can only explain it one way — someone intervened."


20."One summer when I was around 6 years old and my brother was 3, my family rented a house in Punta del Este, Uruguay, for a few days. The house was two stories and my parents's room was on the second floor. My parents' room had a very large window with a bench on the edge and a very low railing. I remember playing with my brother at the foot of the railing while my mother was folding clothes. Out of nowhere, someone or something told me to grab my brother. I turned to my brother, grabbed his ankle, and pulled him towards me. My mother approached us, desperate and about to cry, but I could not understand why. She said my brother had tripped and started to fall out the window."

"At that exact moment, I turned around, grabbed his ankle, and brought him back inside the house. I didn't feel any stress or urgency in the moment, nor did I even realize my brother was about to fall. I simply obeyed the voice that told me to grab onto him. My mom swears it wasn't her who spoke to me, and there was no one else besides us three in the house at that time."


21."When I was in grade school, we visited my father's family in another city about an hour away from home. On the drive back afterward, my father's old Landcruiser started backfiring horribly, to the point that we could barely stay rolling. He pulled off the two-lane road we were on and into a gas station. It was late at night, so the station was open but the mechanic garage was closed. With no one to help, he popped the hood and stared at the engine. He'd built an engine for his old GMC truck but was by no means a mechanic, so he had no idea what might be causing the problem and didn't have the tools to fix it even if he did. Suddenly, a guy on a motorcycle drove up, parked beside us, and ambled over to Dad, asking what was wrong. My dad explained what was happening, and the guy said, 'Sounds like your spark plugs have closed up. Just open them up a little, and you should be fine.'"

"My dad looked at the engine with a little shock and maybe some chagrin, because he hadn't even thought of that. But before he could turn back around and thank the guy, he was gone. None of us had heard the motorcycle fire up and drive away...he just disappeared. Dad borrowed a tool from the gas station and fixed the spark plugs. The car fired up and purred like a kitten on the first try. As dad settled behind the wheel for the drive home, we all sort of stared at each other. None of us could describe what the man on the motorcycle looked like, which direction he'd come from, or why he stopped to check on us. We believed that that night, we were visited by a guardian angel. I still believe it to this day."

—Drea, Roseville, CA

person on a motorcycle in the desert
Peter Amend / Getty Images/Image Source

22."My sister and I were returning home from a day spent shopping in Denver. Unexpectedly, a severe snowstorm blew in. The roads were an icy mess. All of a sudden, cars in front of us started slamming on their brakes and sliding all over the highway. We ended up facing the opposite direction on the highway but managed to avoid being hit by any cars in the pileup. We were both shaken and nervous when a fireman approached our car and asked if he could get in the backseat and warm up for a minute. He was the best-looking firefighter we had ever seen. He stayed for about 15 minutes, calmed us down, and guided us through turning the car around. He hopped out of the car, and I turned around to watch him leave...but he vanished. There was no way he could have walked away that quickly."

—Amy, Newaygo, MI

23.And finally, "On a hot day in Washinton, my friends and I thought it would be a great idea to float down a short stretch of the river. We were all strong swimmers and didn't have any floatation devices. Frankly, none of us had considered the bridge's pillars and how strong the current could be around them. As we approached them, I got caught in a whirlpool that pulled me under. I fought to get to the surface, only to be pulled under again. I fought with all my might but was so tired and completely out of air. I started to feel a warm light and envisioned my body being found down the river, and my family mourning me at my funeral. Someone under the surface said, 'You can't give up! Keep fighting!' and felt something or someone push me to the surface."

My head was finally out of the water and I made it out of the current when my friend (a real friend) playfully splashed me in the face cause I swam (or was pushed) so quickly at her. She had no idea what I had endured but her calmness calmed me and I was able to get to shore. As once a person with zero fear of the water and a very good swimmer, I was incredibly humbled by this experience. It wasn’t my time and whatever it was, a guardian angel perhaps kept me here and I’m forever grateful."

—Brooke, Seattle - WA

Thank you to everyone kind enough to share their stories! Have you ever had a "third man syndrome" experience like these? If so, I'd love if you'd tell us your story in the comments below or via this completely anonymous form.

Note: Submissions are edited for length and/or clarity.

If you enjoyed these stories, you can read 23 more of them here.