I put out another request for invisible disabilities (mental or physical) that gets overlooked that I could write about. @randhawa_aaron provided me with a suggestion that would go on to become this article on hearing voices. So thank you @randhawa_aaron for your suggestion, I hope this article lives up to what you had in mind.
What Is Hearing Voices?
Hearing voices is where you hear a voice inside your own head that isn’t your own inner voice and which isn’t a voice someone else can hear (News-Medical.net). Hearing voices like this is a form of hallucination, in fact, it’s the most common form of hallucination (Nidirect).
According to the charity National Hearing Voices Network, between 3-10% of the population hears voices, with that going up to 75% if you included one-off experiences like thinking you’ve heard someone call out your name.
It should be noted that hearing voices isn’t the same as having intrusive thoughts, although both can be equally upsetting (Rethink Mental Illness). However, there’s also a sizable amount of people who hear voices but never seek support for it (Lawrence, Jones, and Cooper, 2010), and I was one such person for many, many years.
The voices you experience when you’re hearing voices can range from being critical, distressing, neutral, complementary, and even nice (Nidirect). How these voices manifest themselves is often a product of the culture you belong to (see below for more on this).
What Can Hearing Voices Be A Symptom Of?
There are lots of reasons why someone might hear voices, ranging from an illness to a temporary experience. The following is a list of some of those reasons.
Falling asleep or waking up
Similar to sleep paralysis, your brain can be halfway into a dream state and semi-conscious at the same time, thus, the voices you hear are really the voices from your dreams.
Tiredness can play tricks on your mind as your brain desperately tries to get the downtime it needs. When your overly tired, this can cause a dreamlike state while you’re still awake, which can cause you to hear voices and even see things. I’ve experienced a full range of hallucinations due to insomnia.
Much like being sleep deprived can cause you to see and hear things, so can serious hunger caused by the avoidance or denial of food.
Drug use can definitely make you hear and see things and not just hallucinogenic drugs. Sometimes these effects can last a few days after taking the drugs as well, and for drugs like LCD, you can get flashbacks long afterwards. You can also hear voices and experience other forms of hallucinations on withdrawals from drugs.
Physically being ill
Having a really bad case of the flu, pneumonia, or an infection can cause you to have a high temperature and experience delusions, such as hearing voices and seeing things. Before I had my tonsils removed, every time the condition flared up and I didn’t take action soon enough, I would experience all kinds of hallucinations.
Stress or worry
It’s possible to think that a loved one that you’ve lost due to bereavement might be calling out to you.
Trauma can cause people to hear voices, especially conditions like PTSD and dissociative disorder.
Some people feel like they’ve had a religious or spiritual experience where they’re being talked to, which they will subjectively see as a special experience.
Mental health conditions
As if having dementia wasn’t already horrible enough, people with this condition can also experience auditory hallucinations. Dementia causes changes to the brain and as a result, their sense of perception is altered, which can cause the person to see, hear, feel, and taste things that aren’t there (Alzheimer’s Association and Alzheimer’s Society).
According to Linszen et al. (2019), auditory hallucinations are common among people with a hearing impairment which increases with hearing impairment severity.
Cultural Differences In Hearing Voices
Quite a few years ago, I read an article about how hearing voices was notably different depending on where you were in the world and what culture you came from. So when I took on this topic, I wanted to find some research that covered what I’d read in that article all those years ago. The study I found while doing that research was by Luhrmann, Padmavati, Tharoor, and Osei (2015), which used interviews to gain detail of the experiences of 20 participants from three different countries, 60 participants in total. This section of the article will outline and discuss this study.
Participants from the American sample all reported that they didn’t like the voices they hear. None of the participants reported a predominantly positive experience with their voices, with the participants reporting that their voices are often violent.
Usually, it’s like torturing people, to take their eye out with a fork, or cut someone’s head and drink their blood, really nasty stuff.
Participants from the Accra sample reported different experiences to those from the American sample. In the Ghanaian sample, the participants identified their voices as being spirits, which emphasised the moral action of their voices. These participants treated their voices as being causally powerful. Although, some participants from the sample also reported that they felt like they were under “spiritual attack” by malevolent voices.
However, half the participants reported that their primary or only voice was a good voice, emphasising the good voices over the bad ones. Some of the participants also reported that the good voices would tell them not to respond to the bad voices or that the voices had gotten better over time.
Mostly the voices are good.
They just tell me to do the right thing. If I hadn’t had these voices, I would have been dead long ago.
They want me to do good things.
More than half of the participants of the Indian sample reported that the voice they heard were of family members, such as parents, mother-in-law, and siblings. The voices of the family that the participants heard could be both good and bad. Furthermore, one participant reported hearing voices of their ancestry, family members that are no longer alive, who offered the client support and companionship.
I have a companion to talk (laughs). I need not go out and speak. I can talk within myself.
It should be noted that although this study involved 60 participants from three countries, it’s still a small study. Furthermore, the cause of the person hearing voices might also be a factor in the perception of if the voices are good or bad. If you have paranoid schizophrenia, then it’s more than likely that the voices might be bad, because their voices will probably be the product of their paranoid mind.
The Impact And Effects Of Hearing Voices
I wanted to add this study by Lawrence, Jones, and Cooper (2010) because it provided some interesting insight into the existence of hearing voices in the general population. Lawrence, Jones, and Cooper (2010) study involved 184 participants, mainly from the US and UK, who were found by doing an online quantitative questionnaire. The study found that the general population hadn’t sort professional support for the voices they hear, even though they experienced voices in almost the exact same way as clinical patients who hear voices.
Lawrence, Jones, and Cooper (2010) also proposed that one of the differences between the general population who are hearing voices and those from clinical studies was that those from the general population were more likely to identify the voices they hear as being kindly, therefore there’s less need for them to seek help. This makes sense, if you’re experiencing voices in your head that aren’t your inner voice, but they’re nice, then you wouldn’t see it as a problem you’d need to talk to someone about. Whereas, if the voices you’re hearing are causing you distress, then you’re going to be more motivated to seek support to make it stop. I didn’t seek support for my hallucinations caused by my psychotic episodes until I was a long way down the rabbit hole.
Hearing voices isn’t the end of the world. Some people will eventually lose the voices that invaded their mind while other people find ways to live with them (Mind).
Being The Loved One Of Someone Who Hears Voices
Understandably, being around someone who hears voices can present a few challenges, especially if you’ve also experienced it yourself as it might be a trigger for you. Like any condition, a lack of knowledge can be an obstacle that needs to be overcome to help to accept and manage the situation. It can be upsetting because you just don’t know what to do. Furthermore, if the voices they’re hearing are distressing to the person, then you can feel even more confused, worried, and stressed out by the situation.
If you’ve like to read some of the stories shared by the loved ones of people who hear voices, then you can do so by clicking here.
My Experience Of Hearing Voices
I’ve had auditory hallucinations caused by my anxiety disorders triggering my psychosis, but what I hear isn’t district voices talking to me. What I normally hear when I’m having a psychotic episode is the faint sound of laughter. However, on the occasions that my psychotic episode was trigger by hearing people whisper, then I’d hear voices filling in the content of what I think they’re whispering about, which of course, was always negative comments about me that would feed my psychosis and make my psychotic state worse. Whispering has always been a trigger for me due to racial abuse I endured during my childhood, with my peers often whispering to each other about me.
Outside of those two kinds of experiences, I’ve never really had any persistent issues with hearing voices. Occasionally I’ll think people are calling my name when I’m listening to music too loudly, but who doesn’t experience that form of hearing voices?
I’ve also worked for someone who hears voices while working at Mind. The person was our area manager and they gave us a talk about how it started for them and how they learned to cope with the voices they heard. It was a really educational talk.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences with hearing voices in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget to bookmark my site and if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
Lawrence, C., Jones, J., & Cooper, M. (2010). Hearing Voices in a Non-Psychiatric Population. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 38, 363 – 373. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1017/S1352465810000172 and https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Hearing-Voices-in-a-Non-Psychiatric-Population-Lawrence-Jones/e6f12d6b5aba2b3dfd1492da32ae8f9dacd1b3f1?p2df.
Linszen, M., van Zanten, G. A., Teunisse, R. J., Brouwer, R. M., Scheltens, P., & Sommer, I. E. (2019). Auditory hallucinations in adults with hearing impairment: a large prevalence study. Psychological medicine, 49(1), 132–139. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291718000594.
Luhrmann, T. M., Padmavati, R., Tharoor, H., & Osei, A. (2015). Hearing Voices in Different Cultures: A Social Kindling Hypothesis. Topics in Cognitive Science, 7(4), 646–663. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/tops.12158 and https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/tops.12158.