Hearing voices in your head, or experiencing auditory hallucinations does not always mean that you have mental illness. Many people have reported hearing voices that do not cause any kind of problem in their life. Some of these voices are generally positive or contain positive messages. According to research, only about 33% of people that experience auditory hallucinations require psychiatric treatment due to mental illness. For the large percentage of individuals that hear voices, they report that these voices offer inspiration and support.
Regardless of whether these voices offer support or pose a threat to someone, people usually start hearing them following some sort of traumatic experience. Roughly 70% of individuals that hear voices notice them after physical or sexual abuse, death of a loved one, and/or a major accident. These voices are seen by some experts as a psychological coping mechanism that the brain created to help deal with major stress.
Some experts suggest that the more negative the trauma, the more likely the voices will consist of negative threats. However, there are plenty of people that have learned to live comfortably with their voices – many people embrace them. Brain scans have been able to show that when people report hearing voices, the same areas that process sound and store memories appear to be active. The exact brain activity during an auditory hallucination can differ among individuals, but in general, areas involving memory and auditory processing seem to be operating simultaneously.
What Causes Auditory Hallucinations? The Reasons You Hear Voices In Your Head.
It is a common misconception to automatically assume that if you are hearing voices in your head, you are experiencing a schizophrenic hallucination. Although voices are among positive symptoms experienced during schizophrenia, there are other reasons that people hear voices besides mental illness. Only when the voices persist as being unpleasant, negative, and destructive are they usually considered a sign of a psychotic break.
- Brain Damage / Injury: If you experienced any brain damage as a result of an accident or medical condition, the damage could cause you to hear voices. Many people report hearing spiritual voices after being involved in serious accidents. Regardless of what type of voices you hear, it is likely a result of damage to the brain.
- Bullying: Often times people that are heavily bullied growing up end up with various mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and feel inadequate. Intense bullying can lead to the individual hearing voices because they have become so traumatized and feel awful about themselves. This is especially common if you are only a child and don’t have the necessary coping skills to deal with bullying. Your brain simply breaks with reality, and voices can be a way in which some people cope.
- Death of a Loved One: If you have lost someone very close to you (e.g. a family member), you may hear voices related to their death and/or may even experience communication with them. Some people report that during the early days of bereavement and grief processing, this is the only way that they can mentally cope with the loss.
- Drugs: There are many drugs that can lead to you hearing voices. Most drugs that affect the brain and levels of various neurotransmitters can result in auditory hallucinations. You may hear voices after taking drugs or during a period of withdrawal from the drug. A relatively common example is for people who experience Adderall-induced psychosis. In most cases, once the drug is out of your system, the voices should subside. However, consistent long term drug use may damage the brain enough to lead to conditions like schizophrenia and/or psychosis.
- Hypnogogic Hallucinations: Many individuals hear voices when they fall asleep and/or are just waking up from a dream. This has to do with your brain activity either entering and/or coming out of a dream state. When you fall asleep, your brain waves change to the slower theta range and random dreams occur. Most people that hear voices following a dream or before sleep may hear sounds or voices call their name. Most people report very brief sounds while experiencing these hallucinations. Some people report visual hallucinations that accompany their auditory hallucinations as well.
- Isolation: Anyone that becomes isolated from social contact for long enough may start to hear voices. This often happens with castaways, sailors, and individuals that cut themselves off from society for extended periods of time. It is thought that hearing voices are in some ways a compensation for lack of interaction as a result of being isolated. This may be more common than we think among individuals in solitary confinement.
- Mental Illness: Individuals with mental illness may experience voices that are threatening and very negative in nature. These voices may be difficult to deal with and may really scare the person hearing them. Common illnesses that result in people hearing voices include: psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, dissociative identity disorder (DID) and major depression with psychotic features.
- Physical Illness: Individuals dealing with a severe physical illness may experience delirium and may become disorientated with their surroundings. If you experience a high fever and are really sick, it is possible that this could lead to experiencing auditory hallucinations. The body is likely in an extreme state of stress and is trying to recover from the sickness – which could lead to hearing voices.
- PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder): Various traumatic experiences such as natural disasters, being victim of a crime, and/or serving as a soldier may result in post-traumatic stress disorder. Some people actually hear voices and/or hallucinate as a result of this disorder. Although not everyone with this condition hears voices, it is not an uncommon experience.
- Sexual Abuse / Physical Abuse: Anyone that has been sexually or physically abused may end up hearing voices. The younger the age of abuse, the more likely voices entered your head as a result of what happened. You may hear the voice of the abuser in your head and you may not know how to cope with it.
- Sleep Deprivation: Going considerable periods of time without proper sleep can result in hallucinations. Anyone with significant lack of sleep could end up hallucinating. This is one of the prominent symptoms of prolonged sleep deprivation. Researchers hypothesize that it could be related to neurons composing the I-function in the brain. This leads to production of a dissimilar reality and the pressure on the neurons from lack of sleep attempt to create something even though they are burnt out. Since the neurons are under significant duress from lack of restoration that would accompany sleep, brain activity becomes sporadic and incoherent – resulting in psychosis-like symptoms.
- Spiritual Experiences: Certain individuals hear voices in their head as a result of spiritual experiences. Some people report hearing spirits / spirit guides, angels, “God,” sages, mystics, and deceased loved ones. This shows that there is a fine line between hearing voices as a result of a spiritual experience and voices as a result of mental illness. Other people hear voices of evil spirits in cases of a haunting.
- Starvation: If you are starving and have not eaten properly for a prolonged period of time, you may hear voices. Once again, your brain is malnourished and burnt out. It has no energy stores and attempts to function to the best of its ability. Some individuals diagnosed with anorexia have been found to hear voices as a result of food deprivation.
- Stress: Some people report hearing voices as a result of significant stress. Anyone under major amounts of mental stress for a prolonged period could potentially experience an auditory hallucination. In regards to stress, we are not talking about your average stress from work, we are talking about a cumulative build up of major stress.
Types of voices that you may hear
- Controlling voices – Voices may attempt to control how you act. They may tell you to engage in negative behavior.
- Multiple voices – You may hear more than one voice in your head and they may be conflicting or fighting with each other.
- Spiteful voices – Negative, cruel, nasty, vindictive voices often accompany mental illness.
- Supportive voices – Many people experience support from the voices that they hear.
- Random voices – Some people may hear random, meaningless voices. In other words, the voices heard aren’t necessarily controlling, negative, or supportive – they are completely random.
Notes: Voices typically call out your name. They are common to hear when no one else is around. Some people experience the voices as being inside their head. Others experience voices as coming from an external source in the environment. You may believe that you are hearing other people’s thoughts. Voices may increase in loudness (volume) if you are highly stressed.
How to stop hearing voices in your head OR cope with them
- Learn to live with them – If the voices are positive, people can learn to live with them. Even if they are negative, people can learn psychological coping techniques.
- Medications – Various types of antipsychotic medications are used if the voices are a result of psychosis or schizophrenia. These tend to be pretty darn effective at reducing frequency of and/or eliminating hallucinations.
- Reframing – Some therapists are helping patients learn how to “reframe” the voices that they hear. This is done by bringing the voices to conscious awareness and recognizing that they are merely a symptom and aren’t based in reality. The goal is to help people get comfortable with the voices because usually if the person gets stressed out, the voices increase in intensity.
- Trans-magnetic stimulation (TMS) – Researchers have found that TMS helps quiet voices by suppressing auditory and acoustic hallucinations for a 90 day (3 month) period. This type of therapy involves decreasing brain activity in specific regions using magnetic fields. Areas of the brain that are typically targeted are usually those involved in speech processing.
Should the voices be eliminated? Only if bothersome.
If the voices are not negative in nature, there’s not usually a need to silence them. However, if they are swearing, pressuring, and/or attempting to control a person, psychological help is highly recommended. Usually there are a couple different types of individuals when it comes to hearing voices. There are those people who hear voices and they do not interrupt a person’s social life and experiences and there are individuals who hear voices that evoke a negative, fearful response. These are the voices that need to be reduced and/or eradicated.
Have you ever heard voices in your head?
What was the experience like? Was the voice supportive or mean? When did you first hear a voice? Was it a single voice or multiple voices? Just know that you are not alone in your experience and you are not necessarily going crazy either. Many people hear voices on a daily basis – some can be positive, some could be highly vindictive, while others can be completely random. Feel free to share your personal experience in the comments section below.