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Hearing Voices In Your Head? Auditory Hallucinations: Causes, Types, & Treatments

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.

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{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Sherwin Marcelle August 16, 2014, 8:44 pm

    In 2009… I got into an accident. I can’t say if I was conscious or not but what I do remember were voices saying he isn’t ready as yet send him back he still has work to do. I don’t believe in Gods or spirits I summed it up as a result of head trauma. The thing which surprised me the most is the fact now that solving stuff no matter how complicated has become so easy for me… Whether it be formula based or not.

  • Wendy Roehrich October 7, 2014, 8:04 am

    My 82 year old mother periodically insists there is a choir walking down our street or outside her window. They always stop singing at midnight. She insists she is not having auditory hallucinations. Her naturopath thinks that it is some kind of spiritual experience before death. I see spiritual experience is on your list. I will have to rethink this.

  • Bruce December 10, 2014, 4:18 pm

    January 1st, 2004 I was awakened three separate times by a loud voice in my bedroom that said, “Bruce! You’re having a stroke!” I wish I would have taken action immediately and gone to the hospital the first time I heard the voice. When I did, later that day, I was admitted to the hospital with a stroke. It did permanent damage that affects my life still today. When the voice woke me up telling me I was having the stroke there was still time for “clot-busting” drugs to be effective and prevent permanent damage.

  • Kevin January 11, 2015, 2:02 pm

    Still up to this day I hear voices in my house. My father and mother say there isn’t something here. But it’s like ‘it’s’ watching me. Peeking after each corner. Watching every move. All the while telling me “Brace yourself.” It’s like something bad is going to happen. But I still don’t know which I have. I’ve tried meditating a few times. And I can’t live with them cause they come at the most inappropriate times.

  • Jamie January 11, 2015, 2:36 pm

    As I fall asleep, I tend to hear multiple voices in my head. Sometimes they may say my name, or something completely random. Sometimes they can actually be really loud and I get scared and wake up a little bit. This has only been happening for a few months now, though.

    • Sam March 12, 2015, 7:28 pm

      This has been happening to me too. I sometimes wake fully up and look for the people who are talking. Only to find no-one there. Have you ever had visual hallucinations too?

  • Joe February 9, 2015, 9:00 am

    For a couple of years as I fall asleep my ears race with overlapping sounds and voices which seem oddly familiar to me, as if they are randoms samples from things I have heard in the past week. Rarely can I latch onto actual phrases because there is just so much sound, like three or four TV news channels on at once. Usually I ignore it and just fade into sleep, but sometimes it is so vivid I cannot sleep and have to drink some wine or get extremely tired to fall asleep. I have been under tremendous stress and am probably depressed. I worry this is a sign of a slipping mental state but it only happens as I fall asleep and I am relieved to know many people experience this with no ill effect.

  • Frank Figueroa February 22, 2015, 8:07 am

    I hear voices, one really. It used to cause me physical pain! I’m not kidding. It would talk to me. Threaten me all the time, I had no control, no Will of my own. It made me put a knife to my chest & ordered me to stick it in. I knew what I was doing, but could not control it. I found out by getting angry at it! It could no longer control me. It said to me how did you do that? I control you! I could hear my daughter in trouble, I’d go looking for her! That’s how strong this thing was. Its been 13 years now since this voice came into my life, no meds could help! I’ve been on them all. I tried to kill myself a few times, came close too. I still hear this voice, but I just live with it now. It’s a living hell! But there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Believe me I tried. Good luck to all that have to live with this as I do.

  • liam lonnie February 23, 2015, 11:40 am

    I suffer from pretty bad anxiety and over the last couple of weeks I have been experiencing voices as I’ve been trying to get to sleep. There is a history of schizophrenia in my family, which has had me scared that I’m getting it as well. The voices are usually totally random small conversations or loud noises and once I openy eyes they stop. I don’t really experience any other symptoms and feel totally fine through the day but the thought of going to sleep is really starting to scare me. Does anyone have any thoughts or advice? Thanks.

  • keith March 1, 2015, 5:14 pm

    I’ve been really stressed lately from a lot of different angles. Last night I was experiencing a state of being sleep and awake at the same time which is pretty common for me. Sometimes I see things in the closet or behind the door or under the bed. But last night was the first time I heard actual voices. I thought it was my girlfriend, but it didn’t sound like her and I figured it had to be. The voice told me to get up and open the Windows. It’s like 10 degrees here. I finally woke up and asked her “what’d you say” and she insisted that she hadn’t said anything. It scared me. I also hear loud footsteps sometimes and those really creep me the f*ck out!

  • Rosera March 22, 2015, 7:07 am

    Every time I get very stressed or very upset, I could hear a voice tell me to calm down and wake up. So far, that voice is still inside my head but she will only lecture me on lack of priorities and poor social interaction. When I calmed down, the voice lessens. Only time when I am calm that she still speaks is the harsh comments of the people I meet. Those she didn’t like, which is very awkward and I had to ask why… So far no answer.

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