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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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{ 149 comments… add one }
  • Jane September 19, 2018, 11:21 pm

    I have depression and have taken Zoloft for many years. The Zoloft causes me to have auditory hallucinations. I’m not willing to go off Zoloft because I haven’t found another anti-depressant that works.

    The hallucinations that I hear are music (mostly a men’s or women’s chorale, or just a melody) and voices that sound like they’re coming from a television that’s on in another room – you can hear them but can’t make out what they’re saying.

    I mostly hear the voices and music when I go to bed; it’s quiet then and my mind is winding down. The voices and music have directionality – you can tell if they’re coming from the right or from the left. At times, I’ve had both voices and music in one ear, or voices in one ear and music in the other ear at the same time.

    The voices and music are often triggered by humming sounds, like a fan or a motor that’s running. I’ve found that earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones help to cut down on the frequency of the hallucinations by blocking the humming noises.

    Also, a book called “Phantom Voices, Ethereal Music, & Other Spooky Sounds: Musical Ear Syndrome,” by Neil G. Bauman, Ph.D. has been very helpful. I hope this helps. At least know that there are others out there who are hearing things too!

  • Jamie July 18, 2018, 2:50 am

    Since late 2016 I started having hallucinations out of nowhere. Then I started hearing voices outside my apartment at night discussing things in my life. Then the name calling started calling me a retard, lesbian, talking about my garnet bracelet that I have, some making videos of me in private moments, and it’s the same thing every night since 2016.

    It’s not going away and it’s always negative. I did have a head injury on January 7th 2013 by slipping on black ice outside the building and hit the back of my head on a concrete step cutting the back of my head open. I didn’t have a scan of my brain to see if there was any brain damage.

    I did have a mild concussion the next morning because I was dizzy with a pounding head and I threw up. I didn’t pass out at the time of my injury. Could having my head injury be a result of something changing in my brain to hearing voices? This has never happened to me before and I never had this problem.

    I keep hearing names like David and Tonya and it seems like they are watching me, are bullying me, and calling me names every night. I am on medication and it’s not helping. I have talked to my mental health care doctor about this and a counselor about what I am going through. Nothing is helping.

    The peoples voices sound like whispers and I am aware of my surroundings. I am shouting at the voices to leave me alone and to move on when I try to sleep. I even have called the police. They cannot do anything. I think I should see a neurologist. I have been putting up with this bull crap for a year and a half. I feel like I am under attack.

  • Brook July 1, 2018, 4:28 am

    Once and awhile I’ll start falling asleep then I’ll start to hear banging noises like gunshots so I start to panic and worry about getting shot even though the gunshots sound like they’re far away from my place. I also get those weird feelings when I dream about people talking to me and if I wake up from the dream – then I still hear their voices and I feel tired.

    I also had a weird thing happen to me on an evening after weight lifting. I was letting my dog out and I was feeling very sleepy and fatigued because I trained very hard and I felt dehydrated. When I went to let my dog out, I thought I saw a white thing across from my neighbors backyard but I started thinking maybe it was a ghost or maybe I was just hallucinating.

    I started to search online about what to do about tiredness after weight lifting but I couldn’t find anything. The side effects I’ve noticed when I weight lift are: dizziness, feeling weird like I can’t move right away or that one moment of wanting to pass out, I also get headaches (I get pretty sweaty so maybe I’m losing water).

    After weightlifting I drink water and I try to rest but I get sore after so it feels hard to move when you get sore. The gunshots kinda sound like fireworks but sometimes I hear them more then once at times so I’m trying to figure out if I’m hallucinating or not but I don’t hear any cops or sirens go off.

    I feel like I need help with relaxation because well I mean… when ever I’m stressed out I think about music, positive things, and running (I do sprinting for track and field). I just visualize that I’m somewhere like a water fall running around there feeling the cool wind go across my face, me not feeling tired but feeling energetic and feeling happy.

    I feel terrified to tell my parents about my hallucinations if I have them because my dad will just say “it’s all in your head” or “just grow up. It’s not happening to you”. I feel like my dad has depression but he won’t go to the doctor if he does and usually I’ll lie to my doctor if I feel depressed because I just wanna find better ways to cure anxiety like things that can help calm me down.

    Honestly… I’ve had kids at school bug me and it taunts me too much! I feel like I worry too much on what kids will say about me because I think I have low self-esteem because nowadays the community at schools have always been bad about bullying at schools, some schools won’t even help with bullying.

    I’m not sure what to do about me hearing things in my head, having past things come back to my head ( taunting me), Me hearing things, seeing things, and I hear voices call my name too. One day my mom was asleep and snoring… I woke up to hearing my name and no one was awake… it was like when she snores I kept hearing my name till I checked on her and it went away for awhile after I woke up for awhile.

    Sorry for typing a lot of things but I just really couldn’t keep my feelings hidden forever because it just scares me knowing that I might have anxiety or depression issues. When I’m in track and field season I sometimes have good dreams on that so I think that exercising helps with stress levels but I don’t know if weightlifting helps with it.

    I’m currently 16 and I started having some anxiety issues when I was in 8th grade, that’s when I had my first panic attack in class. It started as a good day till I started to feel weird – so it took maybe 3-4 weeks for me getting used to having panic attacks. But the one thing that will always scare me is that I now officially have panic attacks.

    I don’t drink alcohol or smoke either but I found that some of the foods or drinks you have can cause anxiety which that part is sorta weird at times… Honestly, I love to read and draw so that keeps me calm too.

  • N.R. June 26, 2018, 7:23 pm

    I have heard voices while falling asleep before, but I never really paid attention to them until recently when the whispering got louder. It happened my first semester of college. I was falling asleep in my dorm and my roommate was asleep in their bed.

    As I was falling asleep, I heard a very loud, intense whisper directly in my ear, saying my name. I woke up so fast and it felt like my heart was pounding out of my chest. I knew it wasn’t my roommate because I didn’t know them very well and we never really spoke to each other.

    Again it happened, but it was different this time. Just the other night while I was falling asleep at home, I was thinking something, I can’t remember what the thought was, but along with my own thought, I heard other voices whispering loudly the same thought that I was thinking.

    It was multiple voices, speaking one after another. I have been diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety.

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