Well, at first it comes as an unexpected event, a surprising phenomena.
Suddenly hearing a voice can be a gentle flutter of experience, a little like a bird wing whispering by an ear. Alternatively, like a quiet explosion of sudden sound.
It is a disconcerting and puzzling human experience. How we respond to it can determine many outcomes.
Some people have an experience like this just once but, for others, it may be a continuing presence in their life. These are often the folk that seek suport and help and the most likely individuals to come into contact with medical professionals.
Regardless of theories as to why we sometimes hear voices, dealing with the onset of voice hearing can be an unsettling business.
Especially if the voices contain criticisms and negative content. A person may, understandably, become a little bit more withdrawn and self isolated as a result and might seem to be preoccupied with trying to quietly figure out what is going on.
They can cancel appointments, withdraw from social interaction and spend more time on their own. They may seem to be a little bit distant and lost in thought as they are hearing a voice that no one else is a witness to. They may worry that they are perhaps going a little bit mad. No surprise then that they seem to be "within themselves" or inhibited.
This is often noticed by sensitive family members or friends, so, of course, relationships can be affected, studies and everyday activities neglected, self care can fall away and daily routines suddenly don´t seem to be so important.
And because it is a confusing time , the individual may not be able to easily find the language to express what is going on. Consequently, isolation is reinforced for fear of being misunderstood or even that a person be considered mad if they try to share that they are having an unusual experience. One they struggle to fathom.
We really need to do better when having conversations around these kinds of human experiences. There is too much fear and stigma getting in the way.
Professor Marius Romme, a pioneering and thoughtful Dutch psychiatrist, began to listen to his patients accounts of hearing voices.
(See bottom of this blog for his inspiring and ground breaking books).
They took part in research relating to the onset of voice hearing, the content of their voices (what the voices actually said) and how they felt regarding these voices.
He was able to learn that there seemed to be three quite specific phases of voice hearing.
1. The onset or surprising phase
As outlined above, the sudden voice hearing experience can be unsettling, disturbing and confusing.
2. The organisation phase.
A voice or several voices may begin to settle into a rhythm or pattern. They may appear at specific times of the day for example, or they may be heard at certain locations and within certain social experiences such as meeting with individual people or having to undertake tasks that are stressful or worriesome.
If there are several voices, they can settle into a sort of hierarchy with one voice appearing more often than others. The voices may converse with one another and comment on a persons actions, thoughts and feelings.
Some voices may express more power in their relationship to other voices. There can be changes in the power relationships between the voices and fluctuation in the interplay of voices. This is where keeping a voices diary to make notes might prove helpful. We can look at the voices and safely figure out if there is some learning or meaning that may speak to us contained within the messages voices may embody.
Are these voices connected to pur life experiences? Do they speak directly or indirectly to unresolved traumas or unmet needs?
3. The stabiliation phase
After a while, fluctuations may disappear and voice hearing becomes more fixed and regular. A single voice can be ignored or explored, depending on the desire of the individual.
Multiple voices settle into a pattern and are regulated, often containing specific characteristics, i.e. criticism, praise, empathy, and speak to issues of power and powerlessness.
Sometimes a voice may embody and display the same range of emotional responses available to any human being with fluctuating feelings. Other times a voice may be rigid, repetitive and what we hear from this voice does not change at all.
And it is here that an interesting conversation can take place. Do we ignore voices that have arrived into our lives without our permission?
Or do we explore what the voices might be bringing into our consciousness space?
Clearly, it is better to do this safely and with adequate support but, before we can get to this place of exploration, before we can dig into the words that voices speak to us and find some relevant meaning for our lives, we have to become more able to have some ease and comfort in discussion.
Being able to say that we are hearing a voice, without being judged insane or dangerous is a start. What we do with this experience after that is up to us.
Below, CNN reporter Anderson Cooper finds out what the challenges are in concentrating and focusing when our thoughts are interrupted by unwanted voices.
See what you think!
Activist/ Health worker/ 20 years. Specific interests : wellness/ voice hearing/ coping/ exploring/ sharing/ stigma reduction.