People with schizophrenia aren’t the only ones who hear voices. A recent study published in the Journal of Mental Health indicates that about 13% of the population hears voices. That is, they hear what seems to be an entity or entities separate from their own mind speaking to them or engaging them in conversion. The study concluded that hearing voices should not be automatically seen as a symptom of illness, given that it appears to be relatively common among individuals in good psychological health.
But that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise; after all, hearing voices has long been an accepted part of our cultural and spiritual experiences. In fact, while the symptoms of schizophrenia are very real and not to be trivialized, the Mental Health Foundation in London reports that many researchers, practitioners, and voice hearers currently believe it a mistake to regard voice hearing as part of a psychopathic disease syndrome. Instead, they believe it should be considered a human experience that doesn’t necessarily need a cure.
If it’s not mental illness, then where do the voices come from?
I Think, Therefore I Am
Most, if not all, of us hear an inner voice. Our own thoughts help us make decisions, plan what we’re about to speak, repeat what we’ve just read, and relive past memories. We know the voice is ours because it follows our thoughts. We can make it start and stop any time we like and we know what it will say next. We have full control.
Or do we?
Anyone who remembers having a vivid dream can testify that the human brain is a complex instrument capable of creating intricate stories and playing them back as feature presentations while we sleep. Most people understand this to be the subconscious mind communicating its wants, needs, desires, and concerns to the conscious mind.
If that’s true, then perhaps it would only take a small opening in the barrier between the two to allow for a more direct means of communication?
Could There Be a Spiritual Explanation?
There are many who believe that the inner voice we all hear is our own spirit or soul housed inside our physical body. Others believe that there are independent levels of the soul that can act as guardian angels or even relay messages from God. Some even believe that other beings, good and bad, can communicate with us under the right circumstances. Thus the dire warning to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” found in 1 John 4:1 (KJV) of the Christian Bible.
Practical Advice for People Who Hear Voices
Many voice hearers who have learned to successfully cope have done so by gaining and maintaining control. Acknowledging that the voices are real and a part of us is a good first step to understanding them. Making peace and coming to understand their purpose and role is essential to living with them.
It’s important to remember that every situation and circumstance is different and that we each need to find the frames of reference and coping strategies that are most helpful to us. Doing so can be the key to living a healthy and happy life.
And who knows, you might just discover that your ability to hear voices is a gift and not a curse.
Sources and References:
Journal of Mental Health, June 2011, Vol. 20, No. 3, Pages 281-292
The International Hearing Voices Network (www.intervoiceonline.org)
Hearing Voices Network USA (www.hearingvoicesusa.org)
Mental Health Foundation (www.mentalhealth.org.uk)
Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center (www.chabad.org)