Having been someone who has heard voices and who frequently gets visions and also having been a facilitator of a Hearing Voices Network Group for nearly three years there are a number of things that are essential to know.
An important component of these experiences is that people don’t always view them as being a bad thing. There are many times where people have voices that are good and are helpful and they prefer to have the voices around as opposed to getting rid of them. Sometimes people will mention that the effort of getting rid of the voices is far more distressing and causes far more emotional and mental pain as well as difficulty with the voices than it does to work with them and to give them space to exist.
Some people will also mention that the voices can be good company and it’s nice having company at times when they would otherwise feel lonely. Many times, there can be efforts to medicate away voices and visions, however, people will mention that the side effects of the medications can be far worse than actually dealing with the voices themselves. For many people, a great deal of the healing comes from changing the relationship with the voices as opposed to trying to push them out or get rid of them. Many people like Eleanor Longden, who has a TED Talk on changing the dynamic of the voices, have mentioned this process was much easier than trying to completely get them out of their mind.
There are a number of strategies that work but it’s an individual decision and it really varies per person and even from moment to moment. Many people would mention if they could get rid of them without changing their medications they ideally would. However, when it comes down to a decision of increasing or changing medications in order to try getting rid of the voices many people will mention they are fine with hearing them and it’s the medications they’re more afraid of. The reason for this usually has to do with quality of life.
When people have come to terms with voices and they are able to manage them, they aren’t as concerned with the voices being there. It gets to be on the same level of having additional people within your mind just accompanying you from place to place. The key point is that people can lead full lives while hearing voices which is why they are willing to tolerate them. However, when there’s the idea of medicating out voices people tend to worry more because the side-effects of the medications can have the ability to be strong enough to diminish someone’s quality of life and their ability to do things like have a job, a social life, live independently, and to pursue creative interests. Quality of life is usually at the heart of whether someone wants to still hear the voices or have more medication to diminish them.
Another important component of voice-hearing is that people’s rationality and their intelligence are completely separate from hearing voices or seeing visions. There’s a notion that if you’re hearing voices you must be crazy but that’s not the case. Many people will refer to times during episodes where they felt crazy and the voices or visions weren’t helping but everyone who has had these experiences has tended to construct their identity on the rational, intelligent, good-natured times in their lives and how they feel when they are healthy. There are a variety of elements to psychosis and that compose psychosis. For me hearing voices and having visions is just one of those components, however, this does not necessarily have any bearing on the other components such as times where I wasn’t thinking rationally, I had paranoia, or I had beliefs that I was a messiah and that I was telepathic. Many people will report the same thing. It’s a regular occurrence to have voices and visions while still thinking rationally and being in touch with reality.
While feeling healthy and living full lives many people still have the experience of hearing voices and getting visions. The experience of hearing voices for a lot of people is the same as having additional consciousnesses in the room who are talking to them however these voices are within the internal world or the external world, whereas the conversations that usually take place between people who are physically present take place in the organic world. Getting a better sense of the voices can seem complicated but it’s actually really simple. Voices tend to be fully developed personalities to the same extent people in the organic world have fully developed personalities. They have likes, dislikes, interests, they have different tones, different identities, and there are different times where voices will chime in within someone’s stream of consciousness.
When you’re talking with people about their voices it’s normal to have the same expectations for voices that you do for anyone in the organic world and the voices are as fully developed if not more so than people within the organic world. Voices can sometimes be just as human as anyone within the organic world whereas there are other times people mention their voices can be angelic or demonic, or they can take on any construction really imaginable within the human mind.
Another important component to realize is that when people are interacting with their voices these interactions will make them feel the same way they do as with people in the organic world. Many times the interpersonal skills you can learn to change the dynamic of a bad relationship in the organic world can also work with voices. There are times as well though where people try a number of conversational and rhetorical techniques with voices and they simply don’t change.
As far as visions for myself I tend to get visions of people who aren’t present and then I’ll look in the direction of the vision and realize there is no one present. It feels scary in the moment but when I Iook and no one is there I usually feel relieved. My visions tend to happen more so when I’m stressed as opposed to not stressed but they don’t affect my rationality at all and they don’t change or have any influence on my stream of consciousness and my ability to make good decisions.
It’s a little distracting when it happens and it interrupts me with whatever I’m doing but only momentarily. Other people will report their visions can be anything they’ve ever seen before and they can also be things they haven’t seen at times too. I tend to think voices and visions can take on any kind of presence within the human experience.
One of the techniques I’ve used for myself and helped others with is called voice mapping or vision mapping which I learned in my Hearing Voices Network Training at the Western Mass RLC facilitated by Caroline Mazel-Carlton and Cindy Marty Hadge. Basically, the notion is to gather as much information about the experiences as possible. This includes the times they occur, the things they talk about, what they look like, thoughts or emotions that cause them, the time of day they happen, locations they happen, and any other pertinent information you can think of. Once you have this information it can lead to having more control over the experiences.
For me I know when I most commonly have visions it’s going to be when I’m out in public. This gives me expectations for being out in public that I can expect to see more visions or if I’m not wanting to deal with visions I can do things like order groceries or ordering dinner to avoid dealing with the visions entirely. If I can’t avoid going out in public I still have the expectation that the visions may occur and there are things I can do to counteract them. I know sometimes when people hear voices in public they’ll wear an earbud and attach it to their phone so if they have to talk back out loud to the voices it looks like they’re on the phone and this helps mitigate any stigma.
Most people who hear voices and see visions don’t refer to themselves as “crazy” and we’re not either. The vast majority of people you’d interact with who have had these experiences are really kind and good-natured people; not to mention having these experiences while interacting with you does not compromise your safety at all. I’ve met hundreds of people who have heard voices and seen visions including myself and this doesn’t affect who I am as a person at all. It plays no factor on my integrity or my intelligence and it doesn’t for the vast majority of people.
There is a notion that hearing voices means you have a “split personality disorder” to use a pejorative term however that’s not the case. People tend to find their identity is not interfered with and the voices are a separate entity from themselves. There’s another ailment called dissociative identity disorder where people sometimes feel their identity is changing and who they are as a person can shift from moment to moment but this is not the same thing as hearing voices or visions.
An important point to make here is that people are able to lead full lives meaning they’re working, living independently, and they have vibrant social lives while hearing voices and seeing visions throughout their days. Although the experiences might interfere with their lives sometimes many people are able to get to the point where they’re able to manage their voices and visions and they are doing all the things they want to.
For more information on Hearing Voices Groups you’ll want to visit Hearingvoicesusa.org to find a group close to home or over the internet.