Do you hear what I hear? Imagine hearing things, including hearing voices, and not quite knowing if they’re real. Are you the only one hearing the voice, the noise, or does everyone else hear it too?
Because it’s an unusual human experience, the idea of hearing voices captures attention in the media, on television, in the movies, in books, and in imaginations. The concept of hearing voices arouses curiosity. Curiosity is a good thing, because it leads to questions and understanding and, ideally, empathy. The more people know, the better people understand.
What, Exactly, are Hallucinations?
Hallucinations involve sensing things that aren’t really there. Any of the senses can be involved in hallucinations:
Seeing things and hearing voices are the most common and well-known of all the hallucinations, but it’s not unusual for someone experiencing hallucinations to feel sensations that aren’t there (such as bugs crawling on the skin, pin-pricks, etc.).
With auditory hallucinations like hearing voices someone hears sound that isn’t actually there. It can be vague noise in the background, or it can be very distinct voices clearly talking to or about the person.
Different Things Cause Hallucinations
Hallucinations like hearing voices are commonly associated with schizophrenia because schizophrenia is the most well-known (although one of the most misunderstood) of psychotic disorders. A psychotic disorder doesn’t mean that someone is “psycho” in the “Hollywoodized” definition of the term. Psychosis refers to experiencing hallucinations and delusions.
Hallucinations such as hearing voices are also part of other disorders or conditions, including (but not limited to):
- mood disorders, especially bipolar disorder
- dissociative disorders
- substance use
- migraine headaches
- sleep deprivation
- brain tumors
The common denominator in anything causing hallucinations is the brain. Something within the brain is causing misfirings that lead to hallucinations such as hearing voices.
What Hearing Voices Can Be Like
Hallucinations are complex. Despite prevalent and pervasive stereotypes, auditory hallucinations aren’t dominated by evil-sounding voices commanding someone to commit heinous acts.
Auditory hallucinations can sound like vague and distant noise or chatter. They can also sound like one or more people talking to someone. Frequently, especially with schizophrenia, voices can talk to and about the person in a very harsh, belittling, critical way. It’s like having running, negative, commentary cutting you down a significant portion of your waking hours.
I invite you to tune into this video where I contrast the voices of schizophrenia with the voices of dissociative identity disorder. I read a little bit from my novels Leave of Absence and Twenty-Four Shadows to show the difference, too.