Hearing Voices
Hearing Voices
Dear Tacit,

I sometimes think I am hearing “voices” talking in my head.  Does this mean I have a mental health issue?

Signed: Hearing Voices

Dear Hearing Voices,

I want to preface my response to this question by saying I am NOT about to provide any sort of counselling advice.  I know we state this fact every week, in the preamble to the Dear Tacit column.  But I think this particular question would benefit from having it clearly restated!  There is simply no way for me to fully answer this inquiry without knowing a heck of a lot more information about the situation overall.

What I can say is this… it is absolutely normal (and dare I say, healthy) for every human being to spend at least a little bit of time talking to themselves, throughout the course of their life.  Sometimes, these conversations might take the form of a dialogue we have out loud/verbally.  And other times, we carry on these debates within the constructs of our mind, more silently.  As we “think-talk” to ourselves, we can sometimes add nuances to the conversations that begin to sound like individual voices.  The old cartoon image of a mini “good” and a mini “bad” version of our own self, each sitting atop a shoulder, battling out the pros and cons to a dilemma we are facing is not so far removed from the gist of the conversations we might have inside of our own minds.  And sometimes, those of us with more creative or active imaginations may assign each perspective a different voice or name, just to make them seem more real or specific.

An auditory hallucination happens when a person hears noises or voices when there is no one else present/no other source exists.  When these hallucinations involve voices, they are called verbal hallucinations. These voices can sometimes be a symptom of mental health issues such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, extreme stress or grief, or psychotic depression. But they can also be brought on by temporary imbalances in our system – like a lack of sleep, starvation and dehydration, substance use, and certain physical/medical conditions (hearing loss, stroke, Parkinson’s, migraines, UTI’s in older people, etc) or medications.

Many healthy individuals also sometimes sense or even clearly hear a voice that can be attributed to other causes.  Some might call it “divine intervention” – or refer to it as one’s own intuition or sixth sense – or consider it the spiritual presence of an ancestral guardian – or other such comforting and peaceful terminology.  And there is a very specific type of auditory hallucination that happens as people are falling asleep or waking up (which are considered perfectly normal parts of a healthy sleep cycle).

Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Socrates have been quoted as hearing a voice speak to them, guiding them with advice or cautions in particularly difficult and dangerous moments of their lives.  Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and other famed psychiatrists have spoken openly about their experiences with voices that have shared wisdoms with them directly and even through their patients. Anthony Hopkins, Charles Dickens and other great creatives believe their skills are influenced by their predeceased mentors.  And many other greatly influential people like Bill W (the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous); some of our great healers and medicine men like Black Elk; and some of history’s leaders like Winston Churchill, Joan of Arc, and General Patton have all credited an inspirational and life-saving inner voice for the choices they made in their lives.

As a general rule of thumb, if the voices or inner-conversations that a person is hearing include full sentences or ongoing dialogues, can be controlled (don’t intrude when they are not helpful/warranted), are supportive or care-giving in nature (to the person who hears them and/or to others), and do not interfere with a person’s daily functioning or life relationships, then they are likely not anything to be concerned about.  However, if the voices seem to be distressing and frightening, if they are suggesting harmful and dangerous/at risk sentiments, if they are persistent and cannot be controlled/stopped, or they seem chronically and overly judgemental and critical in nature, then a person may wish to explore the source of these voices further with someone who is expertly trained in this kind of pathology – a specialized psychologist or therapist (not just a family doctor or a general mental health worker).

In short, it is not whether or not we talk to ourselves or hear voices that might spur us towards certain actions that is the determinant of whether or not we may be dealing with a mental health issue.  It is the nature of those actions, and the frequency and the content of the voices that matters far more.  If you have any worries about the auditory hallucinations you might be experiencing – if your situation is causing you stress of any kind – then talk to someone who truly understands.  Together, you can figure out what is happening.

Take care!

Have a question? Please feel free to reach out to us at counsellors@tacitknows.com. Your answer will be provided confidentially. 

Want to start your counselling today?
Make an Appointment

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tacit Knowledge Logo

Sign Up For Our Newsletter