When I get so far into a novel – or, sometimes, a short story – I start hearing the characters speaking to each other, resolving issues I haven’t sorted out in my plot-plan, creating conflict I hadn’t designed, and generally moving the story forward. These moments are marvellous, for if the characters are ‘real’ to me, then I just might be able to convey that ‘reality’ on the page. That’s what writers constantly strive to do, in effect: impose their reality on the reader for the duration of the story. So, from this perspective, hearing voices is a good thing.
Yes, there’s no need to send for the men in white coats. Having read some imaginative literary forays, however, it’s possible that a few critics or psychiatrists might lean towards that opinion. Gruesome murders and overtly sexual themes suggest they may be authors’ cries for help. Nonsense, of course. Whatever the imagination can conceive is never as strange as what occurs or has occurred in real life.
Sketch of the human brain - Wikipedia commons
Seriously, though, for a long time, there’s been a tendency to assume that anyone who hears voices in their head must be suffering from a hallucination. This is not a delusion, which is someone interpreting something differently from others. [A few politicians might be deluded, thinking they’re doing the right thing, perhaps.] Another example of delusion is paranoia. Whereas a hallucination is something that a person perceives that nobody else can.
Sufferers of hallucinations have been thought of as schizophrenic. Those hearing voices have been regarded with caution, concern and even suspicion. Ergo, someone who hears voices must be insane. [A few authors have thought they might be mad to continue writing when the muse, the publishers, the critics or the reading public abandon or ignore them…]
Statistics indicate that several million individuals have experienced hearing voices at some point. Opinion is divided but many consider that these voices are bad, encouraging violence, evil acts and are even sourced from the devil himself. [I’m sure authors may be responsible for perpetuating this, too, reflecting on commonplace if misguided opinion.] Yet, reality leans to the statistic that some 50% of people say that the voices they hear are positive, friendly and helpful.
Mind map - Wikipedia commons
In 1987 Marius Romme and Sandra Escher formed the Hearing Voices Movement. They seek to investigate and provide support for individuals with this condition. The movement is now called Intervoice and has branches worldwide.
The credo of Intervoice is: hearing voices is not in itself a sign of mental illness, and indeed is experienced by many people who have no symptoms of mental illness. The condition may be linked to problems in a person’s life history. They can develop coping mechanisms to confront the unresolved issues. Intervoice oppose the blanket use of anti-psychotic drugs.
Research shows that hearing voices is associated with severe trauma or other unfinished business in the past: perhaps an accident, divorce, bereavement, sexual or physical abuse, a love affair or even pregnancy. It seems that the voices become more insistent or stronger when the person is under stress. The voices are not the problem; it’s what they represent or bring to the surface that is of concern. Denial of the existence of the voices can actually help maintain them. [Authors write about the human condition and there is enough material here for a good number of novels, I suspect.]
Hearing voices can be distressing to the listener. A person who hears voices can become frightened, not by the voices but by the concern over control of one’s mind. Unlike fictional examples, this is not the case. There is no mind control by evil forces through voices. [There may be evil individuals who manipulate the sufferers of these voices, however; which is often the meat of fiction and screenplay writers.]
No demons, no evil spirit, just a troubled mind that needs the soothing balm of comprehension.
The above is based on the ‘Psychotherapy and the power of the mind’ column’s article ‘People who hear voices’ by Graham Milton-Jones, Costa Blanca News, February 7, 2014.
Living with Voices: 50 Stories of Recovery (2009) - This book claims to hold true for those who have been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. At its heart are the stories of the 50 people who have recovered from the distress of hearing voices, and how they have changed their relationship with their voices in order to reclaim their lives. – Wikipedia article, Hearing Voices Movement, definitely worth reading.