All quoted text is reproduced with kind permission from Nevard (Doctoral thesis, 2015), which will be submitted for publication in January 2016.
Who here has a relationship that goes beyond what you’d expect from your voices? I’d ask you to raise your hands but I can’t yet travel through your screen to see you there.
I’m raising my own.
A while ago I took part in a study about voices and attachment theory. For those who don’t know, attachment theory is a way that long-term connections or bonds are described.
The results suggested that almost half of the participants (43%) did have some sort of indicator of attachment to the voices they heard.
22% agreed that they turn to their voice for comfort and reassurance. 19% agreed that they had a terrible fear that their relationship with their voice would end. 21% agreed that they were confident their voice would always love them.
I’m sure I’m counted among these. I can’t say I’m confident the voices I hear will always love me, or even care that much how I’m feeling a good deal of the time but I cannot imagine a life without them.
I do look to my voices for reassurance. And I always have, despite the fact I have had a sometimes negative relationship with them.
But what about hearing voices? Why do they appear, and when? What are the circumstances? It all starts somewhere doesn’t it?
Yes, it does – and this is important. I can’t speak for all people, but mine began when I was isolated. I was traumatised, suicidal and I felt I had nobody in the world. They filled the gap that was left by a life that I had checked out of, and whatever abandonment I felt was replaced by these disembodied voices who would talk to me when I had no one else to talk to. Even the first words that were clearly spoken to me, “We are watching you for your own protection.”
Of course, by this time it was already too late. They could offer no protection. But my mind had evoked a facsimile of human interaction.
It’s interesting that while I don’t know what I’d do without my voices, I no longer fear losing them. In the study,
socially isolated individuals feared losing their voice more, however this result lost significance after depression was controlled for. This suggests that peoples mood impacts on their beliefs about the voice
I’ve not taken any medication for depression. I think that while I’m sensitive to my surroundings, any depression I felt and feel was and is triggered by experiences and circumstance. And I have taken the long and arduous road out of it. But my mood does affect the way my voices are, and more importantly the way I react to them. Take today for instance – I’m on day two after my first ever reiki healing session. I’ve come a long way from totally shunning everything outside of medical science. I didn’t want to believe in anything else because, possibly, I felt cheated by my voices.
This is no longer the case. I believe in the power of the mind. I believe there are things we cannot yet explain in simple terms. Call it God, call it love, call it energy but I believe ritual has a place in recovery.
I digress. My attitude towards my voices has changed. My mood has changed. I’ve been tormented by constant noise for over a month and even though they are still there 80% of my waking hours and even though they can distract me they are not annoying me. I accept their presence.
This may not last. When I’m miserable, though what the voices say may be no different it affects me. The same way a little rain won’t ruin a persistent good mood, but a fragile sort of perseverance can be totally shattered by getting wet.
What does this mean? Well, since I’m opposed to taking meds, for me this means there is one way to live with the voices.
It is important for clinicians to consider that peoples relationships with their voices can be mixed or contradictory, and may sometimes serve a function for the voice hearer
That is to live with them. I rely on them. Joan of Arc did it. I can’t promise to do anything so revolutionary with my voices. I’m certainly unlikely to jump into a suit of armour (but never say never.)
High levels of loneliness in the sample suggest how important it is for clinicians to be mindful of voice hearers general relationships. For some voice hearers the voice may be partially alleviating loneliness.
If voices alleviate loneliness, then, as hard as it is we need to be guided out of that.
I don’t think voices should be treated as a symptom. In fact, these are a massive indicator for clinicians about the health of their patient. I know that when I’m ill, tired, hungry, miserable, lonely or anxious my voices behave differently. Even if I don’t. People with problematic mental health are used to being secretive. We hide in plain sight and try to get on with our lives.
So what are your voices really saying?