Hearing voices is strongly connected with traumatic experiences, but are voices a brain malfunction or a creative strategy for protection? UK psychologist Eleanor Longden survived a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and went on to be a leading researcher around voice hearing, trauma, and dissociation. She is now a pioneer in the movement to understand voices as a normal human experience — and truly help people by healing trauma.
I thought I would talk about my experiences of hearing voices, I will tell you a little about my story and I will leave it for you to decide whether it is a creative strategy for protection or a brain malfunction. I know what I believe.
So I will start by saying this, I have heard voices or to be completely accurate my mother use to talk to me. It started when I was 12, it was just before my 13th birthday in 1979 and I had just started living away from my mother and had moved down to live with my father and stepmother, now this was two pronged for me at the time as I was happy to be living with my father, because of divorce I didn’t see him very often, but also it was devastating to be sent away by my mother.
I found it difficult to sleep sometimes as a child (I still do sometimes) and it was during one of these nights that I first heard my mother speak to me; All she said was ‘Allison go to sleep’ it was quiet and gentle and I actually thought she had come down to Kent to see me, I got out of bed and went onto the landing, but it was really quiet and no-one was around (everyone was sleeping obviously), confused I went back to bed, and convinced myself that it was a dream, after all I was 12 years old and I had never heard of voice hearing.
The following day it happened again on the train between Aylesham and Dover on my way to school and all she said was “it’ll be OK, it’s a new school, you’ll soon settle in”. I felt comforted by my mother’s voice and oddly looking back, this time I didn’t even question it. I was afraid to talk about it in case she became angry and went away. From then on, every time I was worried she spoke to me, I felt as though I had finally got the close relationship with my mother that I had yearned for and sadly never had.
I moved back to live with my mother later on in that year but my mother and I clashed on a very regular basis in real life, so I just retreated and listened to the mother in my head, she always comforted me. I suppose some would have thought of me as a bit of a weird kid. I had friends at school although I was bullied by some. I liked to be with people but I preferred my own company and would run around the park or pick flowers and press them, being on my own made me happy, being with people was always stressful.
As a child:
• I suffered trauma
• I suffered abuse
• I became a loner, suffering from social anxiety (I still do to some extent)
• I lived in land of fantasy in my head
• I was described as being bad, ugly and stupid on a regular basis
If you read any of the literature about poor mental health in children, I ticked all the boxes, but this was the 1970’s and a time when children’s needs were pretty much ignored. So I stayed quiet, withdrew and waited for the day I could leave. My relationship with my mother never improved and it was the mother in my head that helped me to rationalise, helped me to stay calm. It is important to mention that my life was normal to me and it is hard to describe it other than that. My real life mother died in 1987 when I was 21 and I never had that close relationship, but the mother in my head was always with me, she comforted me, helped me with decisions. Kept me sane….
So let’s move on to adult hood, I managed a stint in the Army, marriage, 2 children, and then divorce, new relationship, all with my mother in my head, still no-one new, there was still a child like fear, I was afraid she would go if I told anyone and I would be rejected again.
Then in 2008 I survived a devastating rape. At this point the mother in my head changed, she was no longer kind and gentle, instead she turned on me becoming critical, angry and constantly disappointed in everything I was doing or trying to do. My stress levels raised exponentially, I became emotional, angry, fearful, and paranoid. I withdrew again. I began to self-harm regularly. I didn’t notice days, weeks going past, eventually doctors became involved and I was medicated heavily. I was informed that I was suffering from psychosis, personality disorders, and chronic PTSD. Three years of therapy with some wonderful people and therapists, I am now considered ‘cured’.
The point I suppose I am trying to make is that the voice in my head was never the issue, it was the attack I suffered and the illness that came from that, it was the attack that changed the mother in my head, because I changed.
Hearing my mother speak to me was never a problem for me, It comforted me. I don’t know why some people hear voices and others don’t, there are people much more learned than me trying to work that out, but I do know that in today’s society we have been primed to fear that which we don’t understand. It is not acceptable to talk about things which make others uncomfortable and because everyone told me I shouldn’t have the mother in my head anymore, she was quietened with medication and is now gone.
I miss her.
If you would like to learn more about this subject google Eleanor Longden or Dr Rufus May.
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