Hearing voices in your head: A sane survival strategy for dealing with past trauma

Eleanor Longden entered university with an air of happiness – yet later self-reflections revealed a deep unhappiness concealed from those around her, and even at times herself. During this first year, a life-changing event occurred that would put Longden on a strenuous path of misunderstanding and survival. In the TedTalk video below, Longden describes her experiences hearing voices in her head, and how rejecting stereotypes and stigma lead her to recovery and acceptance.

Longden began hearing a voice in her head narrating her actions in the third person. At first there was one single voice that was at times comforting. Yet following the negative reactions expressed to those that Longden confided in, including her school’s therapist, she began to resist and resent the voice. In turn, a “psychic civil war” ensued and the voices increased and became hostile. Longden began to spiral. Longden describes that two years after she heard the first voice, “The deterioration was dramatic. By now I had the whole frenzied repertoire; terrifying voices, grotesque visions, bizarre, intractable delusions. My mental health status had been a catalyst for discrimination, verbal abuse, and physical and sexual assault.” Eventually, however, Longden found supporters and community, and was able to come out of her ordeal a survivor. Of her family and the others who helped her, she states, “I used to say that these people saved me but what I now know is that they did something even more important, in that they empowered me to save myself. And crucially, they helped me to understand something which I had always expected – that my voices were a meaningful response to traumatic life events, particularly childhood events, and as such were not my enemies, but a source of insight into solvable, emotional problems.”

Longden learned to interpret and deconstruct the voices’ messages. Describing her increased understanding of how to interact and cope with her voices, she explains, “What I would ultimately realize was that each voice was closely related to aspects of myself, and that each of them carried overwhelming emotions that I’d never had an opportunity to process or resolve.” The voices were linked to sexual trauma, abuse, anger, and self-esteem issues. From her voices, Longden was able to interpret and address these issues and to work towards healing. She explains that this relates to a key concept of the Hearing Voices Movement that she later became involved in – that hearing voices is sometimes a survival strategy; a sane reaction to past abuse and trauma.

This video may begin with a commercial which was not chosen by or for the benefit of DisAbility Rights Galaxy.

Emily Pate is a third-year student at Seattle University interested in Strategic Communications, learning Spanish, and working with non-profits. Her work for Rooted In Rights is focused on discussing current events in the community of people with disabilities. Her experience previous to Rooted In Rights includes writing broadcasts for KBOO radio in Portland, OR, and managing a neighborhood blog in the Seattle community. In addition to work, Emily enjoys drawing, spending time with her friends and family, and backpacking.