The experience of hearing voices during madness, or during our “normal” and constant inner conversation that never stops, shows that we use words to attempt to express our underlying emotional state to ourselves and others.
We first and foremost are emotional beings, primate mammals that have evolved to have the ability in the first 2 years of life, to use speech to express our unbridled, pre-verbal emotions. We begin to express our emotions with words which we learn from our caregivers.
Our thoughts, which are made up of words/speech and symbolic visual imagery, express our second by second emotional state. Our second by second bodily movements also are expressing our emotions. Our dream images and dream speech express unconscious emotional states.
That is why sleep and dreaming are so important. Dreams process enormous amounts of emotional material without the restrictions of the conscious ego. The ego polices our emotions to meet the acceptable social expression of them when we are awake. When we are mad, the ego is swamped and our emotions run free. Unless they are captured and medicated into silent paralysis.
The universal emotional states of fear, rage, love, self hatred, lust, and grief, will always create inner words, even seemingly disembodied voices, and representative inner imagery that reflects these underlying emotional states. Every other emotion also creates words and imagery to express itself inside us. We need to express this emotional truth to those around us too. That is the hard part isn’t it?
An interesting experiment to try, is to hold an arm up off the bed as you are entering sleep. As you fall asleep you will start to hear inner conversations begin and to see imagery form that reflects the emotional tone of the spontaneously forming words. Because the ego is not in control, any kind of word formation can happen as can any imagery form. Fanciful, idiosyncratic dream life has begun. When your arm drops to the bed in sleep, the words and images will be able to be captured by your memory. Now ask yourself- what underlying emotional state was active that gave birth to the words and imagery?
I think that this experiment will show that there always is an emotion first, if we trace the words and images back to their source.
What could be more valuable self knowledge than to know what our emotional truth is, as it flows through us second by second?
As a therapist, hoping to compassionately help someone gain self knowledge, I first and foremost want to welcome whatever emotional truth that is trying to emerge and express itself for the person I am with. So I gladly receive their inner voices, bodily movements, speech/thoughts and imagery- and the sharing of their dreams.
In the medication-free madness sanctuaries I served at, that inner process of freely living the emotional truth that was erupting from deep in the core psyche and somatic body during madness, was seen as the powerful, completely natural transformative experience that people in madness needed us to support. We tried to do that as if we were midwives during birthing.
I believe my madness 46 years ago, and the madness of those I served for 35 years,
was necessary because our emotional truths were frozen inside us and it took the initiatory mystery of madness to bring that locked up emotional truth to the surface where it burst forth. How I grieve for those whose madness processes were aborted before that healing, emotion fueled transformation could fully run its course.
So-called anti-psychotic medications are really anti-emotions medications. Isn’t it our unbridled emotions that bio-psychiatry works to contain?
Doesn’t our culture want psychiatry to make sure that the range of our emotions will fall within socially acceptable norms?
Let’s help each other get free, so we don’t repress, suppress, numb and kill our emotional truths. Unless I’m wrong, they are the only truths we really have.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.
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