“People with Schizophrenia Hear Voices- Their Own”


For Slate, Eliezer Sternberg outlines research suggesting that auditory hallucinations are actually “subvocal speech” produced by the patient themselves. When a schizophrenic patient hears his own voice “the unconscious matching system incorrectly identifies a mismatch (false negative) and prevents him from consciously recognizing that it is his own speech that he’s experiencing.”

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  1. The idea that people who hear voices have a “defect” which makes them unable to recognize their voice as their own is totally unconvincing to me. First of all, how to explain the fact that some people – like me – have had only one episode of voice hearing in their life, even though they are not using neuroleptics ? I had such an episode for more than a month almost 3 years ago – if I have a “defect” in my brain, why do I no longer hear voices ?

    Secondly, I sometimes heard more than one voice (Eliezer Sternberg and Louis Gould would be unable to explain it) and the voice I usually heard sounded like the voice of a real person – someone whose behaviour contributed to my episode of voice hearing. The voices were also often saying very shocking or even terrifying things, things which were source of deep torment and most probably came from the depths of my unconscious. I was certainly not merely “talking to myself” and being unaware of it because of a “defect” in my brain !

    Voice hearing, especially when it is related to painful or even traumatic experiences, is a far more complex phenomenon than Sternberg and Gould believe. Like so many others, Sternberg and Gould want others to believe that people who hear voices have malfunctioning, deficient brains. Like so many others, they do not even mention trauma and other psychological causes of psychotic experiences. They shamelessly perpetuate devastating biopsychiatric myths on “mental illness” and “the mentally ill”.

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    • Thanks for sharing your story and making some very important points. I find it arrogant for anyone who hasn’t gone through the experience to speak for those who have, and even those who have can’t assume that their experience is the same as others who had similar experiences. One huge problem with calling voice hearing a “disorder” named “schizophrenia” or whatever else it’s called is that it assumes that all people lumped into this category are the same (in addition to assuming without evidence that they are “disordered, as you point out), and that leads to all sorts of false assumptions and conclusions and in the end is harmful to the very people the labelers are ostensibly trying to help out.

      If you really want to help another person, start by listening to them, because they’re the only one who really knows what’s going on!

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      • Thank you very much for your reply and your kind words, Steve ! Of course, I fully agree with you: there is such arrogance in some people’s belief that they “know” what it means to hear voices or to have delusions, even though they have never experienced it themselves. So many psychiatrists and other “experts” never really listen to the “mentally ill” and assume that they are all the same – strange and deeply miserable individuals with malfunctioning brains who have to be on neuroleptics “for their own good” …

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    • This phenomenon of hearing one’s own speech could be understood at a much deeper level, which acknowledges traumatic experience, as the activity of split-off subselves within a person’s mind generating the voices as a way of replaying unresolved trauma and trying to communicate their needs to the main self. I have given a brief description of how this might work in my comment below.

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    • Joanna, my experience was similar to yours, except I only heard “voices” while taking the neuroleptics. And the “voices” I heard were the “voices” of the three people who had abused my children, then had me gas lighted and drugged to cover up their crimes. The “voices” bragged about their abuse of my children, murder of their own first born, and said other deplorable and ridiculous things that I personally do not believe are things I would ever think, personally. I agree it’s inappropriate for people who have never heard “voices,” and don’t even bother to listen to the content of the “voices,” to claim to be experts in hearing “voices.” I’m glad you escaped, too.

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  2. A correction: my episode was almost 4 years ago, in August and September 2012. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at that time, but fortunately I was rebellious enough to reject this life-shattering diagnosis and to come off neuroleptics. As I said earlier, I have never suffered another “psychotic” episode.

    The voices did not return even when my father was dying from brain cancer at the end of last year. I am so happy that he knew until the end that his daughter was a happy and peaceful young woman who was wise enough not to believe what psychiatrists had told her and resilient enough to emerge as a stronger, more empathetic and more loving human being from a psychiatric hospital where she had been involuntarily committed …

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  3. I think this notion is often correct – “voice-hearing” can represent the activity of semi-autonomous alters, i.e. segments of a person’s mind that are not consciously accessible to that person and function independently. The defense of splitting/dissociation underlies this ability. The split-off sectors (sub-serlves) of mind that generate voices that the main self “hears” are usually charged with very strong negative emotions (rage, terror, despair); it was the experience of these feelings that initially causes many psychotic breakdowns, and that is why many voices are negative or persecutory, because they are playing out or speaking back to the main self the experience of the sub-selves which remember the trauma. In another way, the sub-selves could be understood to be protecting the primary self from experiencing unbearable affects all the time.

    I once had a voice like this, but I don’t anymore because I resolved the feelings that were causing the voice-hearing.

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  4. I wish I had a “semi-autonomous alter”. I’d have them doing all the shit I couldn’t motivate myself to do. Yet with struggle. A bit like Doctor Jekyl and Mr Hyde, or for those that remember, Big John and Little John. Both would often deploy leaping behind the sofa as the preferred technique to go into alter.

    People are performative. Some performances are abysmal and it’s the wisdom on the group that should have the last call on that. Including calling foul on multiple personalities or “alters”. Some people are destined for the stage, others destined for stunts.

    But to get back to basics. Surely it goes without saying that people hear themselves? The human imagination is capable of infinite theatrics.

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