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Background of hearing voices

As already stated people who hear voices are people with problems not patients with an illness. Therefore the roots of hearing voices are of interest.

Established reputation
When we tell people in our daily lives that we are doing research with people hearing voices, almost immediately they react: ‘oh people with schizophrenia’.. This reputation makes it difficult for voice hearers and family to be relaxed about and interested in the experience itself. The discriminating judgment that a person hearing voices is a mad person is an attack on the self esteem because it seems you can’t trust your own brains anymore. This attitude is neither stimulating to become interested in the experience itself which is necessary to learn to cope with the voices and their background. It is a pity this idea also lives with many professionals in mental health care and forms a handicap in their approach.

Traumata at the roots of the voice hearing experience
From our own studies and that of others it became clear that hearing voices is rooted mainly in serious traumatic experiences in childhood next to more recent social emotional problems. 
In our own studies we found repeatedly in 70 to 80 % with the interviewed voice hearers that they related their voices to serious traumatic experiences or complex more actual social emotional problems. Also many epidemiological and case control studies from literature came to this conclusion. A more recent publication in the schizophrenia bulletin from March 2012 shows a heightened risk of developing a psychosis in later life when experienced a serious childhood trauma with a factor (Odds Ratio) of 2.8. Therefore it should be routine practice to explore the traumatic experiences in the lives of voice hearers and their relationship with the voices heard.
In the Schizophrenia Bullietin article and in our own research the main childhood traumatic experiences were: (see Romme & Escher own studies, recovery process and supporting research

  • Sexual abuse.
  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional neglect
  • being bullied over longer periods.

The interaction of traumatic experiences
In the development of hearing voices two steps can be differentiated.
1 (Childhood) Traumatic experiences that emotionally can’t be managed and lead to a social emotional vulnerability for hearing voices and also psychosis.
2 (Complex)Actual stress with a specific sensibility for that person which can trigger hearing voices, especially in powerless making situations or with existential threats and needs.
The actual stress and the vulnerability often fits with each other as a key in a lock. (See book “Living with Voices Story of Frans page 163)