Basic Information About Voices & Visions

This page contains some basic information about voices, visions and other unusual sensory perceptions. If you feel you know little about the experience of hearing voices or seeing visions, it’s a good place to start. However if you already know the basics and would like some more detailed information, check out the other pages in this section.

What Are Voices & Visions?

When we talk about voices and visions, we simply mean someone is hearing, seeing or sensing something that others around them aren’t. These experiences can include all five senses, hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. These experiences can occur in one sense at a time (hearing a voice, for example, or smelling something), but they can also happen in combination.

For some, these experiences can be comforting. For example, someone who is lonely may really value a voice that becomes a trusted confidant. A person who has recently lost someone they care about may benefit from talking to them at the end of the day, or smelling their perfume/aftershave. Others find these experiences to be a source of inspiration. Authors, for example, sometimes talk about how the characters can come to life and write the story for them. However, for some people these voices and visions can be extremely distressing – criticising, threatening or causing confusion.

How Common Is It?

Statistics vary, but it’s generally accepted that between 3 and 10% of the population hear voices that other people don’t. If you include one off experiences (like hearing someone call your name when you’re out shopping, or feeling your phone vibrate in your pocket) this figure goes up to 75%. So, having at least one experience of hearing or seeing something that others around you don’t is incredibly common. Those that have never had this experience are in the minority.

A number of famous and important people (past and present) have experience of hearing or seeing things that other people don’t. Without these people, the world would be a very different place. This list of famous people who have talked or written about hearing voices includes: Gandhi, Socrates, Joan of Arc, Freud, Anthony Hopkins, Philip K Dick, John Frusciante, Carlos Santana, Robert Schumann, John Forbes Nash, Zoe Wannamaker and Charles Dickens.

What’s It Like?

We’re all unique, so it’s unsurprising that voices and visions can be equally individual in terms of their identity, content, interpretation and impact. The following gives a brief overview. If you don’t recognise your experience here, that doesn’t mean you’re ‘weird’ or ‘unusual’.

Voices

Some people hear voices talking when no-one is around. These could be like the voices of people they know, or complete strangers. They might hear many voices, or just one. Voices can shout, whisper, be clear or muffled. They can speak in sentences or say single words. These voices can be male, female, genderless, old or young. Sometimes they have names, but not always. Voices can speak constantly (24/7), but they can also utter occasional words or phrases. People can hear other types of sounds too, including knocking, rustling, crying, screaming or music.

Some voices can be positive – providing the support and encouragement someone needs to get through the day. Other voices can be confusing, perhaps echoing thoughts or repeating strange phrases. Some voices can be very frightening, saying things that are critical, threatening or commanding. Voices can claim to have great power and knowledge, which can sometimes leave the voice-hearer feeling scared and powerless. Some voices can leave a person feeling very vulnerable and exposed (e.g. hearing a crowd of people jeering at you, or discussing intimate details of your life).

Visions

Some people see things that others don’t. These visions can be very clear and realistic, but they can also include fuzzy shapes, shadows and beams of light. Some people see the voices that they hear, others see insects or spiders. For some, the visions are very complex (like entering into another world). For others, the visions sit alongside their everyday world (an added box, person or animal for example). Sometimes, it can seem as if people or objects are changing shape. Their faces may turn to stone, they may be surrounded by a coloured aura or, for example, their eyes may change colour. As with voices, these visions can be reassuring, funny, frightening or distracting.

Smells

Some people smell things that remind them of their past. This could be something nice, like a loved one’s perfume/aftershave or a favourite food.

Sometimes people smell things that remind them of a particularly traumatic experience. For example, someone who survived a house fire may smell smoke when they feel anxious. Someone who was hurt by someone wearing a particular scent may, sometimes, smell this when there is no-one there to account for it. This can be extremely frightening, especially if they don’t recognise that this sensory experience comes from the past.

For others, the smell isn’t linked to a particular memory or traumatic event. For example, some people smell gas, burning or rotting food. These smells can feel very real and leave them fearing for their safety.

Taste

It can be difficult for someone to know that they’re tasting something that others can’t – unless they get someone else to try it too. This can make taste experiences particularly difficult to deal with. Some people get a strong bitter taste in their food or drink and, understandably, start to worry that there is something wrong with it. This can lead people to worry that they are being poisoned, or that someone is tampering with their food. Others have taste sensations when they are not eating. This might be when they are hearing a voice, watching a TV programme or thinking about something. These taste sensations can be pleasant (e.g. chocolate or a favourite food), but they can also be unnerving or unpleasant (e.g. something bitter or metallic).

Feeling (touch)

Some people can feel things on their skin when there doesn’t seem to be anything there. They might feel something crawling over their skin, tickling them or pushing them. Sometimes people feel something underneath their skin, and this can lead them to feel really worried about what is happening to their body.

Understandably these experiences can be very confusing and frightening. It’s not as simple as this, though. For others, these experiences can be reassuring. Someone who feels lonely and hears a reassuring voice may feel comforted if they feel a hand on their shoulder. They might interpret it as a sign that the voice is trying to support them.

Why Do People Hear Voices

There are lots of different theories and ideas to explain why people hear voices or see visions. These include:

  • A special gift or sensitivity
  • Trauma or adverse life experiences
  • Dissociation
  • Spiritual experiences
  • Biochemical (e.g. excess dopamine)
  • Paranormal experiences
  • Emotional distress
  • Physical health problems
  • Cognitive error (misattribution of ‘internal speech’)
  • Individual difference

The truth is that we do not know why people hear voices or see visions. As the experience is so diverse, it’s likely that there are a number of different explanations. Whilst this can be frustrating for those who feel confused and would like a simple answer or some certainty, it means that the most important explanation is the one that the voice-hearer themselves finds useful. It is important not to impose your own belief on someone else’s experience – this is fundamental to the Hearing Voices Network approach. Rather than providing a dogmatic view of voice-hearing, we recognise and celebrate a festival of explanations.

Whatever someone believes about their experiences, the most important thing is to find ways of dealing with that belief and finding some sense of power, control and hope within it.

Does Everyone who Hears Voices Get a Diagnosis of Schizophrenia or Psychosis?

Whilst many people associate voice-hearing with diagnoses of schizophrenia and psychosis, research suggests that the majority of people who hear voices have no mental health issue at all. Those who become overwhelmed, distressed or struggle to cope

Those who become overwhelmed, distressed or struggle to cope in some aspect of their life may receive a range of diagnoses including: anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder (also known as ’emotionally unstable personality disorder’), obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, psychosis, dissociative identity disorder, eating disorder, schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.

When someone receives a diagnosis, this diagnosis is not necessarily for life. Many people who are part of our network have met the criteria for a diagnosis at some point in their lives – but no longer do.

Diagnoses like these are a hotly contested area – with some finding that they are useful and others finding them a barrier to healing. For more information on a critical perspective on diagnoses, see:  Position Statement on DSM 5 & Psychiatric Diagnosis. You might also find Lucy Johnstone’s book ‘A Straight Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Diagnosis‘ an interesting introduction to the debate.

If you’re struggling with voices or visions, please speak to someone. See our page on getting help for more information.

Is Recovery Possible?

At the Hearing Voices Network, we use the word recovery to mean ‘living the life you choose, not the life others choose for you’ (whether those others are family, friends, workers or voices). Many people who hear voices simply don’t need to recover – they are already living lives that they love. The voices might enhance their wellbeing, or their experiences may simply not detract from it.

For those who have particularly overwhelming experiences that lead them into the mental health services, recovery can feel like a distant dream. The good news is that people can, and do, find ways to deal with (and recover from) distressing voices. Perhaps more importantly, people can also recover from the situations that can make voices and visions so hard to deal with. Many people who recover continue to hear voices. Sometimes these voices change during the recovery process (being an ally, rather than an attacker). Other times these voices become quieter, less intrusive or even disappear altogether. Others find that the voices stay the same, but that they are no longer ruled by them. They feel stronger and more able to choose whether to listen to the voices or not.

We have witnessed many amazing journeys of recovery in the Hearing Voices Network. These journeys are, by their very nature, very individual. However, these journeys have led us to believe that no matter how overwhelmed or distressed the person is by their experiences (or whatever labels they have collected throughout their time in the mental health system) – recovery IS possible.

385 responses to “Basic Information About Voices & Visions”

  1. Nick

    I am so incredibly grateful to have found this site, to know that I am not alone and reaffirm that I am not insane, and to read all of your experiences (some eerily similar to my own) as there is no logical way that you can share what hearing these voices is like to the people in your life who love you but cannot hear voices themselves and feel helpless as to how they can help you…it’s beyond frustrating, life altering really because at times I cannot distinguish reality from fantasy (??) and must look like some labotomy patient to my neighbors who occasionally witness me searching my roof and yard for ANY type of proof that my house has been planted with cameras and/or microphones hidden somewhere…it hasn’t…although I am an atheist and have done extensive research on the origins of many of the modern world’s religions and their affects on the masses, I have always believed that energy cannot be created nor destroyed as far as we know therefore that life energy we as humans all have once our flesh and bones calls it a day, that energy must go somewhere near the vicinity of our bodies upon death…modern science still does not have concrete evidence of dark energy nor dark matter, so perhaps if our positive energy bonds to those dark energies around us could explain how something such as this could even be possible?!?…it is VERY real, however try explaining this to someone who cannot hear voices which is why this is so alienating…it is very confusing, my rational mind tells me that at this stage of my life my brain’s chemicals are off balance and your brain dictates ALL that we hear, see, feel, etc….yet my voices laugh this idea off by telling me that they are invisible beings who have been watching me my entire life since birth, watched me grow up into manhood and in fact they watch over ALL of mankind but only make themselves known to a select few (lucky me)…I would laugh it off myself only aside from their degrading insults and criticism, I occasionally see tiny light orbs zipping by my face or little pinches on my body followed by giggling…what is freaking me out is that my 1 year old pug sees them before I do at times as well as reacts as if he just got pinched by surprise followed by him getting scared, looking around the room, barking at invisible things near us, and burying his little face into my body trembling with fear afraid to look up for oxygen…this is what is making me re-analyze everything that we think we know is our reality in the Universe…I would probably think that as sad as it may be that I would have that schizophrenic mutated gene rearing it’s ugly head in my DNA finally, however my puppy is seemingly experiencing the same exact things as me even when he doesn’t know that I am watching him from afar…THIS is what is f*cking with me…could it be possible that us humans are NOT the dominant species here on Earth and instead are just some entertainment for some invisible alien/creature/being this entire time on our planet??? (even as I write this the voices are laughing and saying “yes!! We watch you all!” You are such a loser, my god! Every single day, we can’t wait until you’re here, you’re f*cked!”) How do you explain this to your wife/husband/parents/kids/teacher/doctor?!? Answer, you don’t, you can’t…not unless you want sad and pathetic eyes staring back at you from here on out every time they see you again…meh, at this point I know I’m ranting on too long, just know that I am happy to have found this forum and I thank all those of you who have either read my story and or shared theirs for me I have read…what a curse this has been though, I “pray” that I have the strength to deal with this as so many of them have in common that the voices don’t go away…again, lucky me

  2. AMBER RAE HARTSHORN

    hi my name is amber rae im from Wisconsin and I hear voices mine is not fun it stresses me out some times to the point where I cry and just want shit to end!!! I hear my kids being torchered n rapped I hear my family as in mom sisters I hear my boyfriend and than I even hear a guy n a girl they all ways talk shit to me and about me like I cant even go to the bathroom with out them saying something laughing at me its all ways negative and I hear it more at night than threw the day ive been threw a lot in my life !! but sometimes when you hear something as to my kids I would be wrong and a bad mother and a sick person if I didn’t try to follow these voices which than makes me look crazy but what if it were REAL!! THANKS FOR LETING ME READ ABOUT THIS AND OTHERS …. AND LETTING ME SHARE!!!

  3. Rusty

    Sometimes I hear a voice that is not mine whisper my name like a thought through my mind that was not my own. Like someone from a different dimension. I cannot communicate. It is like the wind.

  4. muzz

    Thanks for this website I googled if I had a mental illness if I hear voices etc, it is always my name, said in both male, female sometimes in a dreamy trance voice, slow!? also words added on the end of someone talking to me or on tv, radio, youtube?? My eyes changed colour to yellow then switched back to normal when I was in front of the mirror, wierd thing is none of this frightens me one bit, Im generally a positive person I really dislike negativity. A friend also heard a voice say my name when I did as well. Have not had night terrors or anything of that type but then as a child I would fly in my dreams to any destination and wondered why none of my friends could? I mean I have so many questions in regard to this, thought it was paranormal spent several years thinking it was that but im starting to disagree as it just doesnt feel negative? im sure it was when I learned to change situations as a kid sleeping, id just imagine there was a door that I could open to leave a ‘loop’ (where you think you are stuck in a neverending dream? anyway I hope to read more on this site thankyou 🙂 I find what ive experienced as liberating and not to fear it, oh I also have seen the odd shadow person though what I see is an outline of a person but with a static look, also one that looked like those wooden dolls that have bendy parts made of steel?

  5. Karen

    I belong to a religion that teaches that we each existed in spirit form before we were born, and when our spirits leave our bodies at death, they continue to exist throughout eternity. At some point all spirits who lived on earth will be reunited with their bodies permanently, in perfect, healthy form, and continue on in an immortal life. But we also believe that there are half again as many spirits who existed with us in the pre-mortal life who rebelled against the plan of this earth life ‘academy’ if you will, and will never get to experience mortality, and can only experience having a body by invading someone else’s. These spirits are angry, and they spend their time doing all in their power to ruin this experience for the rest of us. They want us to fail in our task. I call these spirits dot-people. They whisper (or shout, I guess) words of discouragement and if they can get us to kill others or ourselves, they have won.

    So with this knowledge, here is what I believe. I believe there are spirits waiting for their turn to be embodied, spirits disembodied-who’ve had their turn already, and the never-to-be embodied spirits. Of the unembodied and disembodied, there are good and bad spirits, just like among us embodied spirits. I think these are the voices we hear, whether we hear them audibly or just as thoughts.

    The trick is to discern which spirits you are hearing, or at least their intent with regards to you. Are they for you, or against you? If they are negative, they are against you. If they encourage, and entice you to do good for yourself, they are for you.

    I have been taught that you can tell them to shut up. They may not, but you don’t have to listen to them. If I were hearing frightening spirits audibly, I know that what I would do is to call on the father of all spirits (we all belong to the same family), whose name is Elohim, but who most people just call God, to protect me from them. I would ask for guardian and warrior spirits to protect me. I would immerse myself in scripture and prayer and good works.

  6. Jeffrey

    Hi everyone, i hope someone could benefit from my experience. I was 18 yrs old when i had suffered a head injury earlier in the day, later that day i had laid down on the bed and began to think i was dying and knew for a fact i was, i had worked through the emotions of self as in fear of dying and not being here anymore with my loved ones or the uncertainty or self and where it goes and all the negative thinking one might experience of (self) and realized at a point in time i was a whole self then more overwhelming positive emotions began to enter. I had this overwhelming sense of self and also wholeness then a loud crack/ frequency or noise came. I had separated myself or sense of whole from my physical body of material, and i was floating above my body with a cord of pure white light attached from my stomache of body and stomach of self, dare i say (consciousness of being). I could hear the people in the room, see the people and colors were very,very bright and full. I tried to get out of the room, as in open a door as i would physically and my hand went right through it. I began to understand i could go through objects and move objects with just thinking about it and putting energy into said (will)..i started floating through the ceiling of the room and out of the house, i started a wonderful journey of explorations i never seen before, then when i was finished i began floating out from the beautiful scenery of the world and into the atmosphere. I remeber the sun so bright and vivid just like it was yesterday. I had then heard a voice loud as thunder saying it was time to go. I began going through a tunnel and at the end was a light, i found, i found myself traveling at wrap speed towards this said light, when i came to the other side it was filled with a bright blinding white light that was as far as i could see. I was greated by loved ones that had passed and future loved ones, there was no sense of time or space everything was infinite. I heard trumpets playing and there was a line of people dressed in white robes standing in 2 rows as in the curbs of a street and when the trumpeta began to play they kneeled down. I didnt know where i was or where i was going, then i seen horses beautiful white horse’s walking in betqeen the 2 rows of people, and a figure appeared in front of me and i began to cry like a baby at his feet. He said why are you crying my son you have nothing to cry about, he said look at me as in his face. I looked and then immediately looked away cause of how bright and full of light his face was, i tried again and did the same thing. Finally the 3rd time i was able to stare in his eyes and he resembled jesus christ. I had at that point in time a long conversation with him and he gave me a life review of past, present, and future. Then he said i can go back or continue forward. But i would have to make a choice. I weighed it out and said i want to go back. I began to fall through the floor of the heavenly white clouds and began to fall faster and faster, it felt like i was falling forever and then back through the galaxies and back to the solar system and back to earth then back into my body. I came back. Thank you..jeff

  7. Mahya

    It is so strange to hear some voices…maybe they are angels.

  8. Precious

    Hi I’m 16 and I’ve been experiencing having voices in my head for 4-5 years now and still going. I don’t know how to tell my family. These voices are getting in the way of me starting the day and finishing off. It’s getting really frustrating for me.

  9. William

    I’m 16 and my family is aware I hear voices in my head but I never told them about how weird they are acting exactly like normal and even having names to even having full conversations with them but now I’m thinking this isn’t just voices that effect all senses but instead can some how control me as if it was like Dissociative identity disorder but instead of just switching between them and being sometimes unaware like the stereo types I can interact with them and even go into like a dream world where I can actually meet them like normal people but even then I can still see them like illusions that nobody else sees
    I’ve been talking about it but not dropping it off straight away as I’m unsure how people will react with it as it seems like such on odd case that would make me sound crazy
    I would just like to know what this even counts as anymore as it’s just like this but to a more advance level

  10. Nancy

    Hi I think it is the mind making shape out of the chaos of all the sounds for me, and then the collective subconscious can come through which can be both light and shadow. It can be worse when I am anxious. I try to practice mindfulness. I am getting mental health treatment but I don’t feel safe to tell them about voices as they can over react and over medicate and I have been overmedicated before. I have ptsd and bipolar dx but the mental health system has given me more ptsd (got assaulted in one place) I need their help but I only share so much with them, it is a matter of survival. I think it helps me to see the nature of the phenomena but to ignore the content. Like “from where does this voice arise? to where does it subside” all adversity can be a means of awakening, so they say. it is hard tho. I wish relief for everyone.

  11. John

    Greetings,

    In late 1986, I was hearing voices, nothing scary, just people whispering my name. It started from one wall and progressed over time. These voices I was able to associate with former friends I had left behind in another country as I had to leave for medical reasons. I was given a possible diagnosis for mental illness. No voices or anything has happened since that point in time.

  12. Anonymous

    my mom has schizophrenia and I am scared of getting it. I am bipolar,i have mood disorder, suffer from depression, have adhd,and right now i dont know where my mom is and my dad is incarcerated because of neglect and sexually abusing me and my sister because i am in foster care and havent seen them for 6 years and im 12 my mom has most of these like depression and schizophrenia but does that mean im gonna get it too because i already have most of the things she has.

  13. Conor L

    Hi I’m 13 whenever I’m alone or upset I always hear voices whispering my name or saying negative things about me and my friends, feel a tingling on my face and my back/neck Or see ghostly figures or people I don’t recognize. Other people don’t see/hear/feel these things which, to me seems odd. I’ve been diagnosed with dyspraxia and sensory perception disorder so I don’t know if that had anything to do with that. I did a test on the internet and it said that it was likely that I had schizophrenia but I can’t be sure. It feels different to a disability, I think that it is something else. I told my best friend about this but I’ve only told her and no one else.
    I just want to know what is happening to me.

    – Conor

  14. Angel

    Hello! I was diagnosed with BPD at the age of 20, and I was also diagnosed with Bipolar disorder at 22; I am now 24. This has been going off and on since I was in the 8th grade, but sometimes I hear a voice or voices whispering to me throughout the day. Sometimes it’s triggered by a sound, usually the sound “ssssss”, but for the most part it’s always a low whisper saying, “Hey”, “Hi”, or “Help”. I’m not too sure what to do about it. I suppose the best option would be to tell my psychiatrist, but I have this fear that she’ll just lock me up and throw away the key, even though I’m a completely functioning individual that goes to school and everything.

  15. Jacklyn Munoz

    Women on my mothers side of the family have been gifted the ability to see, feel, and hear things that can not be explained. I have been hearing, seeing and feeling these unexplained thing since I was very young. People use to come to my mom to help with different types of spiritual entities that were either roaming around them or bothering them. I am from Puerto Rico and these beliefs are very common there. My mother use to take me with her to do these “favors” for others because she said that my ability to feel, and pick up on these things were much more keen than hers. I never understood what it was we were doing until I was much older and decided I didn’t want to do it anymore. The visions, and voices became too much for me to handle. I’m a mom now, and while I have found myself having to deal with my oldest child having visions, and hearing the voices constantly, I have found myself awake at night asking them to leave him alone. My son will say that they come in pairs, some talk non stop where you can’t understand what they are saying, others scream, others want to touch him. This has been going on since he was about 3 years old, he is now 17 and has a really good sense of humor about it. I use to think it was a curse That I have passed on to my son, but when he tells me that in the mist of all those voices, and visions that he is not scared, or worried, I believe he can handle it and is ok. It’s hard to explain, but something will always happen to make me not shut out this gift when I think I’ve reached my boiling point. For example, my mother in law was dying of cancer (she and I were not close at all) we did not live very close so my husband did not go everyday to see her as he would of liked. Two nights before she passed I was sleeping and my sleep was interrupted by what seemed like hundreds of voices all wanting to speak at one time. I was tired, and frustrated so I began to ask them to be quiet. As I layed in bed I began to see a dark figure very slowly come toward me😮 I watched it very carefully, curious but not afraid because it didn’t make me feel afraid. I felt as if someone sat on the bed and then it flashed an image of a face (my mother in law). I got up turned the lights on rolled my husband out of bed and told him it’s time! You have to go now to be with your mom. A day and a half later she passed and he was there with as she took her last breath. I’m grateful that thanks to this gift passed down through my ancestors that I was able to give my husband precious time with his mother, and that my son who thought he was crazy growing up, now knows in his heart that he is just gifted, not cursed and he has been able to have a great sense of humor about it.

  16. Jess

    I’ve been hearing the same voice since I was 3 years old. It left for a long time and came back years later. So, it comes and goes randomly. It’s hard to say when I’ll hear it next. It’s a female voice, probably middle – aged or older…very wise and melodic sounding. It’s always encouraged me and told me of things that are possible to happen. I actually feel my life goes better when it’s back in my life

  17. Reagan

    I’m 11 and I sometimes here voices that are muffled and sometimes one or two words, I also taste metallic things out of no where. I also smell a LOT of things no one else does,is something wrong with me?

  18. Gabriel Rios

    Hi there, I just found out yesterday that my 9 year old is hearing lots of voices. We live in Mexico, in the north of the country and this kind of phenomena is not treated as something normal so most of the time all we get is prescription medication by psychiatrists; my wife and I need direction to know how to act and how to treat this; we don’t know if this is the beginning of a mental problem or if is something temporary or if is something wrong with his brain. The voices started just at the beginning of this year and my kid says that the voices are echoes of past conversations that somebody had or if he has been in a noisy place with lots of screaming or talking or music that triggers old voices and start talking to him, the voices only tell him “Santiago wake up, Santiago wake up” and whisper other unintelligible words along with past conversations heard along the day or from days before, he also says that his body disconnects from real life and feels like he is floating or outside his body. He is very scared and doesn’t know what is going on, the crying is long and sad when this happens because he doesn’t know what’s going on. During the episodes he is conscious and crying and his head hurts. I hope somebody can gives us some advice and light with this, since we don’t know what to do or where to take him. Please help….

  19. Latoya Barr

    I can hear voices n see visions n i can also feel it….i cant explain it. It just happens its been a long while that i hear see n feel these beautiful experiences. I thank God 4 everything that happened good n bad. Bc he pulled me through the entire time…n blessed my family and I with ever lasting love n forgiveness. Thank u jesus. Ur surely appreciate EVERYTHING!😘

  20. Alexander

    There are a small amount of people especially very close lovers who have telepathy.. No one likes to believe it cause it is not a science. It can not be created because it takes two close souls. but they know or usuualy find out who it is. sometimes it is a very close soul and they eventaully find each other. it can surround not being able to communicate normally ….like being a long distance and have not met them yet. There is a body of people who know this well…but not main stream as it is not that common.

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