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Hearing voices

Explains what it's like to hear voices, where to go for help if you need it, and what others can do to support someone who is struggling with hearing voices.

What kinds of voices do people hear?

We may hear voices in lots of different ways and they may change over time. These are just some of the ways that different people might experience hearing voices.

Where might they come from? 

You might: 

  • Experience the voices as coming from inside your head
  • Feel that voices are coming from outside and heard through your ears like other sounds
  • Hear the voices as if they're right next to your ear
  • Hear the voices coming from an object or animal
  • Feel as if you are hearing other people's thoughts, or as if other people can hear your thoughts

When might I hear them?

You might:

  • Hear your name called when there's no one with you
  • Hear or see things as you're falling asleep
  • Hear voices when you feel stressed or upset

It often happens when I’m in bed and can’t sleep, but it has happened during the day too.

What might they say?

You might: 

  • Experience nasty or threatening voices that tell you to do dangerous things, or try to control you
  • Hear a voice that feels friendly but encourages you to do things that might not be good for you
  • Hear a kind supportive voice or a voice that helps you
  • Hear many voices talking about you or arguing with each other
  • Hear a voice describing what you're doing as you're doing it
  • Hear voices talking about scary or upsetting things, like telling you something bad will happen to you or someone you love
  • Hear voices that make fun of you or criticise you

What might they sound like? 

You might:

  • Hear voices with different speeds or volumes
  • Hear voices of people you know, like friends, family members or famous people
  • Hear voices of strangers

You may also:

  • Hear other sounds, such as animal noises or music
  • See, hear or smell things that others can't while you're hearing voices. These are sometimes called sensory hallucinations
  • Feel heat, pain, pressure or sensations in your head or other parts of your body while hearing voices
  • Experience voices by seeing hands signing words or by seeing lip movements. You may be more likely to experience voices in this way if you're deaf. 

I remember hearing this malicious whispering which I assumed was coming from other passengers on the train... it was like being able to hear people's thoughts and in my paranoid state these were always malevolent and critical.

Your relationship with your voices

You may have different feelings about your voices at different times in your life – or even at different times of the day or week. You might:

  • Find your voices comforting, helpful or funny
  • Find your voices frightening, distracting or upsetting
  • Want your voices to stop
  • Find you hear some voices that you like and other voices that cause you problems
  • Worry that you are the only one who hears voices, or that no-one else hears the sorts of voices that you hear

Often voices are a problem because of your relationship with them, rather than just because you hear them. Thinking about your relationship with your voices can help you work out what (if anything) you want to do about them.

See our pages on coping with hearing voices voices and treatments for more information about the support available.

What if I like my voices?

Some people can find hearing voices a positive experience. Your voices might be friendly and supportive. You may welcome them or miss them if they stopped. They might make you feel better or encourage you during difficult times. 

Can I trust my voices?

It might be hard to work out if your voices want the best for you or not. They might feel friendly but tell you to do things that make it hard for you to look after yourself. Or stop you doing what you want to do. If your voice feels comforting, it can be hard to recognise that it's saying manipulative or harmful things.

Learning to manage my voices

Watch Lilith talk about how hearing voices lead them to commit arson. And how a local paper's disclosure of their mental health problems made them confront their problems at a very difficult time.

Difficult experiences of voices

You might find your experience of hearing voices difficult for a few reasons:

My voices are harder to deal with at specific times

  • You might only hear voices at certain times of the day (for example, at mealtimes). Or even at certain times of year (for example, at the anniversary of a particular event or experience).
  • You may only hear voices in certain places. For example, you might hear voices when you leave the house or when you go to a place which you associate with stress or trauma.
  • You may find that your voices are louder and more frequent when you feel stressed.

This may mean you avoid certain places or experiences – or find them very difficult.

I don't feel able to control my voices 

  • You may feel that your voices are controlling you or stopping you from doing things that you would really like to do.
  • Your voices might interrupt your thoughts and make it very difficult to concentrate or hold a conversation.
  • Your voices might say things that you find offensive or that go against your values. This can feel shameful or embarrassing, making it harder to tell others about what you're experiencing.

I had an interview... I left the house and the whispering started, growing steadily louder until I eventually fled home drenched in sweat and absolutely terrified.

I feel threatened or upset by my voices

Your voices might:

  • Be unkind to you, and criticise and undermine you
  • Tell you to do things that are wrong
  • Demand that you hurt yourself

These experiences are likely to make you upset, scared or angry. You might feel that you deserve to be shouted at, or that it's hard to stand up to anyone.

They would constantly tell me that bad things were going to happen, that my loved ones would be killed, or I’d be attacked.

This information was published in November 2022. We will revise it in 2025. 

References and bibliography available on request.

If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.

References and bibliography available on request.

If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.

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