Empowerment Strategies

No matter what the voices say, if we feel empowered and more sure of ourselves it can be easier to deal with them. Empowerment strategies are about exploring and changing the power balance between us and the voices.

You might want to try some of these strategies if:

  • you hear voices that feel very powerful, strong or claim to know more than you.
  • the voices say things that get you down, worry you or have a negative impact.

As empowerment strategies are all about doing something differently – it’s natural to find them a bit overwhelming or scary to try. Sometimes people find that the voices can get a bit louder or more aggressive when they try to do something differently. This is understandable, and is often short-lived, but it can really help to have lots of other strategies in your toolbox to use if things get difficult. If you’re not sure what works for you, try the calming/safety or blocking sections first.

It can really help to talk these ideas through with someone you trust (e.g. a parent, counsellor or CAMHS worker) to help you make a start. If you’re not sure, email us at info@voicecollective.co.uk and we’d be happy to talk it through with you.

What Can I Do?

Question markA good starting point might be to check out this list of ideas that other young people who hear voices have found useful.

Remember: it can take time to find strategies that work for you. Try to notice tiny differences in how you feel, or how the voices sound. Feeling a little more at ease is a great start … it gives you something to build on. If you can, you might find it useful to keep a diary so you notice what is beginning to help and what doesn’t feel useful at all.

Try not to get down-hearted if it doesn’t work first time. You might want to persevere, to see if the strategy begins to work better as you get more confident using it. If not, it’s OK to put that strategy on the ‘things that don’t work for me’ list and move on to something else.

Saying ‘No’, ‘Not Yet’ or ‘I’ve just got to do this first …’

Stop signDelay tactics work for all kinds of situations … if I had a penny for every time I avoided doing something I didn’t like by finding something else important to do I’d be a lot richer than I am now. Some people find that they can use these skills when they hear a voice that tells them to do something that they don’t want to do. Some people find it OK to say ‘NO’ to a voice – the word ‘no’ can be very empowering … especially if we really mean it.

Others find it more helpful to say ‘…. i’ve just got to do this first’. Instead of doing what the voices say they might explain they really need to do the washing up, some homework, organise their CDs, speak to a friend, check their email etc etc. Each delay puts a bit of time between the voice making a command and the person doing what the voice says. Sometimes the voice gives up and goes quiet. Other times it threatens all kinds of scary things … but then it can be really good for someone to realise that the voices cannot do the things they threaten.

If you’re thinking of trying this, but aren’t sure how it will work – let someone you trust know what you’re doing. They might be able to help you think of new delay tactics and support you if it gets tough. There is no failure here. Every second, minute or hour you put between the voice telling you to do something you don’t want to do and you doing what they say is a win – especially if you used to do what the voice says straight away. Try and be kind to yourself, and recognise the steps you’re taking.

If the voice you hear tells you to do things that frighten you or they want you to do something that would hurt you or someone else – please speak to someone. We’ve supported lots of young people who have voices that say things like this, and we’ve seen people find a way of making sense of it and getting through it. The important thing is to keep yourself as safe as possible. Check out our getting help quickly page for some ideas if you don’t have anyone to speak to.

Not taking the voices at face value – asking questions


Question markIf I told you that the sky was falling in, you probably wouldn’t believe me. You might check things out by looking to the sky to see whether anything looked strange. You might ask me what I mean (in case I’m trying to say something but haven’t found the right words). You might wonder if I’m speaking like someone in a poem – talking in metaphors, explaining how I’m feeling instead of talking about the sky itself. Maybe I watched a strange sci-fi show last night and got worried about it.

When people say strange things we often don’t believe them straight away. We ask questions. We think about different possibilities. But, when voices say things they can sound so sure and so powerful that we believe them without asking questions. Especially when the voices seem to know things about us or our lives. But, in our experience voices don’t always tell the truth. They can often trick or mislead young people. Being sceptical about what voices say can be a really good starting point. If you’re not sure, talk it through with a supporter. You can think of different questions or different ideas about what the voices are saying.

Becoming an interpreter

Have you ever tried to say something important, but not found the right words? Sometimes it can be useful to think that voices don’t always say what they mean. They might have a message – something to tell us – but they’re not so good at saying it. With a bit of help and support, we can become translators for the voices.

I hear a voice that tells me people are going to hurt me. It used to scare me, and I’d worry about what was going to happen. I don’t see it that way now. I know it’s really talking about how I don’t feel safe, sometimes. It makes sense. I’ve been bullied and don’t have many reasons to trust people. I’m trying to find ways of dealing with that, but it takes time.

If you want to give this a try, it can be helpful to write down some of the things the voice says and talk it over with someone you trust. Think together – what themes are the voice talking about? What feelings? If we gave the voice the benefit of the doubt and thought it was trying to be helpful (even if it’s hard to deal with right now) what might it be trying to tell us?

Treating the Voice with Kindness

People who bully or treat people badly have often been treated badly themselves. It’s not an excuse – but it can sometimes help us make sense of why people can be so mean, sometimes. It’s as if some people store up all the anger and feelings of being hurt and powerless and don’t know what to do with it except take it out on someone else. So, whilst voices that bully can feel really powerful, some people find it useful to see them as being nasty because they’re feeling hurt themselves. Compassion, empathy and kindness can be hard to find when a voice is causing us pain – but it can be a real source of power and strength.

Using Creativity to Change the Voices in Some Way

Cat as a lionWhen voices are aggressive or sound powerful we can build up a picture of them in our heads. We can start to imagine who they are, what they are able to do and what they look like. This is natural, but sometimes the picture we build up only makes the voices feel even more frightening. Some people find it useful to try to change this by using using art, their imagination or words. It doesn’t change the voices themselves, but it can really help chip away at how powerful or scary they seem.

Some ideas:

  • Draw an image of the voice. Look at it (by yourself or with someone you trust) and think what would help the picture seem less scary. Some people accessorise the voice – giving it funny clothes or giant shoes. Others change the surroundings, drawing things around it that help it seem smaller and less threatening. The only limit is your imagination.
  • Make a model of the voice using clay, plasticine or paper – whatever you have available. You can change the model in some way to make it less scary.
  • Write a story of the voice you hear. This doesn’t have to be a real story, but it’s a way of trying to explain how come the voice says such horrible things. This might be that the voice was bullied when they were younger, or that they feel embarrassed about how they look so they hide that by being horrible to other people. What might you be in this story? Do you have a role? Is there anything you can do to help the voice?
  • Draw a Russian Doll and decorate it how the voice sounds/feels to you. If you look inside a Russian Doll you’ll find another smaller doll. If you looked inside the voice you’re struggling with, what might you see? Sometimes things that are hard on the outside have soft insides. If this voice had a soft inside, what might it look like?

These stories and changes are make believe, but they can be something to hold on to when the voices are being really hard to hear. Sometimes people find it helpful to carry a picture of what they created on their phone to help them remember a less scary version of them, or put the model on a shelf as a reminder.

Setting Limits

Do you find that the voices interrupt you when you’re trying to do other things? Do they often say things that you wouldn’t take from the people in your life? Some people find it helpful to think about different ways that they can set limits with the voices to help manage things.

You might want to try one of the following ideas:

Alarm clockMaking appointments with the voices: This involves deciding when he best time is to listen to (or speak with) the voices you hear. This might be after school/college, for example, or at a time when you know you’re somewhere you feel comfortable. It also involves deciding how long you feel OK to listen to the voices for (whether this is 5 minutes or 30 minutes). Try to decide something that feels realistic and do-able. If you’re not sure, have a chat to someone you trust and figure it out together.

Tell the voices that you will listen to them at the time you’ve chosen, but that you’re busy right now. It’s natural if the voices don’t play along initially – it’s a big change. It’s important that you mean what you say, that you find some things to distract yourself from the voices in the meantime and that you have some support to do this (as it can be stressful, initially). When you appointment arrives, take time to listen to the voices and pay them some attention. That doesn’t mean you need to believe what they say, or do what they say … just that you’ll listen to what they’re saying. When the appointment ends, tell the voices. If you need to, try some coping strategies to help you move on from listening to them.

As with all strategies, this one can take some time to work out.

Putting the voices in ‘time out’: If the voices you hear sometimes get aggressive or nasty, you might want to set limits with the kinds of things you’re willing to listen to. You might want to think about ways you can put the voices into ‘time out’ when they are saying things that are really not OK. Some people tell the voices, in a calm and firm voice, that they are putting them in time out because of their behaviour – and use calming or blocking strategies to help them not listen to the voices during this time. The important thing, here, is that you decide what your limits are – and that you make a decision about what you are willing to listen to.

Boy with dogIf the voices don’t stay in time out and get more aggressive, try thinking of what would happen if you put a younger sibling who was really angry or upset in time out. They might yell, scream and refuse to stay there – especially when they think there might be a chance of the adult giving in. A kind adult would hopefully be gentle, firm and keep taking them back to the time out space – without getting angry or giving them too much attention. With support, you might do something similar for the voices you hear. It’s not easy, but every step you take is a step towards feeling more empowered.

To help you stay calm, try checking out the calming/safety strategies or ask someone you trust to sit with you whilst you try it out.