What I found particularly interesting in her story was how she found the insight to work through her inner torment and fragmentation. So often in the mental health field, clients are referred to as "lacking insight". Yet, they certainly have insight into their own experience! They are often counselled to see and understand their voices as symptoms of a mental illness as opposed to an experience. Eleanor explains how, in her case, this was very detrimental.
But having been encouraged to see the voice not as an experience but as a symptom, my fear and resistance towards it intensified. Now essentially, this represented taking an aggressive stance towards my own mind, a kind of psychic civil war, and in turn this caused the number of voices to increase and grow progressively hostile and menacing. Helplessly and hopelessly, I began to retreat into this nightmarish inner world in which the voices were destined to become both my persecutors and my only perceived companions.
In an amazing form of cognitive reframing, she began to interpret her voices as metaphors. With the help and support of a great number of people who she thanks in her talk, she was able to re-interpret her voices. She writes that she learned that her:
voices were a meaningful response to traumatic life events, particularly childhood events, and as such were not my enemies but a source of insight into solvable emotional problems.
Now, at first, this was very difficult to believe, not least because the voices appeared so hostile and menacing, so in this respect, a vital first step was learning to separate out a metaphorical meaning from what I'd previously interpreted to be a literal truth. So for example, voices which threatened to attack my home I learned to interpret as my own sense of fear and insecurity in the world, rather than an actual, objective danger.
Now at first, I would have believed them. I remember, for example, sitting up one night on guard outside my parents' room to protect them from what I thought was a genuine threat from the voices. Because I'd had such a bad problem with self-injury that most of the cutlery in the house had been hidden, so I ended up arming myself with a plastic fork, kind of like picnic ware, and sort of sat outside the room clutching it and waiting to spring into action should anything happen. It was like, "Don't mess with me. I've got a plastic fork, don't you know?" Strategic.
But a later response, and much more useful, would be to try and deconstruct the message behind the words, so when the voices warned me not to leave the house, then I would thank them for drawing my attention to how unsafe I felt -- because if I was aware of it, then I could do something positive about it -- but go on to reassure both them and myself that we were safe and didn't need to feel frightened anymore. I would set boundaries for the voices, and try to interact with them in a way that was assertive yet respectful, establishing a slow process of communication and collaboration in which we could learn to work together and support one another.
Throughout all of this, what I would ultimately realize was that each voice was closely related to aspects of myself, and that each of them carried overwhelming emotions that I'd never had an opportunity to process or resolve, memories of sexual trauma and abuse, of anger, shame, guilt, low self-worth. The voices took the place of this pain and gave words to it, and possibly one of the greatest revelations was when I realized that the most hostile and aggressive voices actually represented the parts of me that had been hurt most profoundly, and as such, it was these voices that needed to be shown the greatest compassion and care.
The whole talk is worthwhile listening to.