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What it's actually like to hear voices in your head

There’s a cultural stigma, especially in the US, that hearing voices in your head is inherently a sign of mental-health issues. There’s a community of people on Reddit who have chosen to create voices in their heads, called tulpamancers. Their voices are called tulpas. Here’s why this isn’t a mental-health concern.

– [Narrator] In pop culture, hearing voices is generally not perceived as a good thing.

– [Male Voice] I am Jack’s smirking revenge.

– [Narrator] But there are people who find the voices in their heads to be therapeutic. They intentionally create these voices. They’re called Tulpamancers. A Tulpamancer creates a Tulpa, similar to an imaginary friend but with a twist. These imaginary friends possess their own thoughts and emotions. They can act independently of their creator. Meet Jacob, he’s a Tulpamancer. We met on Reddit and I reached out to learn what it’s really like to hear voices.

– [Jacob] About four and a half years ago decided to you could say, no longer be alone.

– [Narrator] Jacob is a 20 year old psychology student. He grew up in a military family and four and a half years ago he created a Tulpa, Aury. We interviewed Jacob, the Tulpamancer and his Tulpa, Aury. To keep track of who’s talking look in the top right corner. If you see a purple pony, that’s Aury.

– Jacob and Aury are two people that live in the body that you’re looking at right now.

– I am Aury. And I am a Tulpa. I see myself as a bat pony, as a pony with bat wings and glowing golden eyes and a grey coat and a midnight plume.

– [Narrator] So Jacob sees Aury as a pony. This is Doctor Samuel Vessiere. He’s the first person to ever conduct research on the Tulpa community. He has a theory about why Jacob sees Aury as a pony. Because there are more things that one can do with the imagination they also provide, I don’t want to call it an escape but they provide an opportunity to engage in a richer fantasy world. This is why many Tulpas have non-human forms, such as elves or ponies or sort of made up beings.

– [Narrator] Why would someone choose to create a Tulpa and hear voices?

– [Jacob] I would move every other year, being raised in the military and so I desperately needed someone who could stick with me.

– I think the purpose of a Tulpa fits the completely normal human urge to connect with other people. And to not be lonely and to be social. We are through and through evolution we are social beings.

– [Narrator] Aury is able to possess the body and front, meaning she can control the body and speak for herself. Jacob and Ari have come up with two different methods for switching.

– There’s a possession scene in the movie where someone who comes into the body grasps the hand of someone else and flips it and when they flip it, the identity, the entity that wants to possess the body flows into the body. And since seeing that, that’s been a way that Aury and I have been able to quickly possess. So all I’m gonna do is relax my body and let go of tension. And just allow the presence that is Ari to flow in to my feet, and then my legs, then my midsection, then my arms, and then my neck. And when she begins to enter my head I hear my voice begin to travel into the back and I hear hers being to go into the front as she affirms that.

– [Aury] Then I’m in front. Hello. Everything that people see Jacob do, I can do. Some areas better than him, some areas not as well.

– [Narrator] So Ari lives in Jacob’s mind. Typically, characters in pop culture with voices in their heads are associated with mental-health issues. Do Tulpamancers fall into that category?

– Even in the most conservative, medically-minded psychiatry, hearing voices is not in and of itself considered a problem. So hearing voices is only a problem if the person who hears them reports being distressed. And if other people around them also report being distressed.

– Once upon a time, my parents decided that my being LGBT was a mental illness that was symbolic of something going on in my head that shouldn’t. They chose to blame Tulpas for changing me in some way or shape or form and they sent me to a clinical psychologist to check whether or not I had schizophrenia and the therapist told them straight up, “This isn’t schizophrenia. “You can’t give yourself schizophrenia. “Schizophrenia is something genetic. “It’s not something you can give yourself with meditation.”

– [Narrator] What’s life like for a Tulpa and his host?

– Separate, I wouldn’t say that. Most of what we do, we do together. We don’t have separate lives as much as different strengths and niches in the same life. That’s how we’ve found we can be happy.

– Nothing you do is truly private. But that’s not a bad thing. It means you’re being held accountable by someone who cares for you and looks out for you.

– [Narrator] So, living with a Tulpa is like sharing a body with your best friend. Do they ever fight?

– [Jacob] We’ll argue and make each other upset but we always make up and we never have any lasting breakdowns between us.

– [Narrator] Unfortunately, the Internet isn’t always the nicest place for Tulpamancers.

– Tulpamancers suffer quite a bit of bullying. I have read some very derogatory comments towards Tulpamancers because they’re probably an easy target. They’re very sincere, they’re enthusiastic about their practice and they do something that is really radically different so it takes people the wrong way and as such, they become the target of bullying, which I find very unfortunate.

– [Narrator] But despite the bullying, Jacob has found comfort in Aury.

– [Aury] I like to think that I’ve made Jacob a better person. I think that with me around she not only takes better care of herself but better care of others.

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