Cognitive Dissonance

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    Cognitive Dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling of anxiety that comes when we hold two conflicting thoughts at the same time. The level of this tension varies depending on how important the subject is. It also depends on the strength the opposing thoughts are and how able we are to rationalize the conflict. Carl Rogers referred to this as incongruence between our real and ideal selves.

    The dissonance is often more intense when we believe something strongly about ourselves, then act in a way contrary to that belief. For example if I believe I’m a good person but do something considered bad, the result is an uncomfortable feeling. This is cognitive dissonance.

    Another example may be when I hold someone in high regard as a hero figure but then learn they had done something dishonest. The difficulty in accepting that they had been less than my idealized version of them would lead to an uncomfortable feeling. Again, this is cognitive dissonance.

    Dissonance is not only at its most powerful when it is about our own self-image. In cases where trauma bonding has taken place it can be about the reputation of the abuser.

    The feeling of discomfort when experiencing this can be quite a powerful motivator. It can lead us to change one of the beliefs in order to relieve the tension. Some of the actions we take may include changing our behaviour, justifying our behaviour by changing the conflicting belief, or justifying behaviours or beliefs by creating new cognitions. This last one could be termed as creating a new reality to best suit ourselves.

    Other examples are when we see people groups act in a way different to our images of them, or when we do something out of character. These are beliefs, usually shaped by authority figures and significant others. Or perhaps our experiences have shaped them. One way or another we thought we knew what to believe or expect. Once the event or experience has happened it can’t be undone. So we now have a new belief that conflicts with a pre-held one. If it wasn’t the disaster or what we expected this new experience then moves our beliefs. During this process we begin to take actions and make decisions we may have never taken before.

    Cognitive dissonance is stronger not only the more important the belief but also the impact any decision will have on our future, the action taken and any difficulty there would be in reversing it.


    This article was written by sentientcounselling