01 February 2022

The Challenge of Cognitive Dissonance

Awareness and Understanding Cognitive Dissonance

The Challenge of Cognitive Dissonance

"One of the hardest things to do in life, is letting go of what you thought was real." — me.me

Omnipresence of Cognitive Dissonance

During the past year I referred to Cognitive Dissonance in several of my articles and Facebook comments. 

Now, in the final stretch and conclusion of my own ‘healing journey’, herewith an explanation, own interpretation and personal experience on how Cognitive Dissonance can sometimes cause incessant confusion, uncertainty and disparity in our minds.

Many of us may suffer from a degree of Cognitive Dissonance at some time in our lives - meaning we are challenged by an intrapersonal mental discomfort and / or mental conflict when dealing with toxic people (or habits) in our minds, but struggle to let them go.

Powerful 'positive' thoughts of what 'could be' overwhelms the mind as we are challenged by the paradoxical thinking of them being, perhaps, just misunderstood or needing more time rather to accept them as abusive and toxic (towards us). For many of us this is difficult to comprehend - that someone in our lives that was once so charming and nice can become so abusive and evil. 

We know they are not good for us, they function different from our own beliefs, personal values and / or expectations, but we still maintain contact with them - or worse-case scenario, stay committed in an abusive relationship. We don't really want to let them go, but at the same time live in fear (and disappointment) of their dysfunctional behaviour. 

Even while experiencing continuous abuse we try and hang on to the mirage at any (emotional / physical) cost - in the hope that their toxic behaviour against us will change. The sad reality is that abusive behaviour without any personal ownership, psychotherapy and / or psychiatric intervention won't change, can't change.  

The continuous cognitive disparity between the positive belief in someone and the conflicting negative thoughts / disappointment with regard to an individual's antisocial behaviour can have a significant impact on our own mental health and well-being.

I have experienced cognitive dissonance during an intimate relationship. Although I was subjected to perpetual emotional, physical and verbal abuse I still believed in the relationship and wanted it to succeed. In the end, after a few months, my rational mind concluded that for my own safety and sanity it would be best to end the relationship.

© Vernon Chalmers : Mental Health and Motivation (Cognitive Dissonance)

Cognitive Dissonance

"Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort experienced when holding two or more conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. This psychological tension arises because people strive for internal consistency, and when there’s a discrepancy, it creates unease12.

Key Aspects of Cognitive Dissonance:
  • Theory: Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance suggests that when our actions contradict our beliefs, we experience discomfort, motivating us to reduce the dissonance 1.
  • Examples: Common examples include feeling guilty for not exercising despite wanting to be healthy, or rationalizing unhealthy habits like smoking due to stress 2.
  • Reduction Strategies:
  1. Change Behavior: Align actions with beliefs (e.g., start exercising).
  2. Change Beliefs: Adjust beliefs to match actions (e.g., downplay the importance of exercise). 
  3. Add New Cognitions: Introduce new thoughts that justify the behavior (e.g., “I’ll start exercising next week”).
  4. Trivialize: Minimize the importance of the conflict (e.g., “Missing one workout isn’t a big deal”) 1 2.
  • Impact: Cognitive dissonance can lead to significant stress and anxiety, but it also drives personal growth and behavior change as individuals strive to resolve the inconsistency 3.
Understanding and addressing cognitive dissonance is crucial for mental well-being and personal development. It encourages self-reflection and can lead to more consistent and healthier behaviors. (Microsoft Copilot 2024)