01 October 2021

The Challenge of 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 a 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

My thoughts on Love, Loss and Grief

My thoughts on Love, Loss and Grief
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

When we lose good people that were close to us the loss / pain is almost incomprehensible to self and in explanation to others.

I lost my mother in March 2017 and it took me quite some time to process and properly grieve this loss.

Today I cherish her life and am thankful for the legacy she left with her good values, gratitude and unconditional love.

The same can be said of my friend, Joseph Inns, who passed away in April 2021. A true giant among men...

The Mental Health and Motivation journaling has assisted me in many ways for coming to terms with the two significant personal losses I have experienced during 2020 / 2021 - my girlfriend at the time and my friend, Joseph. The second loss of Joseph was the most poignant. The writing and publication on this public domain also provided definite content, context and reference to my sense of self in dealing with the aftermath of the abusive and toxic relationship towards the end of 2020.

Late December 2019 I have had the privilege to be joined by both of them at Intaka Island - a popular nature reserve (for bird photographers) in Cape Town. This was one of the proudest moments of my entire life - introducing my girlfriend to my best friend at a venue where we all shared a common interest - nature photography. Little did I know that just over a year from our special morning that both these significant individuals would be lost from my physical life, forever. Coming to terms with the disappointment of this double loss and associated trauma drifted me, at times, into a whirlpool of emotions I have never experienced before.

When you lose someone (death or otherwise) that was severely compromised in the application of basic values, healthy emotions and expectations the 'wound' can take a long time to heal. If you lose somebody in love, in my opinion, the mourning and healing is a sad, but a 'healthy' grieving process.

Losing someone out of fear and disappointment (due to abuse, continuous emotional disconnect and / or trauma bond) the healing process could be riddled with post-relationship anxiety and stress.

There is no legacy, there is no 'statue' in the mind for emotional perpetrators. I had to learn new ways to deal with my thoughts and now I am grateful for letting someone go that I thought I would never forgive for the verbal, physical and psychological abuse incurred.

Although I was scared of her physical or verbal attacks on me, I was more fearful that I would lose her. My emotion on the attacks was of disasopigment and I believed that the situation would improve. A classic example how cognitive dissonance controlled my mind.

The essence of self-preservation were the months that I had to go into the darkness of my soul with no torch / no light to face myself, to learn more about the rawness of the dejected self - in honesty and fairness of who I was, want to be, will be, can / could be... without judgement, prejudice and / or fear.

From Fearful Loss to Acceptance 
After completing my My Lessons / Achievements from an Abusive Relationship article I felt a great sense of closure and relief. The core of my true self, through time, introspection and learning, was being restored by facing up to the acceptance of a failed relationship that once consumed not only my mind, but every fibre of my rational and emotional being.

Acceptance is an essential realisation of being at peace with the true self - the same self that was once simultaneously immersed in the cognitive dissonance of loving (and the fear of leaving) someone that neither respected nor trusted my integrity, goodwill and / or values. 

The authentic self should always emerge, if allowed... not in relation to others first, but to the self first. This does not mean I diminish the roles others play in my life, their roles are meaningful - when they are 'healthy' individuals."

Update: 2022

I have never been back to Intaka Island - its one of the few (external) psychological barriers I still need to overcome (in dealing with both losses). Other challenges that I did manage to overcome were four photography morning visits to the African Art & Craft Market, Simon's Town, African Art & Textiles Market Hout Bay Harbour, Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, the V&A Waterfront and Signal Hill, Cape Town. The last photography opportunity I've shared just with my friend, Joseph Inns, was at the contemporary African art museum Zeitz MOCAA V&A Waterfront, Cape Town.

© Vernon Chalmers

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