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Cognitive Dissonance: Identify and Nullify

Updated on April 16, 2020
Kyler J Falk profile image

As a writer I experience cognitive dissonance all the time when trying to see from different perspectives.


Cognitive dissonance as defined by Wikipedia is "when a person holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values, or participates in an action that goes against one of these three, and experiences psychological stress because of that," and I have begun to notice it more frequently throughout every facet of my life. Whether it be my peers, politicians, celebrities, gurus, religious figures... cognitive dissonance, combined with frequent Freudian slips, is becoming the status quo and the damage it causes is more than apparent.

It wasn't until I read The Art of Seduction and The 48 Laws of Power that cognitive dissonance came to the forefront of my own perceptions, as I was not able to perceive my own behavior that was solely meant to manipulate others until I began to learn the techniques used to do so throughout history. I highly suggest giving these books a good once-over, at the very least, because they are invaluable for learning about the evils in this world and how they present themselves as benign and even benevolent.

Have you ever witnessed cognitive dissonance occurring within others?

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Getting to the Root of Dissonance

As it concerns cognitive dissonance, I feel that discussing the root of the problem is the best place to start. If we were to skip to the meat of the conversation and analysis immediately then we would be inadvertently invalidating and diminishing the struggles that people experiencing cognitive dissonance are facing. It is never fair to diminish, invalidate, or otherwise extinguish others in such a way without first exploring their reasons for the behavior with an impartial perspective. For the sake of keeping things less convoluted I will be providing examples for the roots of my frequent cognitive dissonance, so please do not feel attacked if this relates to you.

Having been raised by narcissists in a wealthy area that only cared about image, I was frequently abused any which way they could bring forth and I began to develop strange habits and disorders that I am now having to overcome and rewrite for the sake of healthier interaction with not only those around me, but my own psyche. Some of these habits and disorders include self-harm and self-destructive behavior, impulse control problems, mania, paranoia, anxiety, body-dysphoria, lack of self-identity, and much more. In experiencing all this, I sometimes feel as if I have wisdom I am able to impart upon others for their own benefit while still falling back into old habits and mentalities every once in a while. It wouldn't be inaccurate to say I even look down on certain individuals who suffer some of the same mentalities I used to, and the cognitive dissonance this causes me is painful and the Freudian slips embarrassing. Societal standard doesn't make this any easier, either.

Society makes it quite difficult to live with the self, that is to say if we also want to please most or all of society with the image we put off. Defining the self is an expectation in many cases; cases such as a job interview, the get-to-know-yous in dating, knowing your limitations socially or competitively, and pretty much any situation where it is left to others to define our roles and we improperly translate that as requiring us to live up to certain standards we did not create ourselves. It makes sense that under such serious pressures you either have what it takes and inherently always did, or you "fake it until you make it."

This "fake it 'til you make it" mentality tends to produce negative psychological qualities. It doesn't produce negative psychological qualities in every individual, but the ones in which it does usually tend to become like con-artists. Con-artists usually profit with financial income, but the profit that these "fake it 'til you make it" individuals receive often comes in the form of acceptance from others until eventually they get to the point where their behavior either solidifies as truth, or they crumple and fall back into old habits of behavior. "Oh no," they think to themselves at this point, "everyone is going to see that I have been lying, they are going to see me weak and frail, I better lie to them and to myself so as to repress this behavior I view as negative."

Repressing negative feelings, or otherwise covering them up as if it were dust to sweep under the rug so no one sees it, does not eliminate the issue and it not only deludes society as to your nature but it warps your perceptions of the self. Thus we have come full circle to cognitive dissonance, where you claim to have cleaned up all that pesky dust but you know darn well it is still sitting there under the rug waiting to be found.


Long-Term Trauma

We have now established that cognitive dissonance is most often brought about by what would be best described as long-term traumas, traumas such as failure to live up to societal expectations and many different forms of abuse directed towards us by family and our peers. Those traumas commonly lead to the "fake it 'til you make it" mentality, and said mentality frequently leads to great disappointments due to it being best compared to sweeping dust under the rug. The dust comes out from under the rug eventually because the space under there is finite, and thus we see you falling back into patterns of destructive behavior that you and others thought you had escaped. All those people you gave advice to the contrary, that image you try to uphold but can't live up to, the subsequent scrutinizing comments from those who observe all this happen, and you have just set yourself up to solidify both new and old long-term traumas.

In solidifying long-term trauma for yourself you have also set others up to do the same with the advice you gave, and then make it worse because your cognitive dissonance may lead you to look down upon those who fell short of their goals just as you did simply because you aren't falling short of your desired image in the present moment. A vicious cycle has presented itself now, and that vicious cycle is not limited to the world in your immediate vicinity, nor your immediate community; this vicious cycle you created is going to travel around the world and back as more and more individuals adopt the same mentality they think protects them.

From such small things, from such critical points, the universe and its masses may be moved... that is why you must be careful in all that you do, and in every choice you make.

— Kreia, Darth Traya, Knights of the Old Republic II

Taking a look at modern politics we can see that cognitive dissonance is the basic operating system for politicians and their equals, and that is bleeding into society as a whole. Don't deny it, you sit there sometimes (or all the time) making posts talking down about politicians just like I do. Sometimes in talking about them we are partaking in the same behaviors thinking we are in the right just because we represent the opposite side of the spectrum. Then when someone points out our cognitive dissonance, we are quick to get defensive and offended and that is a great example of the overall stress that defines cognitive dissonance.

No one ever likes to feel stressed, not in such a way that it becomes haunting and damaging in the long-term, yet you'd hang on to your ideals that even you cannot live up to if it meant you could tout yourself as the victor in any and every situation. We even have policies in government that I could equate to this behavior in a metaphorical and almost literal way. Cognitive dissonance is a bit like the policy of mutual assured destruction in the sense that if you're gonna lose anyways, might as well make sure everyone loses. Better to destroy everyone than to be made to start from zero, admitting you're the one in the wrong, yes?

No, there are better solutions, long-term solutions to the toxic cycle of cognitive dissonance taking a strong hold within society these days.


Have you ever experienced cognitive dissonance within yourself?

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Solving Dissonance

I know I've beaten this dead horse, time and time again I've beaten it, and here I am yet again pounding away at it. Yes, once again I am going to bring it up as a solution. We need more acceptance and inclusion in the world if we are ever going to solve the destructive issues like cognitive dissonance. When you approach someone to offer advice, make sure that before you start judging them and their situation you get their entire story. I know it is impossible to simply stop being judgmental, so seek to be an impartial judge and offer judgement that is both unbiased and fair. It is all too often that we see someone struggling, such as a drug addict or someone who is suicidal, and since we have escaped our problems we wonder why they can't just get strong and move on.

You wouldn't walk up to someone being beaten down by five large men, then tell them that the pain they are feeling is inconsequential because once they are done being beaten it is all over. So why would you seek to invalidate someone struggling through issues that cause the same, or even more damage than the scenario I just offered? No sane, kind individual would do such a thing, instead they would step in and stop the beating or find someone who could. In taking the time out of your life to be accepting of someone's situation, the way they are dealing with it, and providing constructive support rather than delusional advice, you have done more than the current social paradigms could've ever had them expecting.

So today I ask you to stop, get to know someone who is struggling, hear their entire story, learn what tools they use to conquer their struggles, and rather than telling them what they are doing wrong hold them by the hand and try to walk the same path. You would not trip, fall, and break your arm then want someone to tell you that you do not need to go to the hospital because you'll be healed in the future; so do not expect others to understand and comply with your advice that observed "situation A" and skipped to "solution Z." Realize when you cannot live up to your own expectations, and do not hold others to a higher standard than you hold yourself.

The good ole throwing rocks in glass houses saying could apply here quite well.


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