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How to Overcome Cognitive Dissonance

Updated on March 21, 2020
Kyler J Falk profile image

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Have you ever experienced cognitive dissonance within yourself?

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Comments

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    • MitaraN profile image

      Mitara N 

      3 weeks ago from South Africa

      Not at all, I think the flow to the whole article was brilliant,

      Only made note to it, based on extended comments, it was not the main focus to your article at

      Don't doubt your writing, I enjoy your articles, its about being real

    • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

      Kyler J Falk 

      3 weeks ago from Corona, CA

      @T: A very interesting set of insights there, and as an adolescent drug user myself (no longer indulging at all) this could actually explain much of my own unfavorable neurological processes. I will need to explore much of what you mentioned here in the future, as I think it would help me reconcile much of these discrepancies by recognizing the mechanism for them. Thank you so much for the input, as I probably would not have discovered it any time soon otherwise.

      @Mitara: Thank you, and I really didn't think my comments within the article about wealth would be such a focal point. I'm going to need to ponder how to express or even avoid such comments altogether for fairness and clarity. It was my own distaste for the people I grew up around shining through, and it really isn't necessary nor fair to express it to begin with.

    • MitaraN profile image

      Mitara N 

      3 weeks ago from South Africa

      Though you may have felt you left detail out, don't be hard on yourself.

      I in all honesty I think you have excellent points that paints the picture of how you would have liked for it to have been expressed.

      Yes, factually there are some in a higher earning bracket than your average, but we are all human, no status to that, so that does not exclude anyone.

      Good read, thank you for sharing

    • tsadjatko profile image

      3 weeks ago from now on

      Kyler, so nice to see you wrote this piece out of a perspective of first hand knowledge and experience.

      When I think of cognitive dissonance my first thought is of hypocrisy. I understand the difference although hypocrisy is a type of cognitive dissonance where a person chooses to be dissonant rather than try to change one’s beliefs or behavior to be consistent.

      However my opinion of hypocrisy is that it can be due to arrested brain development.

      For someone to choose to be a hypocrite actually goes against instinctive brain activity (where the brain is motivated to correct cognitive dissonance) which indicates to me an abnormal or arrested brain development in that person.

      There are over 150 studies that confirm, and the medical profession acknowledges that:

      The Starting Age of Marijuana Use May Have Long-Term Effects on Brain Development.

      “Findings show study participants who began using marijuana at the age of 16 or younger demonstrated brain variations (MRIs) that indicate arrested brain development in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for judgment, reasoning and complex thinking. Individuals who started using marijuana after age 16 showed the opposite effect and demonstrated signs of accelerated brain aging.

      “Science has shown us that changes in the brain occurring during adolescence are complex. Our findings suggest that the timing of cannabis use can result in very disparate patterns of effects,” explained Francesca Filbey, Ph.D., principal investigator and Bert Moore Chair of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the Center for BrainHealth.“Not only did age of use impact the brain changes but the amount of cannabis used also influenced the extent of altered brain maturation.”

      There is also a neural explanation for the common type of psychological stress associated with cognitive dissonance. Thanks to advances in imaging methods, especially functional MRI, researchers have recently identified key brain regions linked to cognitive dissonance. The area implicated most consistently is the posterior part of the medial frontal cortex (pMFC), known to play an important role in avoiding aversive outcomes, a powerful built-in survival instinct. In fMRI studies, when subjects lie to a peer despite knowing that lying is wrong—a task that puts their actions and beliefs in conflict—the pMFC lights up.

      Recently a causal link was demonstrated between pMFC activity and the attitude change required to reduce dissonance. They induced cognitive dissonance in 52 participants by having them rate two wallpapers. When asked to evaluate their choices on a second viewing, some participants realized that they had actually rejected their preferred wallpaper, whereas others had initially chosen their least favorite option. It was found that by temporarily decreasing activity in the pMFC using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), their attitude changes and their desire to create consistency could also be diminished.

      Additional studies have revealed that cognitive dissonance engages other brain regions, such as the insula and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). The insula, which processes emotions, often becomes more active when people are upset or angry, and the DLPFC is strongly associated with cognitive control. One study found that disrupting the activity of the DLPFC by zapping it with electrodes reduces the extent to which we try to rationalize our beliefs following cognitive dissonance.

      Although people may think cognitive dissonance is a bad thing, it works to keep us mentally healthy and happy. It may make us feel satisfied with our choices—or at least lets us justify them—especially when they cannot be easily reversed. Resolving dissonance may help prevent us from making bad choices or motivate us to make good ones. This desire to be at peace with our decisions might be just the thing to inspire us to go for that run after all.

      And so since it is instinctive to correct cognitive dissonance to choose hypocrisy could be a sign of arrested brain development. Considering the widespread use of pot by adolescents over the last 50 years it is no stretch to suspect that the prevalence of hypocrisy in today’s population can be due to arrested brain development in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for judgment, reasoning and complex thinking, hindering the normal brain response to reconcile cognitive dissonance leading to the ABD person choosing to be a hypocrite.

      This can be proven. All that is necessary is to give MRIs to anyone who associates their beliefs with today’s Democratic Party. I suspect you will find they all suffer from arrested brain development. Pot smugglers will be at the top of the list.

    • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

      Kyler J Falk 

      3 weeks ago from Corona, CA

      I do not reject wealth, I reject the mentalities that often lie behind the wealth. I love wealth and all the privilege that comes with it, it is what everyone either consciously or unconsciously strives for. If you say you don't strive for financial, spiritual, cultural, social, and personal wealth then you are a liar; as I am open about my desire and striving for it your inference is invalid here.

      However, if you said that my generalization of the mentalities behind that wealth is unfair, and dissonant, then I'd agree wholeheartedly as I already did and seek to change my diction and stance in the future. Forgive me if I don't feel like being preached to, I never wholly appreciate one-sided analyses as we all have excrement on our hands and knees.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      3 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Yes it does friend. It has everything to do with cognitive dissonance. You are referring to an upscale place and all you see is the negative. That is exactly dissonance. How much money did these people donate to feed others.

      I do not mean to cause you any strain. But people should see this rejection of wealth as the dissonance it is. Wealth and aplomb is not bad. It is what it is. You thinking poorly of it is dissonance.

    • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

      Kyler J Falk 

      3 weeks ago from Corona, CA

      A very good question, I lived in an upscale area where the median cost of a home was well over one-million dollars, all the prices were relatively higher than any other area such as gas regularly hitting 6+ dollars/gallon, and the most common vehicles to be seen aside from sports cars were luxury class cars. Many of the people I went to school with had well-distinguished families, or were well-distinguished themselves, and frequently we had camera crews at our school for non-educational purposes. You may have even seen myself, or one of my family members on TV in the past if you regularly ingest television programming. This being the case, most people around me were only concerned with putting off a positive image, rather than living up to a positive lifestyle.

      I didn't mean for this to become a focal point, as it has little to do with the topic, but thank you for pointing out my false absolution, I should avoid such absolution in the future for fairness and clarity.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      3 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Before I go further --- please clarify this absolute, all or nothing statement; "wealthy area that only cared about image". We all know that is impossible so what are you saying?

    • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

      Kyler J Falk 

      3 weeks ago from Corona, CA

      Thank you, Nella!

      Thank you as well, Meg, it is very good that you stop to take an inward look at the self every now and again as it is a rare trait.

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 

      3 weeks ago from Northern Ireland

      Well put. Very important not to hold others to higher standards than we do ourselves. We are always quick to forgive ourselves and slow to forgive others for the same faults. I know that I believe myself to be non-judgemental, yet often have to pull myself up sharply for the thoughts that creep in when I see a person or situation that I feel could be easily improved. How do I know it could be easily improved? I don't, I would need to live their life for a while to know anything about them.

    • Nella DiCarlo profile image

      Nella DiCarlo 

      3 weeks ago from Guelph, Ontario

      Interesting topic and article. Excellent point about listening to someone's story, and interpreting each situation as unique.

    • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

      Kyler J Falk 

      3 weeks ago from Corona, CA

      Thank you, Pamela, and yes the goal was to promote complex thought around the topic. Though I left out a lot of information for the sake of keeping things clear, I'm happy to know that I did well with my presentation. I always worry that my presentation is lacking and to hear a compliment to the contrary is always reassuring.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

      Listening to anyone is clearly important and sometimes it is too easy to be judgemental. I revall the old saying, 'We have two ears and one mouth' so listen twice as much as you talk.

      Cognitive dissonance is a very interesting topic and I think you did it justice with this article. This article made me think about this topic, which is the goal I think. You did a good job with this topic.

    • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

      Kyler J Falk 

      3 weeks ago from Corona, CA

      Sorry, Allen Edwards, unlike others I do not allow the public reveal of private conversations expressed in confidence. If you two would like to go discuss that elsewhere, please feel free, but your judgments come with only one side of the story and thus would be best labeled "ignorant."

      If you'd like to seek to further harass me, as Vladimir Karas has, then please go to the echo chamber where it will be accepted. Your comment is denied on these grounds.

      Thank you!

    • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

      Kyler J Falk 

      3 weeks ago from Corona, CA

      Thank you, Bushra! This was inspired by my interactions with a Hubber here recently, it did not end well despite my best efforts to meet in the middle grounds. May we all have better interactions in the future.

    • Bushra Iqbal profile image

      Aishatu Ali 

      3 weeks ago from Rabwah, Pakistan

      '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 true! Good article!

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