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Cognitive Dissonance--Why You or Someone You Love Can't Just "Let It Go"

What in the world is Cognitive Dissonance?

Have you ever found yourself being annoyed by a friend who may continually do things that are harmful? Have you found yourself judging a who friend chooses to stay in a relationship with the awareness that their partner is cheating or is abusive and manipulative? Have you ever gotten mad at someone who may smoke cigarettes with the awareness that long term smoking can cause cancer? Sound familiar? This is Cognitive Dissonance.

The theory of Cognitive Dissonance was first proposed by Leon Festinger in 1957. It is a conflict of beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors. This happens when a person strongly holds on to a belief simply because they want to believe it. When contrary evidence appears to threaten that belief, the person tends to fight against accepting the evidence no matter how obvious it is because it goes against the original belief. It has been proven that the brain has difficulty reconciling the two notions: the belief and the truth. When a person is struggling with Cognitive Dissonance, it can look like the person may be intentionally choosing to do something that may be causing them harm, but in reality, the person is in conflict.

This type of conflict is often a result of narcissistic abuse. Narcissistic Abuse is verbal abuse that often shame based. The abuser projects their own shame onto the victim. Other forms of narcissistic abuse are manipulation, gaslighting, sabotage, exploitation, and isolation. Narcissistic often abusers tend to target people who empathetic, kind, compassionate, and trusting.

Often people who struggle with this are judged by their peers because it seems so illogical to other people. The truth is that there are ways to reconcile this internal struggle. If you or a friend struggle with cognitive dissonance, keep in mind that you may have previous evidence of good in a person or a situation at hand. You may have held on to that evidence because it may invoke a positive feeling, emotion, or memory in you. The contrary evidence can be shattering for some people because of the value that they may have placed in the original belief. Admitting that the original belief, is no longer true can be a struggle that can take a while to overcome. Here are three ways to help in this process:


Consider the importance of the belief. Why does it matter so much to you?

  1. Journal about your thoughts, beliefs, and the new evidence. It is often cathartic write about your current thoughts, but it can be a revelation to re-read the information and see it in your own words.

  2. Consider how the new evidence may affect you positively. Don’t concentrate on the negative affects.

For more information about Cognitive Dissonance, check out the link below:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/you-illuminated/200911/why-it-s-hard-stop-believing-in-santa-claus

By: Brandi Lewis, M.Ed, LPC

Brandi Lewis