This mood and anxiety disorder business can be absolutely brutal. And until there’s a cure, we have to find, and try on for size, as many psychological and biological insights and interventions as possible – and roll with those that fit. Put cognitive dissonance at the top of your list…
When we’re invested in a given perspective, when confronted with disconfirming evidence, we’ll devote great energy to justify keeping the challenged perspective.
Dissonance: a tension resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements.
Cognitive dissonance (CD), then, is the mental discomfort/psychological stress we experience when we hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. In real-life, CD is what happens when we perform an action that contradicts these beliefs, ideas, or values. It can also occur when we’re confronted with new information that contradicts same.
Already, can you see how CD has the power to generate mood and anxiety symptoms – not to mention exacerbating them?
Cognitive Dissonance: The Nuts & Bolts
Psychologist Leon Festinger got it all started in 1957 with his book, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance.
Festinger submitted that humans strive for “psychological consistency” between their personal expectations of life and how life actually plays-out. To function within the context of the expectation of consistency in the real world, dissonance reduction has to be practiced. And that’s because it’s an effort to continually align cognitions (perceptions of the world) with our actions in the world.
According to Festinger, when a person experiences internal inconsistency, s/he becomes psychologically uncomfortable – the mental discomfort/psychological stress mentioned above.
Again, this mental discomfort/psychological stress may well result in what you, with a shrug of the shoulders, believe are symptoms of assorted mood and anxiety disorders. Have you ever experienced a mysterious and deep feeling of overwhelming emptiness, darkness, anxiety, or tension? I mean, you just can’t put your finger on what’s going-on. Hmmm, CD?
Well, it makes perfect sense that in this perceptual state we would become motivated to do all we can to reduce our cognitive dissonance.
How might that look?
- Changing the behavior or the cognition: “I’m not smoking cigarettes anymore.”
- Justify the behavior or the cognition by changing the conflicting cognition: “Well, it’s okay to have a cigarette after meals.”
- Justify the behavior or the cognition by adding new cognitions: “I’ll hit the gym more often to offset the effects of smoking.”
- Ignore or deny information that conflicts with existing beliefs: “You know, smoking can’t be all that harmful.”
Always keep this CD “law” in mind: When we’re invested in a given perspective, when confronted with disconfirming evidence, we’ll devote great energy to justify keeping the challenged perspective.
Can we say CD is about “half-truthing” ourselves, even outright lying? Well…
Cognitive Dissonance: More Maneuvering
CD is such an effective tool, we’re also apt to use it when we seek to…
- Explain inexplicable feelings
- Minimize the regret of choices we’ve made and can’t take back
- Justify behavior opposed to our views
- Align our perceptions of a person with our behavior towards them
- Reaffirm held beliefs
You knew I was going to ask. Is CD hitting home with you? Are you eyeball deep in it?
Cognitive Dissonance: So Now What?
Okay, we’ve defined CD and learned how miserable it can make us feel. So now it’s about turning it around.
No magic here, people. Positive results will only come from hard work – every day. And as with most anything we choose to correct in our neck of the woods, the first step is always self-awareness. Acceptance is right up there with it.
How could we ever hope to change if we have no idea what’s going-on, much less refusing to own it? If you weren’t aware of cognitive dissonance, and how it presents, you are now. When you find yourself in the midst, blow the whistle. Take a look at what you’re really trying to accomplish and make indicated adjustments in cognition and behavior. Catch it. Challenge it.
If you’re working with a therapist, mention CD and say you want to go there. (If you aren’t working with a therapist, give it some thought?).
Finally, learn as much about CD as you can. Research (and apply)!
That’s All, Folks!
Seriously, I don’t have to tell you how brutal mood and anxiety challenges can be. But do I have to tell you we create – often beneath conscious awareness – a significant portion of what ails us?
Cognitive dissonance is the perfect example. Awareness catches it and the rest is about acceptance, commitment, and hard work. You can do this…
(Props to Wikipedia for an extremely strong article.)
Hey, if you’re struggling with mood and/or anxiety misery, there has to be at least one Chipur article that can come to your rescue. Here are hundreds of titles.