Healing Your Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a type of mental stress that results from struggling to correct that surreal feeling between what we know to be real, and what we are told is real. It is the crazy-making component of gaslighting and the biggest cause of C-PTSD. Cognitive dissonance is the confusion and mental discomfort you experience when you live with contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. It indicates a state of living with continually opposing or conflicting viewpoints, beliefs, or behaviors. It’s usually the result of manipulation, and specifically of gaslighting. To restore emotional balance, the affected person must change (or remove) the inconsistencies and conflicts. Most of us do this on an ongoing basis, without conscious awareness.​

If you grew up in a narcissistic home you’ve probably experienced cognitive dissonance and have felt the resulting and ongoing confusion. Human beings weren’t meant to continually live in a state of confusion. Not knowing what to believe, what to expect, and not being able to trust our feelings, judgment, or senses is overwhelming and painful. Our natural state of “being” requires that our thoughts and interactions make sense because we need stability and security to be emotionally healthy and balanced. When we feel doubtful of our reality, or are so fearful of making a decision that we’re emotionally paralyzed, it may be the result of cognitive dissonance.

Although it doesn’t sound like it, some types of cognitive dissonance can be healthy. For example, guilt is a positive and healthy form of cognitive dissonance. Guilt allows us to see the discrepancy between “this is who I say I am, but this is what I did.” We feel guilty when “who we are” and “what we did” are not aligned. This misalignment causes us to feel empathy for the person we wronged. For example, if I believe I’m a gentle, kind, and loving person, and I make a cruel remark to someone, my perception of “who I am” no longer matches “what I did.” A gentle, kind, and loving person would not say mean things. I would be motivated by guilt to apologize to the person I hurt. The cognitive dissonance provided by our guilt drives us to atone for our actions, which is a positive thing.

Cognitive dissonance has a dark side and it’s harmful

When we’re gaslighted regularly, our level of cognitive dissonance grows, and the crazier and more out-of-touch we feel. We’re unsure of what’s real and what’s not, what’s true and what’s not, and we don’t know whether to believe our senses or only to accept what we’re told.​

We all tell ourselves stories. It’s how we make sense of ourselves and our world. Our egos translate our experiences so that they make sense, but doing so while in a state of cognitive dissonance can keep us stuck. To get unstuck, we might choose to accept the best explanation that we can come up with, regardless of whether it’s accurate.​​​​For example, think about the possible explanations that a six-year-old might create, versus a twenty-year-old, or a thirty-five-year-old. Youth and immaturity work against us when we’re gaslighted as kids. We’re not experienced or knowledgeable enough to imagine plausible and realistic explanations. At ten, if my best friend doesn’t reach out, I might think it’s because she doesn’t like me anymore. But at thirty, if I haven’t heard from my friend, I might think it’s because she’s busy with life, working, prioritizing self-care, etc. I can choose any number of explanations, and they’ll align with my current self-concept. 

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Summary
Article Name
How to Heal the Cognitive Dissonance
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Cognitive dissonance is a type of mental stress that results from struggling to correct that surreal feeling between what we know to be real, and what we are told is real. It is the crazy-making component of gaslighting and the biggest cause of C-PTSD. Cognitive dissonance is the confusion and mental discomfort you experience when you live with contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. It indicates a state of living with continually opposing or conflicting viewpoints, beliefs, or behaviors. It’s usually the result of manipulation, and specifically of gaslighting. To restore emotional balance, the afflicted person must change or remove the inconsistencies or conflicts, and we do this on an ongoing basis.​ If you grew up in a narcissistic home you’ve probably experienced cognitive dissonance and have felt the resulting and ongoing confusion. Human beings weren’t meant to continually live in a state of confusion. Not knowing what to believe, what to expect, and not being able to trust our feelings, judgment, or senses is overwhelming and painful. Our natural state of “being” requires that our thoughts and interactions make sense because we need stability and security to be emotionally healthy and balanced. When we feel doubtful of our reality, or are so fearful of making a decision that we’re emotionally paralyzed, it may be the result of cognitive dissonance.
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DianeMetcalf.com
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