Cognitive dissonance

cognitive dissonance

noun, Psychology
1. anxiety that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or otherwise incompatible attitudes, beliefs, or the like, as when one likes a person but disapproves strongly of one of his or her habits.

One of the psychology terms I needed to learn.  Fairly early in my counseling sessions, my counselor would attempt to tell me certain things I didn’t want to hear and I would shut down.  (For those not familiar with emotional shut down, it is a state where you can hear but no longer able to respond verbally or emotionally.)  One of the tough things about counseling is facing your worse nightmare, challenging your most deeply held beliefs, and changing your life view of everything.  I faced fully the understanding that my parents did not protect me from harm.  In some instances they would use me like a shield to protect themselves with no regard for the consequences for me.  Mild forms of this are brain farts.  Where your brain hits a bump and takes a bit to get over it.  At its most extreme, people have murdered those that tell them that their most deeply held beliefs were not true.

U.S. social psychologist Leon Festinger (1919-1989), coined the phrase when he studied a group of people that believed the world would end in a flood.  Those that were only slightly connected to the group, realized they were duped and felt foolish.  Those that committed to the concept and sold all they had and gave all their money to the group building another ark, decided that the reason the flood didn’t happen was because of the goodness of the followers.  Cognitive dissonance were for those that refused to admit they may have been tricked.  (

Loved beliefs, so strong that the person would reject all other possibilities than the one that they are wrong.  During counseling, I had many beliefs and ideas, especially about myself, that I needed to face and change before moving on.  There are still core beliefs that I hold strongly.  But many of the lies I was taught as a child, had to be faced and acknowledged and finally accepted.  Some people may laugh but one of those beliefs was I was stupid.  I was told repeatedly that I was dumb, ding-a-ling, not as smart as someone else, that I truly believed I was stupid.  My counselor told me other wise, I argued with him.  The thought that I was sabotaged as a child was so abhorrent, I would rather believe I was stupid than believe that my parents would destroy my self-esteem.  Accepting that those that say, “I love you” hurt you the most was cognitive dissonance at an extreme level.  Now, I feel sad that my parents couldn’t see me for who I am rather than a false image of what they wanted me to be.


RM6_5282Cognitive dissonance, life standing where death and destruction abound.

One thought on “Cognitive dissonance

  1. There may be another important example of cognitive dissonance. It is frequently the case that when one holds a belief in, and loyalty to, a government or police force (or even one’s family), then confronts an example of blatant and overwhelming corruption, violence, or an “intelligence operation” (such as an assassination or “false flag op”) that one is thrown into terrific existential anxiety and confusion, and there is a potent tendency to ignore the latter, and continue to support that entity and the “status quo.” These major events, causing a kind of PTSD reaction (either literal or de facto) feel like they threaten the very existence of an individual (and most certainly one’s normal “frame of reference” and sense of self). There is an even stronger motivation to move toward orthodoxy and conformity, should the offending party offer a somewhat credible narrative (often with a strong emotional or patriotic component), and/or provide an alternative “bad guy” (scapegoat or bogeyman), and if most everyone in one’s community (or nation)) seems content to do so.

    One may observe this “writ small” in one’s own family or community, but also on a much larger scale. All of us, not only as social animals, but citizens of a country, and of the world, tend to adhere to a given “Weltanschauung” or sense of being in the world (or “dasein,” as the existentialists say). I have already alluded to something like this but, HERE, I’m referring to a much more global phenomenon. What I want to emphasize is that an event of extraordinary proportions (producing an extreme level of horror and shock) may be associated with—or “trigger”–a massive shift in this “frame,” for the citizens of one’s country, and even for millions around the world. There is now an entirely “new ball-game” with associated rules. This may happen naturally, or—at least in part—be intentionally engineered or shaped by certain forces. The view and stance of governmental figures and agencies, major media and the very use of language have undergone a shift or transformation. Those wanting to reverse this shift, or–at least–provide an alternative narrative, as a remedy to the severely egregious (or even evil) consequences, may find they are facing a nearly unassailable wall of resistance.

    The “intelligence community” seems to have had a keen understanding of this phenomenon and principle. In many occasions in history these people, of various nations around the world, have produced a catastrophic event (in some cases, simply making use of a naturally occurring event), then made major use of this event, toward blaming a certain nation or individual, and typically toward providing a pretext for a war or a coup d ‘etat. The sinking of the U.S.S. Maine and the fire-bombing of the German Reichstag are two excellent historical examples of this. So are the murder of President Kennedy in 1963, and the horrific NYC Twin Tower demolition in 2001. We tent to think of ourselves as rational human beings, who “live” mostly in the higher brain (or “telencephalon”), but–under certain circumstances–we pretty much revert to the lower “fight-flight” “animal brain” and may become not only victims, but generally very manipulable.

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