I wrestled with cognitive dissonance but I didn’t know what it was or why it was sooooo uncomfortable. In counseling, I encountered extreme cognitive dissonance when my counselor tried to convince me I was a good person. Most people believe they are a good person. From the time I was small I was told repeatedly I wasn’t good enough, I was too slow, I was dumb and clumsy, ding-a-ling, lights are on but nobody’s home. I didn’t understand this litany of flaws drilled into my head I was not a good person. So when my counselor tried to tell me other wise he had a fight on his hands. I struggled with the concept that I might be a good person and my abusers were wrong. Wait…..what?
The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the feelings of discomfort that result from holding two conflicting beliefs. When there is a discrepancy between beliefs and behaviors, something must change in order to eliminate or reduce the dissonance. https://www.verywell.com/what-is-cognitive-dissonance-2795012
I could not hang on to the definition I was given as a child that I was not a good person and the belief that I was a good person at the same time. I either had to disbelieve one or the other. My counselor had me do exercises such as the 5/50 assignment. http://weareone-ruth.blogspot.com/2013/08/kindness.html I’ve written about this assignment several times on my other blog. Basically, every day I do something for someone else that doesn’t take longer than 5 minutes or cost more than 50 cents. Then I was to write down what I did that evening. At the end of the week, the counselor asked me what I got out of the lesson. I told him, “I wasn’t doing enough for other people. It doesn’t take long and I am lazy for not doing better.” He shook his head. He pointed out, “Every time you write it down you are emphasizing you are a good person and help other people.” Oh….totally and completely missed the point. The thought that I might possibly be a good person was tough for me to wrap my mind around it.
Kendra Cherry has several suggestions on how to resolve cognitive dissonance.
- Focus on more supportive beliefs that outweigh the dissonant belief or behavior.
- Reduce the importance of conflicting belief.
- Change the conflicting belief so that it is consistent with other beliefs or behaviors.
For my example:
- I could recite that list of all the things that were wrong with me that ‘prove’ I am not a good person.
- I could decided it doesn’t matter if I am a good person or not a good person.
- Or what I finally did, I recognized, I am a good person and my mother has a lousy opinion of me.
Took a long time to get to step 3.
Kendra Cherry concluded:
Why is Cognitive Dissonance Important?
Cognitive dissonance plays a role in many value judgments, decisions, and evaluations. Becoming aware of how conflicting beliefs impact the decision-making process is a great way to improve your ability to make faster and more accurate choices.
Recognizing when my thinking was warped or twisted and correcting those ideas started with my counselor introducing new ideas that created cognitive dissonance. Humbling myself and listening and processing these new ideas took me farther and farther away from the distortions of my past.