Does Cognitive Dissonance hurt?

   “In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. This discomfort is triggered by a situation in which a belief of a person clashes with new evidence perceived by that person. When confronted with facts that contradict personal beliefs, ideals, and values, people will find a way to resolve the contradiction in order to reduce their discomfort.” – Wikipedia

   Based on this definition, cognitive dissonance creates mental stress, therefore, some pain. I would add to this definition that the beliefs, ideas, or values need to be important for the individual, otherwise the effect won’t be that impactful. I’d wish to remind here the Burdian’s ass paradox (ass as an animal) where a donkey died because it was equally hungry and thirsty and it was placed at equal distances between hay and water. The donkey just couldn’t decide what it wants first.

   We face contradictory ideas all day long, especially in this social media era, but we aren’t in that cognitive dissonance all the time because we don’t care about most of those things. But when we care, it hurts to be in that state if it’s not a personal decision (I sometimes intentionally go to a cognitive dissonance state to better understand some things, but since it’s my decision, it’s not that hurtful).

   How often do you find yourself in cognitive dissonance and how hurtful it is?

32 thoughts on “Does Cognitive Dissonance hurt?

  1. Not sure what counts as cognitive dissonance, but I’m in a similar state almost all of the time. Things that I believed without question for my whole life are now being brought out into the light and challenged. The internal conflict is exhausting and frequently overwhelming.

  2. It doesn’t hurt if you’re open to new ideas. That’s how people experience growth and change. It’s how we learn language and to differentiate the spectrum of colour. When you’re a kid it’s light green and dark green, not a million little shades and tones and saturation and hues.
    But the saying does go that if a lie is repeated long enough it becomes regarded as truth. So we learn to “hate ourselves” for being different.

    1. Yep, exactly! As long as we choose to be in that state, things are pretty much ok. When “it happens” to us and we don’t know how to act or react it’s a problem.

  3. I am studying social psychology and reflecting on cognitive dissonance did bring up painful memories of my recent involvement with student political organizations. I hold my character close to my heart, and my behavior as a reflection of my soul and who I am. However as the leader of a political organization I was forced into situations where I had to (we will address that in a sec) do things or say things or condone things I really did it agree with. I justified it saying I “had to” because I chose to be in that position and I told myself I couldn’t change the culture of manipulation in politics. It damaged me after a few months, triggered my anxiety and broke my self confidence because I hated myself for what I had done. I’m still trying to make peace with the contradictory behavior and attitudes, but in a healthy way. Cognitive dissonance can lead to maladaptive behaviors, and for me definitely it hurts like hell to do things that reflect on my character poorly because it affects my feelings towards myself.

    1. We often do sacrifices because we think that it will somehow be good for us (in the end), but it might turn out differently and we beat ourselves up for that.

  4. Great question and I love the Burdian’s ass example; learned something new today!!

    In my experience: yes, it can hurt a great deal–nearly splitting my mind open.

    In my childhood of abuse, I think it was the cognitive dissonance that led me to turn inward and blame myself, like the donkey who chose to starve himself. That is, sort of, what it is like to be trapped in an abusive home during childhood. Starving/blaming yourself seems the only option to survive it.

      1. I have thought more about this and read the other comments and it may not have been cognitive dissonance that I felt in my childhood, but simply the effects of brainwashing and being trapped.

        Perhaps I experienced the cognitive dissonance in adulthood when my belief (that family was ‘family’ and thereby allowed to be evil toward me) was met with the hard truth of the matter (that contact with my family was killing my spirit). If so, then the cognitive dissonance I felt is actually what set me free to make my own choice (of what family is; and is not).

      2. I think you’re right about this. It’s most likely to have been feeling cognitive dissonance in your adulthood when what you thought to be real (and normal) met the idea that it’s not actually like that.

  5. I’ve never really thought too much about cognitive dissonance but I have heard of it. I’m wondering if it could apply to the feelings of worthlessness brought about by domestic violence, then finally realizing that I needed to escape, that he wasn’t correct about me. I had to learn who I really was and accept the good parts of me that were deeply hidden away.

  6. I think empathic people, such as myself, struggle with mental stress commonly. We take on the vibes of others which are contradictory to our own beliefs. That’s why I stay off social media or stay away from people who are destructive;they can literally rub off onto me and I’ll become “sick”.

    1. This is an interesting point of view. I can’t tell if empathy is the cause or just the fact that those ideas are just going against our own.

      1. Yes, but empathy goes for accepting and understanding points of view as well. Of course, it requires a bit of skepticism on both our ideas and those ideas so we can place ourselves as a third person to analyze them.

  7. My daughter told me a couple of years ago that I was going through cognitive dissonance; because, I told her that listening to Dr. Wayne Dyer was no longer working to pull me out of a negative state of mind.

    1. She was probably right. If the ideas that doctor went head to head with yours and you weren’t willing to accept them (or you weren’t prepared for that), then the issue appeared.

  8. There are those that find a certain “comfort zone” or “state” that appeals to them (a good example is faith based societies) , develop a mindset or become closed minded and have issues with anything that may challenge that way of thinking, sometimes leading to conflict, etc… “Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” Anais Nin
    If one has an open mind, open to new ideas (whether one accepts them or not) and are always exploring life, that is not an issue… 🙂

    “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” William Arthur Ward

  9. This is a stumper. I mean, there are people I love that I do not like, which makes for a lot of discomfort. There are situations I loathe, but I want the experience (certain live shows come to mind, with crowds, flashes of light and loud noises) – trying to find a balancing point there is rough.

    When it comes to ideology; I try to keep an open mind. Try is the operative word.

    1. I think the toughest is when it comes to people we love and we don’t like. It can indeed create lots of discomfort. With the other two, we can manage to balance it somehow, but we cannot change other people if they don’t want to change.

  10. I agree with Natalie.
    But I can’t really decide if mine is a conscious choice or not.
    Either way as much as I like and welcome new ideas I’m not a fan of things being blown out of the water that I have believed my whole life.

  11. Well you know what they say “Go with the flow ” right , but sometimes life does get confusing, and at such times I find it easier to just sleep over it.

      1. It’s really hard to say you know. It all depends on the issue on hand and the time you need to resolve it. Sometimes life throws curve balls at you and you need drastic steps and solutions to solve them without thinking too much about the future consequences.

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