I first heard the term cognitive dissonance whilst reading about alcoholism. According to Wikipedia in the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance occurs when a person holds contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values, and is typically experienced as psychological stress when they participate in an action that goes against one or more of them.
There are several books on the subject and I’m barely touching the icebergs tip here but I feel that I apply this dissonance to many areas of my life with no real understanding. In recognizing it I believe there is much work to be done in harmonizing my beliefs and quickly.
Take the alcoholism for example. I know it’s bad for me on many levels but I have chosen to put it in my body regardless. Similar to the drug addict or smoker. My brain is smart enough to see that it’s poison so rationally speaking I should avoid it. But in allowing myself to partake, therein lies the dissonance. Things don’t match up and I live in this Jekyll and Hyde style realm.
Another facet of it I see plain as day is a girl I’ve had a soft spot for and for quite some time. I like her alot and I’ve doted on her, gifted her, complimented her and asked her out numerous times. Her response, for lack of desire to explain, is no. I received that ‘no’ well over a year ago yet I still feel that there’s hope for us, most days anyway. So my ears and heart hear the rejection but my mind still chooses to hold hope. Cognitive dissonance.
Maybe I have employed it with my parenting as well (this one I’m examining on the spot as I pen these words). Day in, day out I get up, go to work, come home and parent my two special needs girls. I think the reality has slowly seeped in over the past year or so but typically I look at my girls as if they’re normal. They will have normal lives.
But the truth is they won’t. Their brains aren’t wired like most of us. They are incapable of doing certain basic things and they forget much more than they remember. They will never function on their own as regular adults. Yet up until lately I wouldn’t see that. The facts are pretty straight forward including all the doctors visits and medications and hospitalizations and special assisted learning at school and the list goes on. My brain knows the quality of life they will experience will not be the best but somehow there’s that hope again. Differing beliefs.
Then there’s my religion, Christianity. I believe that Jesus died for us and myself included, and salvation is a gift. I believe I’m called to a better life, a cleaner one, if you will. I typically go to church and we read the bible at home and pray multiple times a day. Looking at me after hearing that and you’d think man, this guy’s a pretty decent Christian.
But there’s another side of me that’s quite contradictory. I swear more than I should, even if its mostly to myself. I lust more than I should and often linger in those moments for awhile. I partake in sex outside of marriage. I watch movies and often listen to music that gratifies the dark side. I understand we all sin but I know I’m no exemplary Christian man. My brain holds these beliefs but then I often live my life in direct contrast. Cognitive dissonance.
So what do I do? How do I fix my many battling beliefs? How does one harmonize these thoughts and behaviours? Like I said I’m brand new to this and have much to learn but from what little I know it’s me choosing one direction or the other. I need to erase the notion that I’m pulled in two opposite directions and by my own doing.
In regards to the addictive substances, I need to either say “yes it’s true, this is pure poison and I refuse to ever touch it again” (best case scenario and trust me, I’m there!). A second choice would be to say “you know what, it’s really not that bad for me so I’m going to continue consuming it and I will be happy and content” which is a lie but we convince ourselves of unhealthy things all the time.
And so it goes. Disarming the dissonance one choice at a time and in one area at a time. Then I stop and think is that really an issue for me? Is it less than that and having too much hope is simply my downfall? I trust that a person or a substance won’t hurt or reject me too heavily? Or can it be something even worse than cognitive dissonance like a bipolar disorder?! I friggin hope not. Oops. There’s that hope again…