Home Family & Relationship Understanding Cognitive Dissonance and Its Impact on Relationships

Understanding Cognitive Dissonance and Its Impact on Relationships

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cognitive dissonance refers to the psychological discomfort or tension that arises when a person holds contradictory beliefs, attitudes, or values, or when their behaviour conflicts with their beliefs. This discomfort motivates individuals to reduce the inconsistency and achieve a state of cognitive consonance.

For example, if someone believes that smoking is harmful to their health but continues to smoke, they may experience cognitive dissonance. To reduce this discomfort, they might either quit smoking, justify their behaviour by convincing themselves that the risk is minimal, or change their beliefs about the harms of smoking.

Leon Festinger, a psychologist, proposed the cognitive dissonance theory in 1957 and contends that people seek internal consistency. When inconsistencies arise, they are motivated to resolve them to reduce discomfort and restore cognitive harmony.

Identifying if you are experiencing cognitive dissonance involves recognising signs that indicate you might be holding conflicting beliefs, attitudes, or behaviours. Here are some indicators that you might be experiencing cognitive dissonance:

  • Feelings of discomfort or unease. You might feel uneasy, anxious, or conflicted when thinking about a particular issue or decision.
  • Avoidance or denial. You might avoid thinking about or discussing certain topics because they trigger discomfort or internal conflict.
  • Rationalising or justifying. You find yourself making excuses or justifications for behaviours or beliefs that contradict each other.
  • Seeking confirmation bias. You actively seek out information or perspectives that support one belief while ignoring or dismissing information that contradicts it.
  • Inconsistency in actions. You behave in ways that contradict your stated beliefs or values, which causes internal conflict.
  • Defensiveness. You become defensive when others challenge your beliefs or behaviours that are inconsistent.
  • Stress or emotional strain. You experience stress, frustration, or emotional strain when confronted with situations that highlight the inconsistency.
  • Difficulty making decisions. You find it challenging to make decisions when conflicting beliefs or values are involved, leading to indecision or procrastination.

If you notice these signs in yourself, it may indicate that you are experiencing cognitive dissonance. Recognising these signs is the first step towards addressing and resolving the underlying conflicts to achieve greater internal harmony.

Healing from cognitive dissonance involves addressing the underlying contradictions or conflicts that are causing psychological discomfort. Here are some steps that can help in this process:

  • Awareness and recognition. Recognise and acknowledge the presence of cognitive dissonance. This involves identifying the conflicting beliefs, attitudes, or behaviours that are causing discomfort.
  • Explore the sources. Reflect on the sources of the conflicting beliefs or behaviours. Understand why these contradictions exist and how they came about. This might involve introspection or seeking feedback from others.
  • Evaluate your beliefs and values. Assess the validity and importance of the conflicting beliefs or values. Determine whether these beliefs are truly essential or if they can be adjusted or reconsidered.
  • Seek information and understanding. Gather more information and perspectives related to the conflicting beliefs or attitudes. This can help in gaining a deeper understanding and potentially resolving the contradictions.
  • Reconcile or adjust. Consider ways to reconcile the conflicting beliefs or behaviours. This might involve modifying one’s beliefs, attitudes, or behaviours to achieve greater consistency and reduce cognitive dissonance.
  • Take action. Implement changes based on the insights gained. This could include making decisions, taking steps towards behaviour change, or adjusting attitudes to align more closely with core values.
  • Seek support. If the cognitive dissonance is particularly challenging or persistent, seek support from trusted friends, family members, or a therapist. Talking through the issues with someone can provide clarity and help in navigating the healing process.
  • Practice self-compassion. Recognise that cognitive dissonance is a common human experience and be compassionate towards yourself during this process of growth and self-discovery.

Healing from cognitive dissonance is often a gradual process that involves self-reflection, exploration, and sometimes making difficult decisions or changes. It’s about achieving a sense of internal harmony and consistency that aligns with one’s values and beliefs.

Dina Relojo is a social media manager at Psychreg. She is a high school teacher from the Philippines.

© Copyright 2014–2034 Psychreg Ltd