Cognitive Dissonance in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Written by Angela Atkinson

When you’re dealing with narcissistic abuse, there is a strange phenomenon that happens to you – you get confused and you start to wonder if you’re losing your mind. You question reality and even your own perception. Why does this happen? Thanks to the ongoing abuse and manipulation you suffer at the hands of the narcissist in your life, you are often literally seeing something other than what you’re being told you’re seeing. You’re left spinning and questioning everything you know to be true. This is due to cognitive dissonance.

What is cognitive dissonance in narcissistic abuse?

Cognitive dissonance is a form of psychological stress or discomfort that happens when you simultaneously hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. In other words, you think or believe one thing but you see another thing happening in real life.

Often, malignant narcissists use a manipulation technique called gaslighting to confuse and manipulate you into being controlled. Gaslighting is a common cause of cognitive dissonance in narcissistic abuse.

What is gaslighting in narcissistic abuse? 

To clarify, gaslighting is a manipulation tactic used by most narcissists It’s both pervasive and highly-effective and it’s meant to manipulate you into questioning your own sanity.

The Cognitive Dissonance Theory

The cognitive dissonance theory was first introduced by an American social psychologist named Leon Festinger in 1957. Essentially, it states that humans are predisposed to seek internal consistency. That means that, in general, our beliefs, thoughts, and opinions must correspond with our actions, behavior. and attitude.

This way, we don’t feel the stress of trying to live in a way that doesn’t correspond to our beliefs. But if dissonance, discomfort, or inconsistency of any kind is experienced, we tend to feel psychological discomfort and strive hard to reduce it, or to avoid it altogether. What this means is that we have a sort of pre-determined drive to hold all our attitudes and behavior in harmony and avoid disharmony (or dissonance). This is known as the principle of cognitive consistency.

Cognitive Dissonance and Your Mental Health

When our attitudes or behaviors don’t match, it creates dissonance. If we are going to get rid of the dissonance, we must change something. We aren’t programmed to allow the dissonance to continue – in fact, we will feel mild to serious mental and emotional stress if we aren’t allowed to resolve it. But here’s where your narcissist comes in: since they make it nearly impossible for us to remain sane AND resolve the dissonance, this adds to our already-full emotional plate.

How much damage it causes us depends on the level to which we take seriously the issue over which we have cognitive dissonance. Of course, the theory is the greater the dissonance the more you will naturally feel motivated to resolve it.

How do you heal from cognitive dissonance?

In this video, I’ll explain in detail exactly what you’re dealing with when you have cognitive dissonance in narcissistic abuse, and I’ll tell you what you need to do to heal yourself.

Resources to Help with Cognitive Dissonance in Narcissistic Abuse

If you feel you need additional help and support in your narcissistic abuse recovery, look for a trauma-informed professional who is trained in helping people who are dealing with overcoming narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships. Depending on your particular situation, you might benefit from Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching, or you might do better with a therapist. You have to decide what to do from here – if you’re not sure, start with my free Narcissistic Abuse Recovery quiz. With your results will come recommended resources for your situation. It’s totally free.

Books & eBooks on Narcissism and Relationships

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