Cognitive Dissonance

Written by Lise Colucci

Maybe you’ve heard the term ‘cognitive dissonance’ before, maybe you haven’t. Regardless of where you are in your healing journey, if you’re just discovering the term cognitive dissonance now, it will help shed some light on why you feel like the crazy one for believing that something is wrong in the relationship – and that something is not within yourself.

Are they really a narcissist? What if I was wrong? It wasn’t so bad, was it?

How often have you asked yourself these questions? Be honest.

Ever find yourself wondering if your love will be enough to heal the toxic person? You may be experiencing cognitive dissonance and abuse amnesia. 

Cognitive Dissonance, Feeling Conflicted, and Trauma Bonds 

Do you know the feeling of really not wanting to be with the narcissist ever again but then feeling the urge to contact them? That is just one example of cognitive dissonance. But let’s get a little more specific.

What is cognitive dissonance? 

Officially, cognitive dissonance is a form of psychological stress or discomfort that happens when you simultaneously hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.

Ironically, cognitive dissionance often affects narcissists as well as their victims at different times and for very different reasons.

In layman’s terms, cognitive dissonance is the holding of two conflicting beliefs or values at the same time.

Examples of Cognitive Dissonance 

Though inconsistent thinking is common in those who have been subjected to narcissistic abuse, it may not necessarily be a sign of cognitive dissonance. There are other factors that can bring about this tendency to have conflicting thoughts and feelings.

For example, when a person is experiencing intense emotions, they are more likely to be unable to process new information.

The goal here isn’t to assign blame or suggest some kind of thought disorder with regard to cognitive dissonance but rather to better understand why these sorts of internal conflicts happen in the first place.

Though inconsistent thinking is common in those who have been subjected to narcissistic abuse, it may not necessarily be a sign of cognitive dissonance. There are other factors that can bring about this tendency to have conflicting thoughts and feelings.

For example, when a person is experiencing intense emotions, they are more likely to be unable to process new information.

The goal here isn’t to assign blame or suggest some kind of thought disorder with regard to cognitive dissonance but rather to better understand why these sorts of internal conflicts happen in the first place.

Cognitive dissonance is exactly why you don’t hear many narcissists admitting their behaviors aren’t normal and it’s the reason why you keep blaming yourself for something that wasn’t your fault.

How does it feel to have cognitive dissonance?

When experiencing cognitive dissonance, your thoughts and emotions feel conflicted and can cause you to experience self-doubt, as well as self-blame and shame.  

The trauma bonds we feel after narcissistic abuse are amplified by this state of cognitive dissonance making it really difficult to move on.

Why is cognitive dissonance a concern for narcissistic abuse survivors?

Here’s the thing. cognitive dissonance is deeply uncomfortable on a neurological level, so when it happens, our brains sort of get to work to try to fix the problem. Our brains are actually attempting to protect us by “helping” us to understand law enforcement

The natural urge to reduce and resolve this dissonance pushes us to change our attitudes, or justify our behavior and we usually do this by changing our thoughts so that they are not in conflict.

For many survivors, it can be very difficult to get to the point of acceptance of who the narcissist really is when feeling cognitive dissonance.

In other words, you might be holding on to or even fooling yourself into seeing the idealized version of the narcissist that you first fell for, or the one they’ve been selling you their whole life. 

Not only does this mean you’re lying to yourself about the person you’re with, but your own needs and wants and even beliefs are switched out and the narcissist’s needs, wants and beliefs replace them. Or else. 

I say this with absolutely no snark, and from a place of love, deep emathy, and commiseration: It might be time to take off those rose-colored glasses and see what you’re really dealing with in regard to the narcissist in your life.

Understanding Cognitive Dissonance As It Relates to Narcisisstic Abuse

This video explains cognitive dissonance as it relates to narcissistic abuse and includes ideas and tips to help you with understanding what is happening to you as well as to make changes to get past the cognitive dissonance.

What is cognitive dissonance as it relates to narcissistic abuse?

In the case of narcissistic abuse, cognitive dissonance can be used to describe the internal battle that survivors go through when they start to unravel the lies and deception they were subjected to.

Cognitive dissonance can also be used to describe the way your brain tries to reconcile what happened to you with what you know about yourself and the world around you.

You question everything you know to be true

Imagine being told something over and over again until it becomes ingrained in your mind as fact.

Then one day, someone comes along and tells you that what you believed was actually false.

You begin to question everything you previously believed was true, but because it has become so engrained in your mind, it causes an internal struggle between your old beliefs and new ones.

This creates cognitive dissonance as your brain struggles to process this new information.

If this sounds familiar, know that you’re not alone; it’s estimated that around 90% of survivors have gone through this experience at some point during their recovery process.

Contributors

  • Lise Colucci is an intuitive healer and certified life coach, as well as a certified narcissistic abuse recovery coach. She is a long-time admin and mentor for the SPAN Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Group, actively helping survivors of narcissistic abuse in the expansive community to learn and heal.

  • Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves. Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at QueenBeeing.com and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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