According to SimplyPsychology.org, cognitive dissonance is explained as "a tendency for individuals to seek consistency among their cognitions (i.e., beliefs, opinions). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance.
So for example, let's say you really don't like someone at work. Then one day, they walk up to you and say, "I love your shoes! They look great on you."
In the aftermath of this, you are forced to make a subconscious decision:
You change your opinion of them - Hey, maybe they're not so bad after all.
Or you justify your opinion of them - Pshh. They are probably trying to manipulate me for some reason. I don't trust it.
In either case, the cognitive dissonance is relieved. Once you decide on option 1 or 2, your beliefs are back in alignment with the external circumstances. You either alter your belief or strengthen it based on what occurred.
Our brains strongly dislike cognitive dissonance and will go to great lengths to resolve it - even if it means making a judgment that is not factually correct.
So why does cognitive dissonance matter in the grand scheme of things?
Oftentimes, it is to blame when we are feeling conflicted or "stuck." When we self-sabotage, cognitive dissonance is involved. I'll give you a personal example to paint a picture of this:
In my first ever romantic relationship as a teenager, I was lied to. While the person who lied to me was generally a good person and felt terrible about his decision, it still had a drastic impact on my outlook. I couldn't quite shake the idea that I would be lied to eventually, by everyone. No matter what I did, I truly believed that being lied to was just part of my destiny. Of course, I could sense this wasn't logical, but it was a solidified, experiential belief - and those have some serious momentum behind them.
So as I progressed through other relationships in life, I never quite trusted anyone. I'd think, "Well you used to trust people, and look where that got you. Don't be fooled again!"
However, there was some major cognitive dissonance happening. In fact, some of the people I was close with really could be trusted. They'd never done anything to suggest otherwise. But I kept selecting option 2 from above (which says "I don't trust it"). I was extremely uncomfortable with reality going against my strong belief. So to relieve the dissonance and confusion, I assumed it was all a trick that would eventually reveal itself - e.g. I'll find out that they are lying eventually!
Can you see where the self-sabotage starts to creep in here? I was practically sabotaging perfectly good relationships simple because I wouldn't let go of the belief that people can't be trusted.
When we keep selecting that second option of NOT believing what we see in reality, we get to keep our old belief... but at what cost?
Let's say you want to lose weight, but in your mind you have a specific belief that goes against it... such as: My willpower is so poor, I'll never be able to eat healthy. Even if you spent a day eating healthy, a big part of you would still be "waiting for the other shoe to drop," as they say. You'd be thinking, "That was a fluke. Any day now I'll give up on this and gain weight again."
So what's the answer here? Are we enslaved to the beliefs that make us feel comfortable - even when they kinda suck? Not exactly.
However, it will take some courage and deliberate action to convince yourself that it is SAFE to let go of these beliefs. Safety is a big reason why we maintain crappy beliefs.
If you've heard the saying, "get comfortable with being uncomfortable," that's what you'll have to do to relieve your cognitive dissonance the right way. You'll need to start making baby steps that seem to go against your "better" judgement (aka, the self-sabotaging belief). So in my personal trust example, this required me to start opening up to people and being vulnerable. Of course, my mind screamed that I shouldn't do it. DON'T TRUST! But I had to push that loud voice aside and take the scary, uncomfortable option. Thus, I gradually stopped sabotaging my relationships with resentment and distrust.
So the formula is this:
Baby steps + courage + deliberate & uncomfortable action
Over time, you'll see that it is safe to let go of a self-sabotaging belief by proving it to yourself.
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