As a counselor, I usually have compassion for the variety of coping mechanisms people use. But with Cognitive Dissonance—that’s trickier. In short, it’s believing one thing yet doing the reverse; it’s the reality between who we are and who we think we are. I find it a fancier name for denial, for lying, for hypocrisy, for delusion. Translation: the client doesn’t want to do the necessary work.
When most of us confront opposing wants, we have two choices: change our conduct for inner alignment to achieve integrity, or alter our attitudes and rationalize our behavior. Unfortunately, many are more prone to do the latter.
It’s “uncomfortable” to bring fantasy and reality together because suddenly it’s obvious what needs to be done and these depressing realizations mean we have a lot of work to do. Worse, we might have to face the fact that our “designs” are unfeasible. We might have to make an integris choice! We might feel pain! Yes, we will. Growth only happens in the land of reality.
Some examples: to be anti-birth control and yet pronounce abortion a sin, to believe in the sanctity of a glob of cells within a women’s body and yet adamantly endorse the death penalty, to be a vegetarian but eat chicken—poof! sleight of mind—conflict resolved. You no longer see it.
Unfortunately, I can, and so do most others. Cognitive Dissonance does reconcile our mind’s discomfort with incompatible thoughts and actions, but in a magical thinking kind of way. We hate to have our inconsistencies pointed out and will attempt all kinds of mental contortions to avoid them. Still, there’s a perverted leap over the truth. And a lot of secrecy, too.
This often occurs in marital affairs, where those involved are adrift in their created fantasies and fabricate a chimera rather than deal with the reality of their lives, their choices. Feels pretty immature and, honestly, spineless.
Because whatever you’re not dealing with, you’re passing on to someone else. Whether you intend to or not. See: now we’re cooking with gas(lighting). One of the major principles I taught my kids: If you throw a rock, don’t hide your hand. This meant they had to line their actions up with their thoughts and articulately stand by them. It taught them critical thinking skills which make it harder to inhabit the land of delusion. I respected my kids and their choices even if I sometimes disagreed with their “rock throwing.” Why? Because, at whatever age or stage of development, their intention was aligned with their whole Self.
I understand the need for resolution, I do. But I believe in conscience, too. Since when do people who compartmentalize not know what they’re doing? They do, and then they lie. To themselves, and to us.