Your Struggle To Hide Self-Created Dissonance Is Actually Harming You

Your Struggle To Hide Self-Created Dissonance Is Actually Harming You

We need dissonance to grow out of selfish and bad habits.


Ever heard of cognitive dissonance? According to persuasion theorist Leon Festinger, cognitive dissonance is a distressing mental state that is caused by an inconsistency between two beliefs or inconsistency between an action and a belief.

Festinger claims that the need to avoid dissonance is a basic need just as vital as our need for shelter, safety, or food. There are levels of dissonance that we accept: many law-abiding citizens go 5 over the speed limit with emotional impunity because they don't consider speeding to be a discrepancy between their self-concept as a law-abiding citizen. But that same person would (…hopefully) experience great dissonance if they accidentally killed someone and then hid the body.

But why do us non-theorists care about cognitive dissonance theory?

Because—whether you know about dissonance theory or not—it impacts your everyday life in minor ways (such as lowkey sexism, racism, and ignorance) and in literally life-altering ways: scholars of the Enneagram personality typology believe we each have aspects about our personality that bother us so much that we gleefully sweep these issues under the rug rather than address them. Then we carry around the dirt of dissonance all our lives.

We humans are so motivated to avoid dissonance that if we feel we can't resolve it, we will literally hide the source of dissonance from our own selves. Imagine the emotional difficulty this causes you when your source of dissonance is you.

"In the absence of dissonance, dimension(s) of identity escapes conscious attention," says Beverly Daniel Tatum of, "The Complexity of Identity." When we hide from our internal dissonance, we are blind to entire dimensions of our identity or actions. Unfortunately for our egos, our friends are not. No matter how successfully you hide your flaws from yourself, your friends or loved ones will likely still see them.

Selective exposure shows us that we avoid information that will encourage dissonance. Sounds harmless, but not until you realize this means people will deliberately choose to be with people who are similar to them and seek after sources of information that are consistent with their current beliefs.

Does this ring warning bells of how racism, sexism, white privilege, rape culture, discrimination, and other negative societal concepts continue to exist? It should. Selective exposure means if you think all Mexicans coming over the border are murderers and rapists, or all gun ownership should be heavily regulated, or universal healthcare is a right, you're unlikely to entertain information or friends that would suggest the contrary.

But our most painful sense of dissonance comes from inconsistencies in the way we perceive our own selves. Smeagol has little compunction over lying in the Lord of the Rings because he is a liar and doesn't have a problem with it: it's consistent with his self-concept. If Sam, however, lied to Frodo, he would likely experience dissonance: he values a relationship built on trust and honesty with Frodo. Lying to Frodo would not be aligned with Sam's concept of self.

If we go to such lengths to hide dissonance from ourselves, how can we even begin to discover where our actions or beliefs are dissonant with our concept of self since we've taken such efforts to hide them? Fear not! Remember, it is only in the absence of dissonance that our flaws are hidden from us. For the courageous few who are willing to endure or even embrace the discomfort that will come when facing dissonance, there are several lenses we can use with which to see our own lives' blindspots.

The first is easy. Spend time with people who are unlike you—who come from different backgrounds, adhere to different religions or philosophies, and live their lives in dissimilar ways. Finding out where you disagree with others, and why, provides the opportunity to reexamine your own beliefs.

When you come across information in media and books that you disagree with or wish to dismiss, examine why. Your desire to dismiss something (a critique, a piece of information, a person) is the first clue that this might be a situation that would cause dissonance for you. If it does cause dissonance, it's showing you there's a discrepancy between your beliefs or between a belief and an action.

Development of acceptance of dissonance is coupled with the understanding that strong self-esteem—a sense of acceptance about one's self, both flaws and strengths, and a sense of consistent pursuance in bettering oneself—is a high source of dissonance reduction. If a friend criticizes me on my taste in literature, telling me the novels I enjoy are shoddy, I would probably be taken aback, but this critique won't faze me. I'm proud of my taste in literature—my self-esteem is strong, accepting, and confident, so the level of dissonance the criticism would cause is minimal.

If, however, a friend criticizes me by saying I have shoddy taste in lovers, it would affect me more. I do sometimes choose romantic interests poorly, but I care very much about wanting to make better choices, so this sort of criticism hits close to home on an area in which I'm not as strong.

It is the concepts that are closest, or most dear, to our self-identity, that we defend most zealously. If we have high self-esteem, then we less strongly feel the need to defend ourselves. If I have strong self-esteem and see myself as being beautiful and confident, if a random guy at a bar tells me I'm hideous, it will probably be an uncomfortable interaction but not one that will alter my self-concept.

However, self-esteem isn't always a good thing. Sometimes we use positive thoughts as a shield to block out the conflicting information that urges a change of action to restore consistency. Positive thoughts are important—but burying our head in the sand is not helpful. The only way to ultimately resolve dissonance is to accept that experiencing and working through it will cause discomfort and even pain.

Dissonance is extremely uncomfortable, and all us humans are incredibly motivated to remove all sources of dissonance. But the only true way to resolve dissonance is to accept it and address it. If Pinocchio lies and lies, no amount of covering his ears and closing his eyes and declaring he really is honest is going to change the fact that his nose keeps growing.

If you really are sometimes selfish, or sometimes sexist, or sometimes manipulative, no amount of pretending you aren't is going to change that the behavior or mindset is still a part of you. Only by taking a deep breath, and embracing the painful self-awareness and commitment to growth that dissolves dissonance, can we truly become the person we want to be—without sweeping all the dirt of dissonance under the rug.

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If You've Ever Been Called Overly-Emotional Or Too Sensitive, This Is For You

Despite what they have told you, it's a gift.

Emotional: a word used often nowadays to insult someone for their sensitivity towards a multitude of things.

If you cry happy tears, you're emotional. If you express (even if it's in a healthy way) that something is bothering you, you're sensitive. If your hormones are in a funk and you just happen to be sad one day, you're emotional AND sensitive.

Let me tell you something that goes against everything people have probably ever told you. Being emotional and being sensitive are very, very good things. It's a gift. Your ability to empathize, sympathize, and sensitize yourself to your own situation and to others' situations is a true gift that many people don't possess, therefore many people do not understand.

Never let someone's negativity toward this gift of yours get you down. We are all guilty of bashing something that is unfamiliar to us: something that is different. But take pride in knowing God granted this special gift to you because He believes you will use it to make a difference someday, somehow.

This gift of yours was meant to be utilized. It would not be a part of you if you were not meant to use it. Because of this gift, you will change someone's life someday. You might be the only person that takes a little extra time to listen to someone's struggle when the rest of the world turns their backs. In a world where a six-figure income is a significant determinant in the career someone pursues, you might be one of the few who decides to donate your time for no income at all. You might be the first friend someone thinks to call when they get good news, simply because they know you will be happy for them. You might be an incredible mother who takes too much time to nurture and raise beautiful children who will one day change the world.

To feel everything with every single part of your being is a truly wonderful thing. You love harder. You smile bigger. You feel more. What a beautiful thing! Could you imagine being the opposite of these things? Insensitive and emotionless?? Both are unhealthy, both aren't nearly as satisfying, and neither will get you anywhere worth going in life.

Imagine how much richer your life is because you love other's so hard. It might mean more heartache, but the reward is always worth the risk. Imagine how much richer your life is because you are overly appreciative of the beauty a simple sunset brings. Imagine how much richer your life is because you can be moved to tears by the lessons of someone else's story.

Embrace every part of who you are and be just that 100%. There will be people who criticize you for the size of your heart. Feel sorry for them. There are people who are dishonest. There are people who are manipulative. There are people who are downright malicious. And the one thing people say to put you down is "you feel too much." Hmm..

Sounds like more of a compliment to me. Just sayin'.

Cover Image Credit: We Heart It

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You May Be In College, But Positive Reinforcement Is Still Essential For A Better Life

It's truly amazing to see how positive reinforcement, especially from a professor or someone who works in your chosen field, can boost your confidence.


Being a freshman in college is tough, and I'm absolutely positive that I'm not the first person to say that. For me, the biggest adjustments came with being far from home, having to make brand new friends, and actually figuring out what I want to do with my life. Now, those first two items were not that difficult to find solutions to, but that last one? That is a completely different story.

In the span of six-seven months, I have gone back and forth, again and again with just about every combination of majors and minors that you could think of. At this moment, I think I've finally found a combination that will truly push me to succeed in my goals. By the end of next semester, I'm hopeful that I will be able to declare my major and minors.

But, the point of this article is to share the point in this current semester, where I really believed that my goals can become a reality. Right now, I am enrolled in a course called "introduction to critical intelligence studies." After much debate with the class, our professor decided to put our midterm online, making it a take-home exam. It consisted of a few multiple choice questions and three essays of our choosing. With the idea that this exam was take-home, I knew that my professor would be expecting us to put our best foot forward and all of our time and effort into making sure we did well.

And I did. This was the first midterm result that I got back and it was a 100. How did I find this out? For one day, instead of class, my professor met with each of us individually for at least ten minutes to discuss what we were hoping to get out of this class. It was during this meeting that she told me my grades and more.

My professor had explained to me that based on my writing, she did not think that I was just a mere freshman. She continued to say that I have a knack for analysis, as well as the fact that it was truly evident that I took in all the information from her lectures and the assigned readings. With my grades in mind and what I hoped to do in the future, my professor assured me that I should have no problem accomplishing my goals. My professor made sure that I had confidence in myself and my abilities, providing me with even more steps that would lead to success.

It's truly amazing to see how positive reinforcement, especially from a professor or someone who works in your chosen field, can boost your confidence. This reinforcement has provided me with the means and opportunity to further push myself. Since this meeting, I have been in constant contact with my professor to learn about different opportunities that can build up my resume. With her help, as well as the director of the program, I've been able to learn more about anything and everything that has to do with intelligence.

I'm proud to say that I want to go into such a field. And I'm also proud to say that I'm thankful for everyone who has decided to push me and not only celebrate my successes — but also to help me learn from my mistakes.

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