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What Happen When We Are Torn Between Beliefs and Reality

What Happen When We Are Torn Between Beliefs and Reality

Have you ever felt torn between two strong ideals? For instance, let’s say that you’re doing well on your diet, sticking to your goals and staying on a routine. But you really want a cannoli. You deserve that cannoli. It doesn’t fit into your diet so you shouldn’t have it; but you’re going to enjoy it anyway.

That internal conflict is called Cognitive Dissonance, and it is the catalyst for self-justification.

When we have conflicts in our minds, we seek consistency in our beliefs.

Cognitive Dissonance is an internal conflict where two opposing attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors struggle for precedence. This conflict can cause tension and discomfort which can only be alleviated by the alteration of one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors in order to restore balance.

The Principal of Cognitive Consistency was theorized by Leon Festinger (1975) stating that people seek balance and consistency in our beliefs and attitudes, and will strain to find balance in any given situation where two conflicting cognitions are causing a rift.[1]

From this theory spawned a new theory that would come to be known as the Cognitive Dissonance Theory; the powerful motive to maintain cognitive consistency can produce irrational and maladaptive behavior within individuals.

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Festinger believed that we hold many strong beliefs or cognition’s about ourselves and the world. When these ideals clash, it causes turmoil and imbalance; a state known as cognitive dissonance. Because this sensation is unpleasant, we are inclined to alleviate or eliminate the conflict to once again achieve dissonance.

In the 1950’s, Leon developed this theory during his time spent infiltrating a cult that believed the world would end on December 21st. Their leader warned them that on this day, extraterrestrial invaders would reign down and wipe out any sign of human life. Her noble followers gave up all of their money and belongings as one last attempt to achieve salvation before the end. December 21st came and went and alas, the world had not ended. The lesser devoted followers realized that they’d been conned and dismissed all ties with the cult. But those who had sacrificed everything and fully devoted themselves to the cause celebrated; believing that their devotion is what saved the world.

The devoted followers used cognitive dissonance as a coping mechanism; believing their actions had saved them instead of coming to terms with the fact that they mindlessly gave away all of their possessions at the request of a mentally unstable cult leader.

Our dissonance fluctuates depending on the values that we attach to our beliefs.

Our innate nature calls for balance, and as humans we are sensitive to inconsistencies between beliefs and actions. Two factors affect the severity of the dissonance: the number of dissonant beliefs, and the importance that is attached to each of the beliefs. This will determine which of the beliefs will be altered in order to restore balance.

Dissonance tends to increase depending on the importance of the subject at hand, how strong of a conflict occurs between the two dissonant thoughts, and our inability to rationalize and resolve the conflict.

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If a particular action has occurred that cannot be reversed, then we experience what is known as after-the-fact dissonance. Our beliefs on the matter have now been altered, and when faced with a similar situation in the future, we will act differently based on our dissonance. A good example of this would be culture shock. When visiting a foreign country, you are surrounded by those with different customs than you. At first you may feel conflicted, but then you assimilate to their culture. You will take this alteration of behavior home with you, and practice it in your everyday life.

The general strength of the dissonance can be aroused by a number of variables. If the cognition’s are personal,[2] provoking conflict abo ut how you perceive yourself, the dissonance will be more intense. Basically, as a rule, the more importance that is giving to an ideal, the more conflict will be experienced when that ideal is challenged.

A highly controversial and famous case of cognitive dissonance is Caitlyn Jenner’s decision to transcend into woman-hood.[3] Formerly Bruce Jenner, the pinnacle of male fitness and status felt that they were denying themselves of their true nature by remaining a man. Her physical identity strongly conflicted with her emotional, mental, and psychological identity.

To avoid questioning our beliefs, we may develop bias’s about them.

Because we are so devoted to our ideals and so sensitive to imbalance, it can be difficult for us to digest when faced with the reality that we could actually be wrong. To avoid this conflict, we may reject opposing ideas and arguments that challenge our beliefs so that we do not have to alter our way of thinking. This is how bias is born. To avoid bias, we must find a way to process the new information and adapt it to our pre-existing beliefs.

Unfortunately, dissonance is what we are going to encounter and experience throughout our lives.

Since avoidance is not an option, there are a few techniques that can help to reduce the dissonance so that we can move on with our lives.[4]

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1. Spreading Apart the Alternatives

When you make a decision, you cut yourself off from the opportunity of enjoying the benefits of the unchosen alternative, while committing yourself to accept the advantages and disadvantages of the one that you chose. You can alleviate the dissonance generated by this conflict by increasing the appeal of the chosen alternative, while decreasing the appeal of the unchosen.

For instance: you really loved two tops but you only had the money for one. Now you’re experiencing shoppers remorse and feel a bit torn. Well, that other shirt was yellow. And let’s be honest, yellow isn’t really your color. You’re better off.

2. Put in Effort to Make the Outcome Worth It

We tend to value items that we’ve had to work for more highly than items that were just given to us. Even if the experience was negative, we tend to alter our perception of the experience as positive because we are happy with the outcome.

For example: during finals week, you slept for maybe 3 hours in total, ate maybe 2 meals, and completely lost your sanity along the way. But you scored highly on all of your tests, making all of that excruciating effort worth it.

3. Change the Attitude

In order to restore balance between the two conflicting ideals, you need to alter your attitude towards one of the beliefs, behaviors, or attitude. This can be extremely difficult since our beliefs are deeply ingrained in us, but it is mandatory to restore balance.

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For instance: You’re a firm law abiding citizen. But you’re also very late for work. You know you should wait for the traffic signal, but no cars are coming so you make that illegal right turn to cut back on time. You altered your strong belief in adhering to all traffic laws in order to make it to work on time.

4. Get More Information

Summer is just around the bend, and you want to be nice and tanned when it’s dress and shorts season. The quickest way to achieve this is by visiting a tanning salon, but you also don’t want to cause any long-term damage to your skin. Well, some new studies have come out indicating that perhaps the use of sunscreen is more highly carcinogenic than exposure to UV light. This new information makes you feel justified in visiting the tanning salon. By emphasizing the new information, you don’t feel guilty while fake & baking.

5. Reduce the Importance

Preparing for the future is absolutely important. But we also know that we can’t always count on it. Life isn’t guaranteed, and we need to enjoy it while we’re able. An individual who is struggling with these two conflicting ideals (goodness knows I do) may choose to indulge in life’s pleasures such as rich foods and naughty recreational activities rather than hold out to avoid complications later down the line. By relishing in the importance to live each day as your last, you are reducing the importance of preparing for the future.

Featured photo credit: STOCKSNAP via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1] Simply Psychology: Cognitive Dissonance
[2] Changing Minds: Cognitive Dissonance
[3] NAUTILUS: Caitlyn Jenner and Our Cognitive Dissonance
[4] Very Well: What Is Cognitive Dissonance?

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Jenn Beach

Traveling vagabond, writer, & plant-based food enthusiast.

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Last Updated on May 7, 2019

How to Detect a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

How to Detect a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Work in any competitive field long enough, and you’re bound to run into a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s a powerful image. A shepherd watches over his flock to protect them from harm. He’d chase away any predator that tried to make its way into the flock. A clever wolf wearing the skin of a sheep as a disguise can sneak by the vigilant shepherd and get into the herd undetected.

The story isn’t just a colorful description–it’s a warning to all of us to beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing. They may seem innocent, but they have ulterior motives. They’ll use different tactics to camouflage their intentions.

The person who is kind to you, but undercuts you when you aren’t around is a wolf in disguise. A wolf in sheep’s clothing might pick your brain for ideas and then pass them off as their own to get a promotion. They’re always looking out for themselves at the expense of everyone around them.

Wearing a Disguise Has Its Advantages

People don’t go out of their way to manipulate others unless they’re getting something out of it. Hiding their intentions gives wolves the chance to manipulate other people to advance their own agenda. They know that what they’re trying to do wouldn’t be popular, or it might cause struggle if they presented themselves honestly.

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    They’ll be able to do what they want with less interference if they put on an act. By the time people figure out their true motives, the wolf has what it wants.

    Signs That Someone Is a Wolf in Disguise

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        1. They live to take power instead of empowering others. A wolf uses people as stepping stones to get the things that they want. They don’t care what happens to anyone else.[1] A wolf at work might make you look bad during a presentation to make themselves look amazing in front of the boss.
        2. Wolves seem sweet on the outside, but they’ll show you their teeth. If wolves revealed their true identity, people wouldn’t associate with them. They develop a friendly or kind persona, but they can’t keep up the act 24/7. Eventually, they’ll reveal their aggressive tendencies. A wealthy person who likes to break the law may make sizable charitable donations to convince people that they are kind and thoughtful. These donations largely keep them out of trouble, but if someone calls them out, they destroy that person’s reputation to stifle the criticism.
        3. They manipulate through emotions to get what they want. Wolves know that they can get ahead by appealing to your emotions. They find out what you want and need, and they give you just enough to keep you quiet and compliant. Imagine that your boss is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and you want to ask for a vacation. She might try to play on your guilt and feelings of insecurity to get you to skip vacation or take fewer days off.
        4. A wolf will charm you first. Wolves are experts at manipulating the people around them. They appear interested in whatever you’re doing, and you’ll get the impression that they care. After they get you where they want you, they do just enough to keep you on the hook. This is the coworker who may start out being your friend, but they end up dumping responsibility onto you. When they see that you are growing frustrated, they’ll surprise you with something to charm you some more. Then, they’ll continue to do whatever they want.
        5. Their stories are full of holes.  Calling a wolf out is the surest way to make them squirm. When this person tries to come up with a story, it won’t make much sense because they are improvising.[2] The classic example of this is the significant other that you suspect has cheated on you. When you ask them why they came home so late, they’ll either become upset with you, or they’ll make up a weak explanation.

        How to Spot a Wolf

          Know What’s Real So You Can Spot the Phony

          Do some homework so that you have as much of the story as possible before you work with them. Research how they respond in certain situations, or give them hypothetical problems to see how they respond.

          A job applicant might tell you that she’s always positive and thinks of herself as a team-player. That’s what every employer wants to hear. During the interview you ask applicants to work in groups to solve a problem to see how they handle the situation. The applicant “positive team-player” is bossy and negative. You’ve spotted the wolf.

          A wolf will tell you something that ultimately benefits them. Gather evidence that proves or disproves their position, and see what happens. Chances are, when you choose the side that supports their agenda, they’ll act like your best friend. If you disagree, they’ll become aggressive.

          Spotting a potential wolf–especially if you are one of the sheep–can present you with some challenges. If your gut tells you that a wolf is lurking among all the other sheep, pay attention, and make sure you take the next step.

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          Ask Questions, the More the Better

          There’s nothing wrong with asking questions to uncover the truth. The safety of everyone in your group is at risk. Since wolves often make up stories, you may be able to call them out when their tales lack details.

          When they state an opinion, ask “Why do you think that?” or “How do you know it’s like that?” They’ll have trouble coming up with enough information to pull off the lie.

          Since wolves are always pretending to be something they aren’t, they don’t usually have a clearly thought-out reason for what they say. In a debate, they won’t understand the root of an issue.

          They may also tell you what they think you want to hear, but when pressed for more information, they won’t have anything to add. Their knowledge is superficial. No matter how much you try to encourage discussion, they will not be able to carry on a conversation about the subject.

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          Wolves Are Everywhere

          As much as we want to believe that everyone has the best intentions, it isn’t always the case. Some people only do things to benefit themselves, and they don’t care who they hurt in the process.

          Wolves in sheep’s clothing can be found in almost every setting. You can’t get rid of them, but if you can spot them, you can avoid falling into their traps.

          Reference

          [1] Association of Biblical Counselors: Three Ways to Spot a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
          [2] Power of Positivity: Beware of a wolf in sheep’s clothing

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