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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, freelance writer, & plantbased food enthusiast.

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Last Updated on February 19, 2019

Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

No one wants to suffer. As a general rule, people like to avoid hurt and pain as much as possible. As a species, humans want a painless existence so much that scientists make a living trying to create it.

People can now choose “pain-free” labor for babies, and remedies to cure back pain, headaches, body-pains and even mental pains are a dime a dozen. Beyond medicine, we also work hard to experience little pain even when it comes to loss; often times we believe a breakup won’t hurt as much if we are the ones to call it off.

But would a world without pain truly be painless? It’s unlikely. In fact, it would probably be painful exactly for that reason.

If people never experienced hurt, they wouldn’t know what it was. On the surface level, that seems like a blessing, but think for a moment: if we didn’t know pain, how would we know peace? If you don’t know you’ve hurt or been hurt, how would you know that you need to heal? Imagine someone only knowing they have an incurable cancer at the final stage because no obvious symptoms have appeared at early stages.

Without the feeling of pain, people won’t be aware of dangerous situations—what should or shouldn’t do for survival.

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Pain Is Our Guardian

Pain serves to protect human beings from harmful actions. It’s the same reason parents teach babies that fire equals hot, and that hot equals hurt. Should the baby still place its hand in a fire or on a stove, the intense pain remains so memorable, that the child is certain never to repeat that action.

In the same way, pain within human bodies can serve as a warning that something is not right. Because you know what it is to feel “well,” you know what it is to feel poorly.[1]

Along with serving as a teacher of what not to do, pain also teaches you what you are made of in terms of what you can handle as an individual.

While the cliche, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a tired term, it’s used excessively for a reason: it’s true. Pain helps you learn to cope with life’s inevitable difficulties and sadnesses— to develop the grit it takes to push past hardships and carry on.

Whether it’s a shattering pain, like the loss of a loved one or a debilitating accident, pain affects everyone differently. But it still affects everyone. Take a breakup as an example, anyone who has experienced it knows it can hurt to the point of feeling physical. Especially the first breakup. At a young age, it feels like the loss of the only love you’ll ever know. As you grow and learn, you realize you’re more resilient with every ended relationship.

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No Pain, No Happiness

You only know happiness when you have known pain. While the idea of constant happiness sounds nice, there is little chance it would be. Without the comparison to happiness, there’s no reason to be grateful for it. That is to say, without ever knowing sadness or pain, you would have no reason to be grateful for happiness.

In reality, there is always something missing, or something unpleasant, but it is only through those realizations that you know to be grateful when you feel you have it all. Read more about why happiness and pain have to exist together: Chasing Happiness Won’t Make You Happy

In a somewhat counter-intuitive finding, researchers found one of the things that brings about the most happiness is challenge. When people are tested, they experience a greater sense of accomplishment and happiness when they are successful. It is largely for this reason that low-income individuals can often feel happier than those who have a sense of wealth.[2]

This is a great thing to remember the next time you feel you would be happier if you just had a little more cash.

Avoiding Pain Leads to More Suffering

Pain is inevitable, embrace it positively. Anyone who strives to have a painless life is striving for perfectionism; and perfectionism guarantees sadness because nothing will ever be perfect.

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This isn’t a bleak outlook, but rather a truthful one. The messy moments in life tend to create the best memories and gratitude. Pain often serves as a reminder of lessons learned, much like physical scars on the body.

Pain will always be painful, but it’s the hurt feelings that help wiser decisions be made.

Allow Room for the Inevitable

Learning how to tolerate pain, especially the emotional kind, is a valuable lesson.

Accepting and feeling pain makes you human. There is no weakness in that. Weakness only comes when you try to blame your own pain on someone else, expecting the blame to alleviate your hurting. There’s a saying,

“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”

Think back to the last time you were really angry with someone. Maybe you were hurt because you got laid off from a job. You felt angry and that anger caused so much pain that you could feel it in a physical way. Being angry and blaming your ex boss for that pain didn’t affect him or her in any way; you’re the only one who lost sleep over it.

The healthier thing to do in a situation like that is acknowledge your pain and the anger along with it. Accept it and explore it in an introspective way. How can you learn and grow? What is at the root of that pain? Are you truly hurting and angry about being laid off, or is the pain more a correlation to you feeling like you failed?

While uncomfortable, exploring your pain is a way to raise your self-awareness. By understanding more about yourself, you know how to deal with similar situations in the future. You can never expect to be numb to difficult situations, but you will learn to better prepare financially for the loss of a job and be grateful for an income since you now know nothing is promised (no matter how much you work or how deserving you may feel).

Pain Hurts, but Numbness Would Be Worse

Pain does not feel good, but the bad feeling of it will help you learn and grow. It makes the sweet moments in life even sweeter and the gratitude more sincere.

To have a happier and more successful life, you don’t learn from success or accomplishment, but through pain and failures. For it is in those moments that you learn how to do better in the future or at least cope a little more easily.

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You are the strong person you are today because of the hardships this life has presented to you. While you may have felt out of control when those hard times came, the one thing you will always have control over is how you choose to react to things. The next time you hurt or you’re angry or sad, acknowledge it and allow yourself to ruminate in it. Then take a deep breath and start learning from that pain. You’ve got this!

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1] University of Calgary: Why is Pain Important?
[2] Greater Good Magazine: The Importance of Pain

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