Thursday, September 10, 2015

WORDS YOU SHOULD KNOW: COGNITIVE DISSONANCE


Cognitive dissonance is an “unreality check”. It's a tactic used by narcissists to confuse you and cause high levels of stress and anxiety, and is a form of crazy making. Understanding this issue is the MOST FUNDAMENTAL AND IMPORTANT thing you can understand about narcissism.

Cognitive dissonance occurs when the narcissist presents you with two beliefs or values that conflict. In an reader's recent example, the narcissist is having an affair, and when asked to stop, refuses, but also tells the reader that she loves him. The conflict is that love SHOULD mean that no such affair would ever occur, or that having an affair means that the narcissist doesn't love the me, but saying that both can be so, simultaneously, violates the victim's inner logical consistency...hence, the cognitive dissonance, or inner conflict.

In the case above, the conflict is so great that it goes to the deepest core of the victim's beliefs about love and relationships, and even to how the victim sees himself as a human being, and so, the stress and confusion is extraordinarily high. A common response by the victim is to attempt to lower the stress by avoiding or eliminating the conflict in some way, or avoiding the source of the conflict, namely, the narcissist, since the victim will never be able to reconcile the cognitive dissonance, that is, to decide that both can be true.

Now, consider that for the victim, living with a narcissist is like living in a war zone, in that the narcissist is always about power and control by emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, financial and personal control, isolation, and fear, and by disorienting the victim with chaos and confusion. The situation is always unpredictable so that the victim has no idea what's coming next. So, one of the inner conflicts is often something like this....”I can't take this any longer. The abuse is killing me. This is so wrong. I'm afraid it will never change. It's not suppose to be like this.” and, as well, “But the N loves me, and there are good times. If I can just understand the N, it will be OK again. Love conquerors all. I have to stick to my wedding vows. I can't be without the N.”

This type of inner conflict is extremely draining, and often results in a deep conflict between the victim's emotional self and the rational self....do what I know is best, or what I feel like doing. The reason narcissistic relationships go on so long....the reason why you don't leave....is that the victim will usually adopt a solution that at least reduces the stress and the conflict TO A DEGREE, which will cause the victim the least amount of pain at that moment.

For example, the narcissist may have cheated many times, so the narcissist presents the victim with several beliefs to reduce the victim's inner conflict....that the victim is to blame (unacceptable appearance, won't do what the narcissist demands sexually), or that the cheating is caused by drinking too much and that the N really loves the victim when sober, or that the affair partner is to blame, or that the victim hasn't given the narcissist enough attention (aka, supply), so that one of these is the problem, and not that the narcissist is evil. These “rationalizations” are meant to give the victim a minimum of relief from the conflict and anxiety, and allowing the relationship with narcissist to continue, when, in reality, the N will not actually change.

The narcissist knows that for the victim, things seem VERY complicated. The victim must consider the financial situation, the effect on children and extended family, and friends, the change in lifestyle that would result from a split, religious concerns, embarrassment, the narcissist's purported status as a victim (compassionate concern), and what the narcissist will do to the victim after a split....and the narcissist uses these concerns to keep the victim trapped. The inner conflict is that you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Besides, the rule for the narcissist is that they can discard you, but you are never allowed to discard them, and they make you pay if you do.

Split from the narcissist often produces feelings of deep loneliness, which is also an inner conflict, given that your rational mind knows that the narcissist is bad for you but in your emotions, you miss the N. This is why the narcissist hoovers you, appearing to resolve the conflict, since the N says they love you, knows that they were wrong, misses you, and wants to marry you (or resume the marriage), and that they N will never do it again. The narcissist presents you with a way of resolving the inner conflict and ending the cognitive dissonance. (hoovering=named after the vacuum, to draw you back into the narcissist's life)

Of course, the narcissist will do it all again, and hoovering you is just another tactic, just as the cognitive dissonance is a tactic in the narcissist's crazy making. But, hoovering so often succeeds because it's a temporary fix for a very permanent problem, which will soon reoccur.

It's a brave decision for a victim to decide to endure the pain, which will last a considerable time, and to do the work to recover by going no contact (or minimal contact if there are kids), learning hard truths about narcissism, and facing the fact that the narcissist never actually loved them and never will....that's amazing bravery.

But, they are willing to pay the price because happiness and real love lies in the future, not the past. That's why victims make the best friends and best partners...they become strong, wise, and compassionate, and appreciate real love....REAL love. It a big price, but it's the only way out.

1 comment:

  1. The theory of cognitive dissonance in aftermath was created by The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction in case you want to quote your sources.

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