Friday, January 6, 2017

Cognitive Dissonance

The term Cognitive dissonance has come up a couple of times this week in my wanderings and so I thought I'd read up on it a little. It's kind of a fascinating concept.

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to their beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas or values. 
Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. An individual who experiences inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and is motivated to try to reduce this dissonance, as well as actively avoid situations and information likely to increase it. 
It's a tenant of human nature to find justification in our circumstance and to avoid discomfort and ignorance. We also build a moral code through years of our childhood and study - and yet how fragile that is when we are confronted with amoral actions in need of closure. How easy it is through pain and discomfort for us to modify our belief system and acceptance of actions that we would never even consider before.

It's so amazing that addicts are even able to function on a reasonable level given this concept. They are at constant disharmony with themselves - their moral values fighting with their immoral actions and choices. Crazier yet they continue to create the discomfort the next time around and the next and the next! That dissonance is the discomfort they are trying to medicate away - and it is the medicating it that continues the cycle. It's insanity at it's most animal level. No wonder so many shut down emotionally.

According to Festinger's theory dissonance reduction is achieved in four ways.
  • Change behavior or cognition ("I will stop looking at porn and masterbating")
  • Justify behavior or cognition by changing the conflicting cognition ("I deserve this release,  it's not so bad compared to other stuff I could be doing, I'm allowed to have fun once in a while")
  • Justify behavior or cognition by adding new cognitions ("Nobody will know, I'm not hurting anyone, it's just this once, I need this to function properly. Satan made me do it. As of the last time I don't do that anymore that isn't who I am.")
  • Ignore or deny any information that conflicts with existing beliefs ("Porn isn't so bad, everybody is doing it, all of this morality stuff is crap anyway! There is nothing wrong with this. I'm no worse than the next guy, the girls there want this.")
What is interesting is that those that start to modify a prior belief or moral system start to expend more and more effort in defending their position and rationalizing their actions as reality/truth. As addictive behaviors continue the addict goes farther and farther down the rabbit hole of lies, justification, and brain rewiring their whole moral code. 

I see partners of addicts having to deal with this same problem all the time. Think about it. Most are normal, sane, moral individuals who would never dream of cheating on or lying to their spouse. They see the consequences as being worse than any possible reward. Their moral code is intact and they are strong. Then they are faced with being married to or raising someone choosing to do such hurtful and disgusting things... and they have to find a way to rationalize that fact that they are there. That they stuck around after the initial discovery. That they still feel love for this person they found out is a monster. 

They struggle to try to figure out how they can stay with someone doing such awful immoral things. So they try to rewrite their spouses actions to not look so bad. They justify their decisions to stay with various rationalizations about marriage vows, the kids, love in there 'somewhere', believing they can fix or save the other person. 

They start to minimize the spouses actions and eventually enter a reality where immorality, adultry, sex abuse, lying, cheating, etc looses much of it's moral punch. These rationalizations calm their fears and anxieties - but in many cases it also puts them in danger of being victimized, re-traumatized, or seen as too lax or crazy by others who haven't had their moral code damaged or reworked through the  justification process.

I have done the same so often that I'm beginning to wonder if I'm not crazy. How many times have I said "It is so hard for me to reconcile these two parts of him. " while I list my reasons to justify staying with a man who had done so many horrible things over and over with seeming little regret. And then the dissonance goes away and my perceptions of acceptance of right and wrong change and there is relative harmony until the next time and the next. 

It's kind of scary to see how our brains working to make sense of things and remove anxiety and pain from situations we find ourselves can in the long run warp our entire moral code, self worth, dignity, and safety as well.   

Friday, December 9, 2016


I've been reading a book called Warrior of the Light by Paul Coehlo. It's an amazingly introspective look into the path of a warrior. Those who are strong and fight for what they believe.

He mentions something called the Breviary of Medieval Knights which says that the first teaching of the Knights is that 'you will erase everything you had written in the book of your life up until now: restlessness, uncertainty, lies. And in the place of all this you will write the word Courage. By beginning the journey with that word and continuing with faith in God, you will arrive wherever you need to arrive."

I have been feeling for some time that there is a serious blockage in my life.

The book continues: The warrior of Light must always remember the five rules of combat set down by Chuan Tzu three thousand years ago...

  • Faith - before going to battle you must believe in the reasons for the fight
  • Companions - choose your allies and learn to fight in company. No one every won a war singlehandedly
  • Time - a battle in winter is different from a battle in summer a good warrior is careful to select the right moment to begin a fight.
  • Space - one does not fight in the same way in a mountain pass as in a plain. Think about your surroundings and how best to move around in them
  • Strategy - plan the fight.

"When you have managed to overcome grave problems in a relationship, do not spend time remembering the difficult times, concentrte on the joy of having passed yet another of life's tests. When you emerge from a long period of hardship and pain, do not brood on the suffering you endured, think instead of God's blessing that allowed you to be cured. Carry in your memory, for the rest of your life the good things that came out of those dificulties. They will server as a proof of your abilities and will give you confidence when you are faced with other obstacles." - Chico Xavier

Thursday, December 8, 2016

How much are you willing to suffer?

I was recently sent a link to a page written by a man who has written a very good article about 'want'. We 'want' to be happy, we 'want' our dreams to come true, we 'want' that nice car/house/job/indepencence etc. But what are we willing to suffer for it?

Happiness requires struggle. The positive is the side effect of handling the negative. You can only avoid negative experiences for so long before they come roaring back to life.   
At the core of all human behavior, our needs are more or less similar. Positive experience is easy to handle. It’s negative experience that we all, by definition, struggle with. Therefore, what we get out of life is not determined by the good feelings we desire but by what bad feelings we’re willing and able to sustain to get us to those good feelings.- M. Manson
There are a hell of a lot of things I want right now. A house, a husband who isn't an addict, a better life for my kids, my self esteem back. I look at how far backward I've slid in 10 years... heck 5 years... and it makes me sick. My whole life I have managed those bad feelings that you have to go through when you are fighting for something better - exhaustion, doing my time on someone elses clock, taking classes and working my butt off. I look at the house we fixed up and how much time and money went into making it a nicer place. I have the skills and the desire... but no longer the money or the will power to change my circumstances. The wind has been knocked out of me. I don't want to suffer in that way any more. I want to sleep and sit. Feeling lost and like I've been shoved into some nightmare of a life seems to be less painful than hiking the path out of here. The costs have become too much.
If you want the benefits of something in life, you have to also want the costs. If you find yourself wanting something month after month, year after year, yet nothing happens and you never come any closer to it, then maybe what you actually want is a fantasy, an idealization, an image and a false promise. Maybe what you want isn’t what you want, you just enjoy wanting. Maybe you don’t actually want it at all. - M. Manson
The above quote frames my husband/addict to a T. He talks about all these grand schemes - but never follows through. Not only that but the times he does follow through the results are never lasting as he adds a check mark to the wall and moves on to the next thing. I know from watching him for over a decade that he just enjoys wanting. There is no drive for something better.

And therein lies my struggle. Once upon a time I had a dream for my life and I was going to fight hard for it. Then I met my husband. My credit was trashed, my world rearranged, my self worth smashed to bits... all of my hard work in life up to that point in time became worthless. I saw the devastation and I gave up the fight.
This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes. So choose your struggles wisely, my friend.
And now I sit back and wonder just whether me trying to make a relationship with an addict work is stupidity or folly. It's the only thing left in my life it seems that I haven't given up on though I've tried very hard to let go and walk away. Every day I look at myself in the mirror and ask the image if I'm an idiot and if I have what it takes to make it through another 24 hours. I don't know if this particular struggle is worth it... yet I know what the divorce struggle and the single mother struggle looks like too and I'm not sure that is worth it either.