Cognitive Dissonance Removal Strategies: Harmful vs. Healthy Ways

Abusive relationships often reshape your entire belief system. If you are like most victims of narcissistic abuse, you experienced a distorted sense of reality throughout the majority of the relationship with your partner. When your partner’s alternating sweetness and rage suddenly defied everything you believed about him or her, you experienced an internal conflict known as cognitive dissonance. This created great self-doubt about your ability to predict a partner’s abusive potential in the future. As human nature asserts, you began to seek ways to remove the cognitive dissonance, most likely by denial.

How Emotional Abuse Creates Cognitive Dissonance

Prior to the abusive relationship, you always thought you were not the type to fall under somebody’s psychological manipulation, but you did. When your awareness of the relationship first changed from feeling loved to feeling mistreated, you may have told yourself that he or she was just in a bad mood. As your partner began to exhibit more frequent bouts of gaslighting behavior, where he or she would deliberately confuse you and accuse you of acts against them, you felt very conflicted about your partner’s feelings for you. Early attempts to leave your abuser may have resulted in blaming and threats against you for daring to leave the “best” partner you ever had. This created a lot of cognitive dissonance.

Harmful Ways to Remove Cognitive Dissonance

When you act in ways that contradict your beliefs, it is another form of cognitive dissonance. Subconsciously, you will remove the dissonance with the same thought patterns that caused your dissonance to begin with.

Evasion of what you don’t want to acknowledge creates a sense of denial, and the dissonance it creates is known to destroy lives.

Twisting the truth eliminates the facts that you don’t want to accept, so it reduces the dissonant feeling.

Seeking validation from others can be good if they have your best interest at heart. If they are a negative influence in your life – such as your toxic partner – the removal of cognitive dissonance through these harmful methods will only reinforce your denial.

Refusing change of your current thoughts and beliefs allows you to adhere to them, removing the dissonance.

Healthy Ways to Reduce Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance has come to be known primarily as a negative emotional conflict, but there are ways to use it constructively as a healing tool.

Speak to a trusted friend. If you keep your troubles to yourself and continue contradicting your own thoughts and feelings, it only serves to perpetuate your confusion and self-doubt. Like it or not, you have learned through psychological manipulation how to abuse yourself in a similar way that your narcissistic partner inflicted upon you. The important aspect of this is to have at least one friend or relative whom you can count on for positive and unbiased support. Don’t seek support from friends and family who may be well-meaning, but only offer placebo advice such as, “Why don’t you just break up?” and “I don’t know why you stay with him or her, anyway!”

Keep a written journal. Express the confusion and conflict going on in your head and in your heart by just pouring those thoughts on paper. In doing this, you liberate the trauma and become more self-aware of your inner thoughts, allowing you to consciously shift your thinking. Go back to read your entries about once a week to observe the patterns of your thoughts. Observe whether they are becoming more positive, or if they are slipping back into denial.

Experiment with reading and writing poetry. Poetry can help you to remove your cognitive dissonance much like the journal, letting go of the trauma. It helps you connect to and express your deepest feelings and inner conflicts, fostering a sense of inner peace and tranquility.

Try to become more extroverted. Introverts are more apt to emphasize negative outcomes of trauma, whereas extroverts are more apt to seek positive outcomes. In addition, extroverts tend to seek input from others, broadening their perspective on life and situations, while introverts go out of their way to avoid the input. If you are introverted, it would be very beneficial to join some positive social groups in your community. Socializing with positive people who share your interests both personally and professionally can reduce cognitive dissonance.  (Remember to choose company that will emphasize new beginnings and positive outlooks).

Once you begin to unload your cognitive dissonance in healthier ways than you did during the narcissistic abuse, you begin to free the tension from your spirit. You gain a much deeper self-awareness and start to make peace with your new sense of reality. You acknowledge to yourself that you have the power to act according to, or against, your beliefs. You begin to open your mind to new ways of thinking, instead of being locked up inside your head all the time.

Definitely continue to reflect inwards, but remember to balance that with a healthy dose of input from the outside world. Most of all, you should be proud of how far you have come in your healing journey. It takes a lot of work to overcome cognitive dissonance from emotional abuse.

Copyright © 2015 Kim Saeed. All Rights Reserved

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  1. Debra Sutton

    Great Post Kim! I lived in cognitive dissonance for so long. It took me a long time to break free. Once away I woke up. It took me a couple of years to put all the truths together. I l love your post, they are helping so many people.

  2. Nancy

    I am in a state of dissonance and know it, but cannot seem to extricate myself. My husband has been lying to me for years and been involved with fantasy relationships during the last 2 years with not only a former girlfriend over the internet but also a childhood friend and even solicited a hooker. We are separated and even thought I had tried to protect him with a no fault divorce he has resumed contact with all but the hooker since we separated. I will be filing in a no fault state for full and absolute divorce as soon as the attorney gets it together. I am dismayed at my lack of intuition on his “real” feelings and ashamed and embarrassed. We have two children and I disparately need to heal so I can be a better role model for them. How do I break through and get beyond the self hate and self doubt. I MUST move forward to protect my kids and break the generational ties to this type of behavior.

  3. disillusioned

    I have done most of the things outlined above. And in my head I can see the abuse I went through (emotional) and the manipulation I experienced. What I can’t understand is my physical reaction when I see him (and more so when he is with his new woman who has hurled false allegations at me at work, shaken her fist in my face and threated me with the police for hurting the person who hurt me!) Today they were behind me in their car and she (who was driving) kept driving right up the back of me. I didnt even recognise the car to start with as it is a new one, but they recognised mine! I quickly came off the road and into a shopping area and then rejoined. But I was left shaking for about an hour. Kim, why am I reacting in this way? is it fear? am I jealous (as he claimed I am – even though I have never been jealous of anyone ever before – not materialistic or possessive in any way)? or am I just sensitive, too much so? I will be moving 500 miles away in a couple of months after I serve my notice and will even move before I have sold my house if need be. I am genuinely wanting away from this situation. But what else can I do for now? Feeling threatened and intimidated by him was one thing, but he now has a side kick doing the same. Should I complain at work to get her to back off? But I fear the reprisals of more false allegations from him. Or do I continue to keep moral high ground and just ignore? Help!

    1. Anonymous

      Hi disillusioned
      This is threatening behaviour! How dare they! What a stupid pathetic woman she is to behave this way towards you with his backing!
      You could report this to the authorities!
      Surely your colleagues see what is happening?

    2. It’s been explained to me that the shaking is your body releasing the trauma. I had bouts of uncontrollable shaking for a week or so at a time. As soon as my nerves would calm and the shaking would stop, he would do something else, starting all over again. I recall being angry that he had that effect on me, and I couldn’t control it. Knowing it was my body releasing trauma made a huge difference.

      1. Disillusioned

        Thank you anonymous and Constance it is good to receive your support. And yes the shaking is some type of anxious response (I read up on it).

      2. Jen

        I experienced uncontrollable shaking from the very core of my being throughout my “marriage” of 24 3/4 years, and then for about another year after I left. I haven’t spoken with him since the day I left November 2015, but the things I hear about him from my children or friends irritated me for a very long time. I am working on not having emotional reactions to the false allegations he continually makes against me to friends, family and in court over and over. It seems Child Protective Services have figured out he makes the same claims over and over and that since they investigated me and my family a year ago and found no abuse or neglect, they won’t listen to him any longer. It feels so good to have a much quieter mind and happier heart. I finally feel peace. The divorce is nearly official, and I will get a lifetime restraining order as part of the decree. At first I thought all our problems came from his alcohol abuse, but then some one mentioned looking up narcissism. I’d never heard of emotional vampires, but that hit the nail right on the head!!! And the only advice I could find regarding being married to a narcissist was GET OUT!!! So I began reading Letting Go by Melody Beattie, and in a couple of months, I was ready. Several of my so-called friends have deserted me, as my adult children and my 14 yo son have because of the ex’s lies, but my 16 yo sunshine-of-my-life daughter tells him she doesn’t hate me (like all the others, his words to her) because she doesn’t listen to him. I just pray they’ll either eventually come around or it’ll turn out they’re narcissists, too. That’s the hardest part, but I’m finding peace (after many, many, many tears) knowing I did exactly my best and all of my recent choices were the best ones I could possibly make (besides marrying him and having children and homeschooling all four and letting my CPA licence go to stay home and be a good mother and wife and staying with him so long…). I no longer second-guess myself continually. I LOVE that I no longer shake. Du Courage, mes amis!!!!!!

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