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Cognitive dissonance in relationships

Cognitive dissonance in relationships

Cognitive dissonance in relationships is a term used for describing mental discomfort as a result of holding two different and conflicting values, attitudes or beliefs. People usually want consistency in their perceptions and attitudes, and conflicts in these cases make them uneasy and uncomfortable.

This article is all about Cognitive dissonance in relationships. You will learn about its causes, examples, how to deal with it and some useful quotes. But let’s start with answering the most important questions first:

What are some examples of cognitive dissonance?

Here are some examples where cognitive dissonance can happen:

  • When a person knows about the adverse effects of smoking, still he uses tobacco.
  • When a person does not follow a lifestyle choice like doing exercise regularly but chooses to promote it. It is also known as hypocrisy.
  • When a person thinks of himself as an honest person but still chooses to tell a lie
  • When a person is extremely environmental conscious but chooses to buy a car that is not fuel-efficient
  • When a person chooses to eat meat while he still thinks of himself as an animal lover, he still dislikes killing animals, though. It is also known as the meat paradox.

How to recognize cognitive dissonance?

Recognizing a cognitive dissonance is easy when you know about signs. Here is how you can recognize cognitive dissonance:

  • Discomfort having no clear or obvious source.
  • Extreme confusion
  • Sense of conflict about a disputed matter of subject
  • People calling you a hypocrite
  • You are aware of your conflicting views but do not know how to deal with them.

How to deal with someone with cognitive dissonance?

Dealing with someone having cognitive dissonance may not be easy. But you can help them with this issue. Here is how you can do this:

  • Know more about the problem
  • Encourage them to deal with the problem.
  • Be supportive
  • Encourage them to take help from a professional 

Degree of severity

A person may try to explain things away, or this individual may try to reject every new information that is against his own beliefs. You need to know that when someone holds conflicting beliefs, cognitive dissonance is not automatic at all. They must be aware of inconsistency in order to feel uncomfortable. People do not feel the cognitive dissonance at the same degree. Some individuals have high levels of tolerance for inconsistency and uncertainty. A person may experience more cognitive dissonance as compared to those who do not require consistency.

Some factors that can affect the degree of cognitive dissonance that a person may experience are as follows:

Beliefs types: Personal beliefs lead to significant dissonance

Values: Those beliefs that are held in high regard by people

Disparity size: the disparity between harmonious and conflicting beliefs leads to an extreme sense of dissonance

Cognitive dissonance in relationships causes an immediate sense of uneasiness and discomfort. A person has an inborn desire to get rid of this discomfort. It can affect a person’s thoughts, beliefs, behaviours, attitudes, decisions and obviously mental health.

What are the causes of cognitive dissonance?

There are plenty of situations that can build conflicts leading to cognitive dissonance. If you are wondering what are the causes of cognitive dissonance, let me tell you some of these causes:

Forced attitude

Sometimes you may engage in behaviours that do not reconcile with your own thoughts or beliefs. It could be because of external expectation, mostly for school, work or other social scenarios i.e what others think. For instance, you might continue doing something because of peer pressure, but you do not have any interest or just continue doing work because of fear of getting fired.

More information

Knowing more about something can also lead to cognitive dissonance. For instance, if you engage yourself in behaviour that you learn later can prove harmful, this can make you feel discomfort. People then try to justify their irrational behaviours or try to find different ways to ignore or discredit new information.

Decision making

We all make decisions, both small or large, daily. When we are given two similar options to make a choice, we have feelings of cognitive dissonance. It is because the options we have are appealing equally. After we make a choice, it becomes necessary to reduce these emotions of frustration and discomfort. People usually try to eliminate this feeling of discomfort by justifying their choice, why it was the best option and how it definitely was the right decision.

Cognitive dissonance in toxic relationships

People who are trying to heal from toxic relationships try their best to educate themselves about the emotional abuse they have been through so that they can deal with their pain and move towards the process of healing themselves. It is important for them to know about dealing with Cognitive dissonance in toxic relationships.

In treating people who have been through toxic relationships, first of all, psychotherapy is done in order to know about the psychology behind abuse recovery. Cognitive dissonance in toxic relationships makes you believe in lies which can ruin your life.

Cognitive dissonance in relationship with a narcissist

Cognitive dissonance in a relationship with a narcissist can be a reason why people can’t end a toxic relationship with a narcissist. In such a relationship, cognitive dissonance is like telling ourselves a lie and believing in it. This does not bring any good in a relationship or in a person’s life:

The thing about narcissists is that they introduce themselves as kind-hearted, loving, and mature people. They will analyze you and observe your behaviour; by this, they can know what you want from your relationship and align they behaviour with what they believe you want; mostly, they are successful in doing so and then act accordingly. They will behave as if they love you a lot so that you can trust them blindly. You think that “They are so trustworthy and loving.”

But as time passes, their mask starts to crack. At that point, initially, subtle emotional abuse starts getting prominent. Now you are facing a situation where your previous belief is contradicted, and you will think, “They are consciously hurting me.”

So now you have two contradicting pieces of information, and one of them has to be true. But the point is the true one is really a painful one. If a person is not ready for the pain, he may try to reduce the Cognitive dissonance in relationship with a narcissist via the following ways:

Avoidance or denial

Initially, a person can try not to accept the truth in a false attempt to reduce stress. The individual can try to forget all the bad memories like they never happened. When a narcissist does or says something hurtful, a person may tell themselves that “……… didn’t mean it,  ………. is just poor at expressing himself” or “he loves me actually but does not know how to express it”.

While sitting with our friends, we may try to talk about their good qualities and hide their bad qualities showing how loving they are. But a rational friend with more experience will know that something is wrong, and that friend may try to warn us. In that situation, instead of understating their point, we choose denial again. We may also try to avoid them in future, or sometimes we may try to defend the narcissist against them.

Distorting the facts

A time comes when we cannot deny them anymore, that is when we try to distort the truth. We try to rationalize the lies and twist the facts. This is nothing but a trap to satisfy our ego, and if this whole mindset becomes successful, we may say things like:

“No one wants to be with someone who hurts them; obviously they are not trying to hurt me there is surely something else.”

“I am a smart and successful person, there is no way someone can manipulate me, and there is no manipulation in our relationship for sure.”

Try to minimize the truth.

Distorting a truth is one thing and minimizing it another thing. It happens when we can’t distort facts anymore. We may tell ourselves, “It is not that bad.”

When this happens often, and you tell this to yourself a lot, it means you are avoiding something and not ready to face the truth.

Try to reduce its value.

Just like minimizing the fact, we may try to start reducing its value. We may tell ourselves things like, “It is natural to have some ups and downs in a relationship, I am just overreacting”.

Being under the influence of emotional abuse for a really long time is not easy; you have to choose the truth or the lie at some point at last. If you feel like you are in a dilemma, try avoiding thinking about the most positive outcome just because you want it to be the truth. Truth is really hurtful sometimes, but if you stop avoiding it and choose to face it, the healing process starts.

Cognitive dissonance in abusive relationships

In abusive and unhealthy relationships, a victim may question his perception of the abusive partner and the whole relationship too often. The abuser’s mood will shift abruptly, and it will confuse the victim; that’s when cognitive dissonance plays its role. The victim loves her/his abuser and is afraid to lose them, but this victim also knows that this repetitive cycle of abuse will continue. These confusing emotions and thoughts make the victim anxious, and they are unable to make the right decisions. To make these confusing thoughts go away, a victim may try justifying the behaviour of their abuser. This cycle of cognitive dissonance in abusive relationships is not easy to break at all.

Cognitive dissonance in emotionally abusive relationships

Therapy, whether online or physical, can help with cognitive dissonance in emotionally abusive relationships. In addition to therapy, there are plenty of other extraordinary resources that you can use to get help in building and keeping up solid, healthy relationships. Top choices include:

Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me)” via Carol Tavris and Elliott Aronson

It clarifies cognitive dissonance in emotionally abusive relationships via clever storytelling. Suitably portrayed as “moving” and “groundbreaking,” this amazing book will open up your eyes and brain to the supports we make as individuals and why great individuals frequently settle on terrible choices.

A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance” by the scholar himself, Leon Festinger,

The author jumps deep into details of cognitive dissonance, which includes supporting information too. In spite of being published in 1957, this is a significant asset that is as important today as it was many years prior.

201 Relationship Questions” by Barrie Davenport

It is an extraordinary relationship manufacturer that can help in constructing trust and closeness with your accomplice. Transparency and genuineness are key in any relationship and can help in keeping irrational dissonance under control. This amazing asset will help you and your accomplice convey all the more adequately and build a close association.

“The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman

It is a hit for a valid reason. This book will help you and your accomplice see each other’s requirements, just as your own. Those who value relationships must read this amazing book. It also comes up with different editions specifically for singles and men.

How to resolve cognitive dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance is not a bad thing entirely; it can be beneficial. Sometimes it can bring positive changes in your behaviour and attitude when a person realizes that his actions and beliefs are not right. The problem is when it makes you justify your irrational behaviours that can prove harmful. Or when a person gets caught up in making an effort to justify dissonance to the point of stressing the mind.

But if you find that your cognitive dissonance is not doing any good for you, it is necessary for you to deal with it. Here are some tips for you to deal with your cognitive dissonance:

Be more aware of your thoughts.

If you know how your actions and thoughts are correlated with each other, it can help in understanding what is more important for you. Whenever you feel like you have a cognitive dissonance moment, ask yourself some question like these:

  • What cognitions are not fitting together?
  • How can I eliminate dissonance, or what would be some constructive steps to eliminate it?
  • Is there a need to change a mindset, a belief or a specific behaviour?
  • How necessary it is to resolve this dissonance?

Add supportive beliefs to outweigh dissonance.

When you have dissonant beliefs about something, it becomes necessary for you to know more about the subject matter. By this, you can add some supportive beliefs to get rid of dissonant beliefs. For instance, if a person thinks that global warming is because of greenhouse gas emissions, he may find it confusing to drive a gas-guzzling auto. To eliminate or remove this dissonance, he may seek out more fresh information that can override his belief that greenhouse gasses are a significant factor behind global warming.

Reduce the significance of conflicting belief

When something is stuck in your mind, you start overthinking about it. The same is the case with conflicting belief. You start making scenarios in your head and try to justify your beliefs. This sometimes helps but not always; sometimes, you are so much indulged in your thoughts that you do not find time to think about anything else. Reducing the importance of a conflicting belief can help. Try to discard or devaluate the conflicting belief. The best way is by devaluating a news source by saying that they are false or biased.


It is an effective but challenging approach to implement. In this case, a person changes their behaviour in order to match with their beliefs. The differences between their conflicting beliefs, their beliefs and actions, if reconciled this can improve personal growth. An example of such behaviour is when a person stops eating meat because he loves animals and does not appreciate their killing and is against this.

Cognitive dissonance in relationships quotes

Here are some cognitive dissonance in abusive relationships quotes that can help you understand the concept:

  • “Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” Frantz Fanon
  • “When dissonance is present, in addition to trying to reduce it, the person will actively avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance.” Leon Festinger
  • “Wisdom is tolerance of cognitive dissonance.” Robert Thurman
  • “It’s a shame cars don’t run on cognitive dissonance.” Lewis Black
  • “America has long raised political and cultural cognitive dissonance to an art form. We are capable of living with enormous inequality and injustice while convincing ourselves that we are, in fact, moving toward what Churchill called the “broad, sunlit uplands.” Jon Meacham
  • “Every single day the world seems like it is on the brink of falling apart. But then I look outside my window, and things look about the same as they did a week ago. It’s almost a form of cognitive dissonance.” Moby
  • “The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.” Christopher Hitchens
  • “I suspect that a lot of the stress we see around us arises from the cognitive dissonance set up by one side of the brain hearing very plausible spin while the other side knows it just ain’t so.” David Palmer
  • “I believe that I have created a lot of cognitive dissonance in the minds of people who are comfortable with stereotypes.” Hillary Clinton
  • “Myths, whether in written or visual form, serve a vital role of asking unanswerable questions and providing unquestionable answers. Most of us, most of the time, have a low tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. We want to reduce the cognitive dissonance of not knowing by filling the gaps with answers. Traditionally, religious myths have served that role, but today — the age of science — science fiction is our mythology.” Michael Shermer
  • “The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism.” Christopher Hitchens
  • “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.” E. O. Wilson
  • “True believers are continually shown by reality that their god doesn’t exist, but have developed extensive coping mechanisms to deal with this cognitive dissonance.” Mark Thomas
  • “A good title holds magic, some cognitive dissonance, a little grit between the teeth, but above all it is the jumping-off place into wonder.” Barbara Kingsolver
  • “Frankly, I see a lot of little girls dressed in ways I think are not very appropriate. It’s too much too soon, and it causes a lot of cognitive dissonance about who they are – are they an 8-year-old, or are they a miniature fill-in-the-blank-celebrity? Parents have to draw the line.” Hillary Clinton
  • After a while, if you’re committed, you start to believe in the things in which you’re praying. It’s just cognitive dissonance. You can’t live a completely religious life and not start to have it sink in.” A. J. Jacobs
  • “We need only in cold blood ACT as if the thing in question were real, and keep acting as if it were real, and it will infallibly end by growing into such a connection with our life that it will become real.” William James
  • “If a given idea has been held in the human mind for many generations, as almost all our common ideas have, it takes sincere and continued effort to remove it; and if it is one of the oldest we have in stock, one of the big, common, unquestioned world ideas, vast is the labor of those who seek to change it.”Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Man-Made World; or, Our Androcentric Culture


Cognitive dissonance in relationships can make you feel uncomfortable and uneasy, but it is not always a bad thing. It can also help you grow. If you have some kind of wrong beliefs or your actions are not right, cognitive dissonance may help you get rid of false beliefs or harmful actions. If you are not able to deal with this sense of cognitive dissonance, it would be better to ask for help from a professional. It is even more important when you have been through an abusive or toxic relationship.

This was all about cognitive dissonance in relationships. I hope  you will find it helpful. GET SUPPORT WITH YOUR RELATIONSHIP TODAY CLICK HERE.

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