Cognitive Dissonance Theory ― The Pain of Opposing Points of View

Cognitive Dissonance Theory ― The Pain of Opposing Points of View

What is cognitive dissonance and how could it, or does it affect you?

What is Cognitive Dissonance Theory?

This is a psychological term that explains the distress one can experience when attempting to reconcile opposing points of view.  It is especially distressing when the opposing viewpoints conflict with your current values and beliefs.  The mind battles to reconcile differing ideas.  This can cause mental disfunctions and physical pain.

When someone experiences cognitive dissonance, it can be very scary.  It shakes the foundation of your reality. When something simply doesn’t fit into the existing worldview, it can cause a variety of mental and physical symptoms.

Cognitive dissonance theory explains that a person can remain in this state for long periods of time if they don’t make the connection between their symptoms and the dilemma.  Some people move through this quickly by immediately rejecting any opposing viewpoints.  This way, they escape the discomfort of considering ideas that conflict with their current situation.

Reconciling Opposing Points of View

Cognitive dissonance spreads through populations during times of war, famine, riots, or any major social discord. It’s your mind telling you that your belief system isn’t working for you or your society anymore. Maintaining resistance to facts that expose the fallacies of beliefs causes intense discomfort. This conflict is harmful to your health and wellness. Ignoring scientific facts and logic which contradict your beliefs affects your ability to apply logical reasoning in other areas of your life.

When someone encounters opposing viewpoints, they must make a choice. One must either reject the new conflicting information or change their existing worldview to align with the new information.

People in a healthy mental state can reconcile opposing points of view rather quickly and with less distress.  When an open-minded person encounters this situation, they don’t automatically oppose the new information.  They validate the facts and use common sense to analyze the opposing viewpoints. And so through the use of critical thinking to either reject the new information or and change their worldview if the new information is valid.  This means an open-minded person will change their opinions about reality as they encounter new valid information. This is a good skill set to have in a world that is rapidly changing.   Being able to do this critical to your overall health and wellness.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory and Opposing Viewpoints

A person with an inflexible worldview has a difficult time when the encounter things that conflict with their rigid worldview.  Since the world is changing so quickly and there is so much information available they are constantly running into conflict.

So, people with ridge paradigms learn to reject or ignore any information that conflicts with their worldview.  Since they make no attempt to reconcile opposing points of view, they avoid the symptoms.  People with this strategy usually come from a ridge religious background.

Avoiding opposing viewpoints is a learned strategy of confusing choice with prejudice.  This enables them to cloak bias and prejudice.  But now you can see through this sham.  After all, a religious experience is not a measure of truth.

Flexible Religious Paradigms

Not all religions are inflexible.  Some do not have strict boundaries on thinking. For example, Taoism and many forms of Paganism have very few constraints if any.  With these systems, you are free to explore and develop your own path.

People with these or Atheistic philosophical backgrounds are least likely to suffer from cognitive dissonance.  They are more likely to change their minds when they confront opposing viewpoints.  It doesn’t mean they all agree on the same things.

Inflexible Religious Paradigms

Those religions which rely on mythology and superstition have a lot of problems with cognitive dissonance.  Their members encounter facts which oppose their worldview.  This is true for the Abrahamic religions.  These are the Western organized religions of Semitic origin, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

These religions are not only rigid and antiquated, they are inconsistent.  What’s more they promote socially negative and regressive practices such as genocide, discrimination, ethnic and gender bias.  They also place constraints on logical reasoning and reject the use of science.

Unfortunately, this type of thinking a traditions part of many families and cultural systems.  They use groupthink manipulation to indoctrinate and maintain strict beliefs.   Parents and trusted spiritual authorities pass down lifestyle, religious, political, and personal opinions.  In turn, these become deeply ingrained in the way we perceive life and conduct ourselves in it. Our social interactions, personal habits, and religious views are all built on these influences and significant experiences we live through. These become our belief systems with which we function.  So, overcoming cognitive dissonance isn’t easy.

This means in order to relieve the conflict of cognitive dissonance they automatically reject any information that doesn’t fit into their limited worldviews.  It doesn’t matter if the new information is true. What matters is that they maintain their boundaries.  Otherwise, it literally causes headaches and other physical pain.  This is why cognitive dissonance is the headache of religion.

Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance

opposing viewpoints overcoming cognitive dissonance

When you find yourself in this situation, it forces us to choose between the ideas causing the conflict.  This can be a great force in raising our consciousness.  It enables us to shed outdated belief systems that separate us and cause conflict. Or, it causes us to reject the new idea in favor of the beliefs of the existing paradigm. In fact, people will defend their current belief system even if it is rampant with error and inconsistencies.  This is because belief systems trigger the fight, flight or freeze reaction. It creates an underlying current of anxiety.  In this state, it becomes easy to trigger the fight, flight or freeze reaction.

So, people with cognitive dissonance find themselves in a constant state of emotional turmoil. Living in this state makes one susceptible to groupthink manipulation and propaganda.  As a result, some unscrupulous leaders use this to maintain their control over their members.  Here’s how to fight your way to the facts.

First, take a breath.  Engage in proper self-care.  Prepare yourself emotionally and physically.

1) Enhance your critical thinking ability

Above all your conclusions are based on your ability to discern the facts from the fiction. All of your beliefs are based on arguments.  An argument is simply a selling tool.  It’s a set of statements “premises” persuading you to accept a conclusion.  So, you need to learn about the basic tools to increase your critical thinking abilities.  Here are some links to the basics of logical reasoning and two other companion tools, spotting logical fallacies and logical axioms.  Study and apply the principles in the next step, your own research.

2) Conduct your own research

Don’t give in and ignore the new data.  Find the courage to face the fact that what you may believe is incorrect.  Then conduct your own research.  Use sources from outside the paradigm you are researching. In some cultures, this is hard to do.  So, use the internet and get outside of cultural narrative.  You must learn to question the cultural narrative.

In Conclusion

Cognitive dissonance theory tells us this situation is a wake-up call.  It can be a way of being nudged down a healthier life path and making more sound personal resolutions. For those that are open-minded, it is an opportunity to learn and move the boundaries of their beliefs. For those who are deeply religious it can be scary and painful experience.

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Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s Book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia
Abrahamic Religions, Wikipedia

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