cognitive dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance ― Or the Religious Headache

What is cognitive dissonance and how does it affect you?

What is Cognitive Dissonance?

Cognitive Dissonance is a psychological term describing the distressing mental state one experiences when confronting ideas, beliefs, or values which conflict with your current worldview.  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 or paradigm and this causes mental and physical pain.  So, some choices must be made.  One must either reject the new conflicting information or modifies their existing paradigm to align with the new information.

Cognitive dissonance is the same psychological state that 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 an open-minded person encounters this situation they use facts, and logical reasoning to sift through the new information.  And so through the use of critical thinking to either reject the new information or and modify their paradigm if the new information is valid.  This means an open-minded person will change their opinions about reality as new valid information is encountered.  Being able to do this critical to your overall health and wellness.

How Cognitive Dissonance Affects the Religious Faithful

A person with an inflexible worldview has a different way of handling this distress.  People with ridge paradigms learn to simply ignore any information that conflicts with their worldview.  People with this strategy usually come from a ridge religious background.  It’s 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.  You cannot identify the source of experience.

Flexible Religious Paradigms

However, not all religions 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 be able to change their minds when confronted with new information.  It doesn’t mean they all agree on the same things.

Inflexible Religious Paradigms

On the other hand, some religions are notorious for causing cognitive dissonance. This is true for the Abrahamic religions.  These are the Western organized religions of Semitic origin, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This is because they are internally inconsistent and promote socially negative and regressive practices such as genocide, discrimination, ethnic and gender bias.  At the same time, they also place constraints on logical reasoning and the use of science.

Unfortunately, this type of thinking is inbred into family and cultural systems controlled by religious groupthink manipulation.   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 this internal conflict of 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 accurate or 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

When you find yourself in this situation it forces us to choose between the ideas that are in 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 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.

Final Thoughts

It can be a way of being nudged down a healthier life path and making more sound personal resolutions. For those of us that feel they are a bit more open-minded, it is less painful to experience cognitive dissonance. For those of us still tightly wound around certain belief systems and ways of life.

If this article resonates, there are more on our blog.  Also, you may be interested in learning about our blended learning process.  This is our curriculum which we use to teach several mind-expanding tools.  It also aligns the Hero’s Journey.  This is the term Joseph Campbell gave the pattern of consciousness development.  Our learning process is available in two forms.  You can take part in the virtual learning module or in our workshops.

While you are here please also check out our page FAQ for information about our mission.  And, please consider donating to support our mission of providing these ancient spiritual development tools.

Image by Unsplash.

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