Do you find that you need to make a truth a little more ‘palatable’ for yourself in order to get through a challenging transition you’re currently navigating?

Cognitive dissonance is that uncomfortable feeling you get when you try to maintain 2 or more inconsistent beliefs at the same time, or when you believe 1 thing, but act in a conflicting way.

For example, we commit to losing weight but then overindulge on chocolate. The discrepancy can be unnerving, and people will often try to eliminate the dissonance by changing their attitudes. So, to feel better about cheating on our diet, we may tell ourselves that we will go for a run tomorrow.

Although many may think cognitive dissonance is a bad thing, it actually helps to keep us mentally alert and curious. Resolving dissonance may help prevent us from making bad choices or motivate us to make good ones. This desire to be at peace with our decisions might be just the thing to inspire us to go for that run after all.

You can see cognitive dissonance at work everywhere. Humans appear to be uniquely able to both hold values, do things in contrast to them, and then figure out a way to resolve the dissonance. For example, I might consider myself to be financially prudent, but still go into Kmart and spend way too much money on something I don’t REALLY need.

I justify the purchase by convincing myself why I needed it, so even when I lie to myself, there is still an element of truth attached to it.

Sometimes we might find ourselves engaging in behaviours that are opposed to our own beliefs due to external expectations at work, with family, or in a social situation. This might involve going along with something because of peer pressure, or doing something at work to avoid getting fired, such as the recent vaccination mandates.

A friend I have known for many years, is a devout Catholic, so when she meets someone that she is attracted to, she becomes conflicted when getting to know them, as she believes she is ‘sinning’ when they are intimate.

We have many light-hearted discussions about what constitutes a ‘sin’ and what warrants a ‘confession’, and I often point out the dissonance between her personal values and her Christian faith.

It’s something she is well aware of and when it comes to teasing, she gives as good as she gets when I’m on the receiving end, like how can someone be as ‘spiritual’ as me, yet also swear like a truck driver. She makes a fair point.

But when her brother committed suicide, she was devastated, and even though she had previously spoken about how her faith views this as an unforgivable sin that would condemn a person to hell, her views transformed significantly after his death.

Part of her grief was to transform that desolation into something that would be easier to accept and to process for her, and her equally religious family. Our usual comical banter was inappropriate, so when she asked for my opinion, I chose grace over honesty, and told her what she wanted to hear, as her wellbeing was more important to me, than expressing my opinion.

That’s what I mean when I say that I always tell the truth, even when I lie. Do you do this as well? I’d love to know!

Patty Kikos