Mental Health Monday–Cognitive Dissonance

You know that feeling you get when you realize you’ve made a mistake? Come on, admit it. It’s that sinking or twisting feeling in your gut. Or the tightness in your chest. Don’t forget the throbbing or stabbing headache that brings you to your knees.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume most of all y’all have experienced this.

Why, oh why, does it happen?

Well, something called cognitive dissonance is at work. Stated simply, cognitive dissonance occurs when we’re confronted with two ideas in direct conflict. This comes up frequently when a particular thought (ex. “I am a good person.”) is challenged with evidence to the contrary (“I just punched someone.”) (By the way, I wouldn’t try this to test the theory. Punching someone would get you in trouble.)

The Fox and the Grapes by Aesop captures this perfectly. (Thank you, Wikipedia, for pointing this out!) The fox see a bunch of grapes high up on a tree branch, but he can’t reach them. He isn’t able to solve the problem, so he surmises the grapes are sour (ever heard the expression “sour grapes?”) or they aren’t ripe yet. In effect, he’s talked himself out of wanting them. Neat, huh?

Imagine applying this to a character. For example, maybe your main character has a crush on someone, but they assume the crushee won’t like them, so they don’t start a conversation even though they’re the only two people on the bus. Or maybe your main character doesn’t think she can manage life on her own, so she stays in an abusive relationship.

So tell me, what examples of cognitive dissonance have shown up in your characters?

***Don’t forget Lydia’s post on Medical Monday!

12 comments on “Mental Health Monday–Cognitive Dissonance

  1. Christine Fonseca says:

    I always love your Mondays! Brings me back to my early psych days. ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Paul Greci says:

    I have experienced this. I can feel it in my stomach just thinking about it.

  3. Cool! Now I have a name for it – I feel that way frequently. I even have a character who’d love to throw the term into a conversation, given half a chance. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Lydia Kang says:

    Wow, my characters are chock full of dissonance. What a great post, I didn’t know that’s what it was called!

  5. lbdiamond says:

    Cognitive Dissonance happens on a daily basis–for everybody! Hmm…I wonder if it’s a part of the original sin. *gasp!*

  6. Lynn Rush says:

    Great stuff here. I love doing this in my characters. It makes for great conflict. Inner turmoil. **insert evil grin here**

    LOVE mental health Mondays!

  7. ahhh so that’s what it’s called ๐Ÿ˜€ good to know LOL my current character is in love with a bad boy…she tries to convince herself that he isn’t really as bad as he seems so she can like him without feeling guilty about it ๐Ÿ˜€ BUT THEN she knows they really shouldn’t be together and even when she finds out he really isn’t as bad as she thought and tries to keep thinking he IS bad so she’ll stay away from him. LOL

  8. Danyelle says:

    There is so much to love about torturing our characters with cognitive dissonance! >:)

  9. Yup. Been there done that. (More often than I would like to count.) Smashed my own self esteem by doing something stupid, then tortured myself a while before deciding to admit I’d made a mistake. Owning a mistake allows one to embrace forgiveness and travel on. I had to think a bit, but yes, one of my characters, a woman, suffers inner turmoil because she blames herself (too much) for the situation which is the subject of the plot. Thank you for post. It made me think.

  10. amie borst says:

    great post! i think as humans we do this all the time – it’s natural. maybe a way of protecting us from failure or hurt. i write it into my characterizations a lot. what does that say about me…..??

  11. Oh wow, I have a new reason to love Mondays! This series is great. I don’t have an example but I love your fox and grape one.


  12. elisajeglin says:

    Awesome post! My MC is definitely struggling with this in many ways: guilt, love, beliefs, bias. He’s one internal mess, lol, but he’ll end up okay. ;p

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