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!