Abusive relationships often reshape your entire belief system. If you are like most victims of narcissistic abuse, you experienced a distorted sense of reality throughout the majority of the relationship with your partner. When your partner’s alternating sweetness and rage suddenly defied everything you believed about him or her, you experienced an internal conflict known as cognitive dissonance. This created great self-doubt about your ability to predict a partner’s abusive potential in the future. As human nature asserts, you began to seek ways to remove the cognitive dissonance, most likely by denial.
How Emotional Abuse Creates Cognitive Dissonance
Prior to the abusive relationship, you always thought you were not the type to fall under somebody’s psychological manipulation, but you did. When your awareness of the relationship first changed from feeling loved to feeling mistreated, you may have told yourself that he or she was just in a bad mood. As your partner began to exhibit more frequent bouts of gaslighting behavior, where he or she would deliberately confuse you and accuse you of acts against them, you felt very conflicted about your partner’s feelings for you. Early attempts to leave your abuser may have resulted in blaming and threats against you for daring to leave the “best” partner you ever had. This created a lot of cognitive dissonance.
Harmful Ways to Remove Cognitive Dissonance
When you act in ways that contradict your beliefs, it is another form of cognitive dissonance. Subconsciously, you will remove the dissonance with the same thought patterns that caused your dissonance to begin with.
Evasion of what you don’t want to acknowledge creates a sense of denial, and the dissonance it creates is known to destroy lives.
Twisting the truth eliminates the facts that you don’t want to accept, so it reduces the dissonant feeling.
Seeking validation from others can be good if they have your best interest at heart. If they are a negative influence in your life – such as your toxic partner – the removal of cognitive dissonance through these harmful methods will only reinforce your denial.
Refusing change of your current thoughts and beliefs allows you to adhere to them, removing the dissonance.
Healthy Ways to Reduce Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive Dissonance has come to be known primarily as a negative emotional conflict, but there are ways to use it constructively as a healing tool.
Speak to a trusted friend. If you keep your troubles to yourself and continue contradicting your own thoughts and feelings, it only serves to perpetuate your confusion and self-doubt. Like it or not, you have learned through psychological manipulation how to abuse yourself in a similar way that your narcissistic partner inflicted upon you. The important aspect of this is to have at least one friend or relative whom you can count on for positive and unbiased support. Don’t seek support from friends and family who may be well-meaning, but only offer placebo advice such as, “Why don’t you just break up?” and “I don’t know why you stay with him or her, anyway!”
Keep a written journal. Express the confusion and conflict going on in your head and in your heart by just pouring those thoughts on paper. In doing this, you liberate the trauma and become more self-aware of your inner thoughts, allowing you to consciously shift your thinking. Go back to read your entries about once a week to observe the patterns of your thoughts. Observe whether they are becoming more positive, or if they are slipping back into denial.
Experiment with reading and writing poetry. Poetry can help you to remove your cognitive dissonance much like the journal, letting go of the trauma. It helps you connect to and express your deepest feelings and inner conflicts, fostering a sense of inner peace and tranquility.
Try to become more extroverted. Introverts are more apt to emphasize negative outcomes of trauma, whereas extroverts are more apt to seek positive outcomes. In addition, extroverts tend to seek input from others, broadening their perspective on life and situations, while introverts go out of their way to avoid the input. If you are introverted, it would be very beneficial to join some positive social groups in your community. Socializing with positive people who share your interests both personally and professionally can reduce cognitive dissonance. (Remember to choose company that will emphasize new beginnings and positive outlooks).
Once you begin to unload your cognitive dissonance in healthier ways than you did during the narcissistic abuse, you begin to free the tension from your spirit. You gain a much deeper self-awareness and start to make peace with your new sense of reality. You acknowledge to yourself that you have the power to act according to, or against, your beliefs. You begin to open your mind to new ways of thinking, instead of being locked up inside your head all the time.
Definitely continue to reflect inwards, but remember to balance that with a healthy dose of input from the outside world. Most of all, you should be proud of how far you have come in your healing journey. It takes a lot of work to overcome cognitive dissonance from emotional abuse.
Copyright © 2015 Kim Saeed. All Rights Reserved
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