Have you ever felt guilty about something you said or did, especially if that action was done while under the influence? It may be because of cognitive dissonance.
This psychological term refers to the human desire for our actions to sync up with our beliefs. When we’re in the middle of active addiction, however, it can be hard to live out our values. Today on the blog, we’d like to talk about cognitive dissonance, how you can overcome it, and how recovery can bring you peace.
Understanding Cognitive Dissonance
Whether you know it or not, you’ve experienced cognitive dissonance at some point in your life. If you’re addicted to drugs or alcohol, you may deal with it more often. Examples of dissonance-related feelings include:
- Trying to justify (rationalize) choices you’ve made or things you’ve done
- Feeling deep shame about your decisions or actions
- Caving into peer pressure, even if it went against your values
- Experiencing lingering regret or guilt about something you did in the past
- Ignoring your gut feeling before doing something you know is wrong
- Trying to hide the truth from others, especially those closest to you
These symptoms begin when your way of living conflicts with your principles. Ultimately, the result of cognitive dissonance is anxiety, depression, and a tarnished self-image. This is worsened if the belief is deeply held, or if the action is particularly harmful. The uneasiness and embarrassment caused by going against your principles may not wear off on its own. People react to this discomfort in different ways.
Reactions to Cognitive Dissonance
As you can see, the core of cognitive dissonance is inner turmoil. It happens when your actions don’t match your intentions, beliefs, or core values – the things that make you you. There are two unhealthy ways that people tend to deal with the pain caused by dissonance.
Some people rationalize their behaviors to make them seem okay. “It’s not that bad; Walmart doesn’t care if one six pack goes missing,” someone who has stolen may say to themselves. “I’m not bad for taking this.” This is an attempt to stop feeling bad about stealing: an action which goes against their beliefs. People who choose to rationalize may blame others, point to outside factors, or explain away this conflict in any way they can.
Discrediting new information is the other approach many people take to alleviating their guilt. Someone who knows that drinking is bad for them, for example, might seek out articles saying that it’s actually healthy to drink a glass of red wine occasionally. They’ll then use this information as an excuse to disregard public knowledge about the dangers of binge drinking.
Handling It the Right Way
The best way to deal with cognitive dissonance is to change your behavior. In recovery, this is something that everyone must learn. You may not be able to control what has happened in the past, but you can control the choices you make in the future. By outlining your beliefs, understanding your values, and getting in touch with yourself, you can determine which behaviors are not in alignment with your true self. This information can be incredibly helpful in moving forward in sobriety.
It’s also helpful to make amends with those you’ve hurt in the past. Apologizing to your loved ones is extremely important when you’re repairing relationships, but it’s also helpful for resolving cognitive dissonance. When you’ve explained what happened, given a sincere apology, and vowed to do better in the future, you may find that your guilt has been alleviated.
Act Like Yourself Again
Addiction puts people at war with themselves. The inner turmoil caused by compulsive drinking and drug use can alienate you from your family and destroy your self-esteem.
At Lakeside-Milam, we provide the support and structure you need to make a lasting change. Our accredited programming is rooted in mental health best practices. With each one-on-one or group session, our experienced staff members will help you to uncover your values, optimism, and self-worth.
Contact Lakeside-Milam to learn more about resolving your cognitive dissonance.