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Cognitive Dissonance and hidden trauma



Cognitive Dissonance and hidden trauma

This writeup is different from the previous ones, it’s not really the usual fun type but I wanted to invoke some introspection in our quest to be the better version of ourselves that will lead to experiencing the relationships we all dream of. Those relationships are easily possible, but it starts with calling ourselves out, reassessing our past actions and responses, understanding how our views may be different from our partners and how to ensure that it doesn’t become a point of conflict. Let’s all strive for an argument and conflict-free relations which is only possible when we fully understand our subconscious workings. And if it strikes a chord, see it as an opportunity to do something about it.

Human beings at the core are deeply unwilling to change their minds. And when the facts of a situation clash with their pre-existing convictions, some people would sooner jeopardize their relationships and everyone else’s than accepts new information or admit to being wrong. The sad part is that they are usually oblivious to what they are doing.

Cognitive dissonance, coined by Leon Festinger in the 1950s describes the discomfort people feel when two cognitions, or a cognition (a perception, sensation, idea or intuition resulting from the mental action of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses) and behavior contradict each other. I smoke is dissonant with the knowledge that smoking can kill me. To reduce that dissonance, the smoker must either quit or justify smoking (it keeps me thin and being overweight is a health risk too you know), guess which they choose? At its core, the theory is about how people strive to make sense out of contradictory ideas and lead lives that are, at least in their own minds, consistent and meaningful.

Dissonance is most painful when evidence strikes at the heart of how we see ourselves when it threatens our belief that we are kind, strong, competent, or smart.

Dissonance is most painful when evidence strikes at the heart of how we see ourselves

Dissonance is most painful when evidence strikes at the heart of how we see ourselves

Cognitive Dissonance in the relationship

Let’s bring this home to our relationships, when someone who doesn’t believe in “love”, comes into contact with someone who is natural in loving them, dissonance occurs. “this can’t be real, no way” it contradicts what they believe in…they then start “looking” for evidence to support that belief…. Unfortunately, it really doesn’t take much. The urge to prove themselves right fueled by that discomfort is so strong that when they hear something as gossip from someone known by both the person and their partner…they usually will not take the step to ascertain the source of the gossip but their need to be “right’ will make them believe that the gossip comes from no other person than their partner ( even if in reality their partner hasn’t spoken with the source of the gossip for years, it doesn’t matter)…”I said it …love doesn’t exist, I almost got tricked”….then gets rid of the person with that justification.

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Accepting the realness of the love being shown them is so uncomfortable that they’ll rather destroy it than to accept they had it wrong…a lot of us have been doing this for ages, messing up relationships yet convincing ourselves that we are justified in getting rid of that person. The minute we make any decision, we begin to justify the wisdom of our choice and find reasons to dismiss the alternative. Before long, any ambivalence we might have felt at the time of the original decision will have morphed into certainty…. you believe your own made-up justification as fact (when a simple fact-check will say otherwise, you don’t see the reason to). As people justify each step taken after the original decision, they find it harder to admit they were wrong at the outset. Especially when the end-result proves self-defeating, wrongheaded, or harmful.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance – some people would jeopardize their relationships and everyone else’s than accepts new information

Everyone else is responsible for how a relationship may have ended except us. We keep making the same mistakes over and over again because rather than calling ourselves out and accepting that we might have an insecure ego; a traumatic event that may have skewed our view; which is in dissonance with our view of being that strong person, we refuse to acknowledge and take responsibility for our own bullshit, our toxic traits, and our own mistakes.

Here is the thing, there is nothing braver and show of strength than calling yourself out. It means you care about your future, your progress, and your happiness than just protecting your ego.

A possible cause may be Hidden trauma, quite prevalent but its acceptance is also in dissonance with how we mostly see ourselves and trauma. I’m not talking about the big “I know it will leave a scar one” but the silent and subtle ones. the ones we never acknowledge but maybe the underlying drive to how we handled and continue to handle relationships, experiences, and vulnerabilities. The ones that drive us through fear and insecurity to nib at our relationships till there’s nothing left of it. In a previous relationship, we found out our partner was cheating on us through a message they mistakenly sent to us and subsequently deleted. But not before we read it. When confronted, they tried to do damage control with their response. In another, a partner disrespects you and follows it with damage control when confronted.


Deleted messages and the view that subsequent non-first choice responses are damage control unknowingly registers as traumas albeit a hidden one. Our view gets skewed in a particular way where everything gets suspected. Fast forward we are in a new relationship, partner deletes a previously sent message, trauma gets activated, we don’t even realize our tone and approach when asking about what got deleted. The partner responds it doesn’t satisfy nor quench our underlying trauma, we get angry…. from our view the person is being dishonest and complicated. We refuse to see the person’s point of view, their background, and personality due to allowing the trauma to drive our response… instead of the attack and only thinking of self, approach, “why do you keep doing this, after I’ve told you how it affects me. You don’t care”, a response showing acceptance of our trauma, as well as consideration for the others, own views and individuality might rather go something like this “hey, you know I’ve had a bad experience with this, you have the right to delete whatever you send but for my sake, a word or two about what got deleted will be appreciated. It may be counter-productive to the initial act of deletion but I’m trying to deal with the experience and this seemingly trivial act definitely helps”… an attack will always cause a defensive response whether we see it as an attack or not, but an acceptance of our trauma and a step to resolving it that relies on acknowledging people’s views and individualism instead of only how it affects us; which is usually about the other person stopping being themselves to do things our way, will always lead to a better healing process.

The above was just an example of what a hidden trauma may cause, for some the traumatic experience of their parents’ separation may lead them to not believe in love till someone comes along and prove them otherwise, then viola, cognitive dissonance.

You now have a gist of what cognitive dissonance is, have a look within yourself, do you identify with any of it?

What about hidden traumas? what do you intend to do with it now that you can put a name to it?

Leave your comments below.