Have you heard of Cognitive Dissonance?

Are you aware of what it is?

Have you seen it in action in yourself? In others?

What can you do when you are struggling with this yourself?

How can you help yourself when seeing this in others?

In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance occurs when a person holds contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values, and is typically experienced as psychological stress or literal head pain. The discomfort is triggered by the person’s belief clashing with new information, and so they try to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce the discomfort. When two actions or ideas are not psychologically consistent with each other, people do all in their power to change them until they become consistent or resolve this discrepancy.

Sometimes one can literally feel like the brain almost is splitting as it works to make sense of this new information. Often there is outright resistance. So, it can show up as denial, or in words like: I can’t believe that is true! So and so wouldn’t do something like that- I know him or her!  That’s impossible. You’re making this up! You’re blowing this out of proportion – it can’t be that bad!  

Most survivors of childhood abuse experience cognitive dissonance [CD] when some memories start to surface. Sometimes there are no picture memories, or only bits and pieces that appear out of nowhere or perhaps there are waves of intense emotions that cause extreme anxiety or terror without pictures and it’s not certain where or why this is happening. These are Emotional Flashbacks.

When these begin to happen sometimes the abuse victim has periods of Cognitive Dissonance. This is because she or he is trying to make sense of what is happening inside.

Other times these same victims will experience CD from others when they start to tell their story.

Often the ones that the abuse survivors hoped would believe them and or support them don’t believe the survivor. Those with cognitive dissonance are in total denial of what happened.

It’s good to remember this – Denial is a choice. This is because it stems from ignorance, a lack of understanding and education, which are choices one makes.

Yes, Denial is a choice. In fact, for some abuse survivors you’ll see how CD can be so deep that these ones even deny their denial. Denial is contagious and I see it as another pandemic in our world.

Years ago, I heard this expression: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”  Meaning we cannot convince another unless that person wants to and is willing to be open to other ideas or possibilities. If that person is willing to entertain the idea that he or she may not have all the facts, then they may be open to the new information.

How does CD show up in others besides denial of your experiences? Well, it can manifest in avoidance of the topic or in avoidance of you, the one talking of a sex crime.  It can manifest in retaliation or slander of the victim, and the like. Usually, it’s more often shown in quiet or covert disagreement.

How do you deal with this pain, the feeling of judgement and or rejection by the cognitive dissonance of others?

Here are a few things that helped me work through this.

Change your thinking– how?

  • Adopt Radical Acceptance– over time I learned to accept that there will always be those who don’t want to hear the truth. It is not our job to change another’s thinking.

There may also be resistance to accept the fact that each one of us humans is capable of having egregious or wicked thoughts and even acting on them. Fortunately, most of us don’t act on them.

  • Change Management stats: show that when there is a change being implemented about 20% buy in right away, 60% need more information to concede or agree and 20% will never agree and probably resist the change. So, for the sake of your own healing, focus on that 20% who believe you right away and acknowledge that the other 60% may just need more time to assess and gather more information.

It is a disservice to child abuse victim/survivors if all energy is focused on the 20% who will never “get it” nor believe. Focussing on this group is a guaranteed road of futility, discouragement, and needless suffering. For healing it’s beneficial to let that last 20% go.

Get moving

  • Do something every day to burn off the stress that the body has held onto for so long. You can dance, walk, hike, anything that moves your body and dissipates its stress.

Practice Mindfulness

  • The purpose of this is to gently learn to notice what’s happening around you and when you’re ready, to notice what’s happening inside you. Trauma recovery needs self awareness for healing. I have some Mindfulness practices for members of the Kaleidoscope Community.

Understand the level of shame that your childhood trauma caused and notice how it’s impacted your life

Practice Self Compassion

  1. Self compassion is the antidote to shame.
  2. Be patient with yourselves as these memories start to arise. Work hard at not judging self.
  3. Learn to love yourself not necessarily despite childhood experiences, rather, because of them.
  4. Be determined to change negative and self-defeating thinking into a mindset that is healthy and conducive to reaching recovery goals instead of hindering.
  5. Connect with a certified Trauma Recovery Coach who can help you navigate your healing journey, assuring you feel and see that you’re not alone, that you matter, that your pain matters.

I trust it has been helpful to learn what cognitive dissonance is, how it shows up and learning what you can do make self more open to your own healing journey. Feel free to print this off and/or refer to it as you continue to develop healthy coping strategies for your own trauma recovery.

I trust that this has been helpful for you. If you’d like further information on how to show self compassion or identifying what the next step is in your healing journey, feel free to contact me.


Lisa B Hilton, CTRC, of Hilton Coaching & Consulting, is a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach and supports adult survivors of childhood traumas and neglect. Her focus is walking with the client in their healing journey supporting the transformation of travesty into triumph.


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