Cognitive Dissonance and Abuse Recovery

Have you ever felt like no matter what you do you can’t seem to get a handle on your thoughts and feelings? You miss him but also know he hurt you. You’re desperately in love with him but he also hurt you.

If that resonates with you, you’re not alone. This is cognitive dissonance at play.

I didn’t realize just how important this concept is and how our brain uses it in an attempt to keep us safe and stress free until recently.

In this post I break down not only what cognitive dissonance is but also how to fight through it.

Let’s go.

What the heck is cognitive dissonance?

Cognitive Dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

This means that your actions and beliefs don’t match the knowledge put in front of you.

For example, if I present you with solid proof that the relationship you’re in is abusive, you’ll shrug and say “oh wow, that’s horrible! So many people are in horrible relationships like that. I’m glad I’m not.”

This is caused by the constant confusion that happens within the relationship. Just like hot and cold air come together to make a tornado, the positive (I love him and he’s awesome) and negative (he’s abusive) thoughts come together to create a chaotic tornado in your mind.

Here’s an excerpt from an article on Medium.com:

“Cognitive dissonance is known by other terms, such as brain fog, double-think, double mind, or simply, it’s known as confusion.

The confusion is so chronic that it distorts the perception of the abuser. Meaning you’re not able to differentiate between who the person is and who he is not, you’re not able to distinguish between the reality and non-reality components of his personality.”

This impacts how the brain functions and how it sees the world. The brain constantly chases after the good, but the more it pushes down the bad the more chaos is created.

How it applies to recovery

In an abusive relationship, you’re trapped in the tornado. You can’t see more than a few feet in front of you.

Here’s some awesome insight from GoodTherapy.org:

“A simplistic, condensed example in a toxic relationship: an abuser professes love and divines a marriage date with their partner. The partner is courted, romanced, and ultimately falls in love with the abuser, not knowing that the abuser has ulterior motives (i.e., not staying in the relationship). The partner envisions wedding details and enjoys the courtship, flowers, and being placed on a pedestal. The abuser then suddenly makes a comment denying they said anything about getting married. They go on to say the partner is “crazy” for thinking that. Blame is then projected upon the partner, and the partner is dizzy with confusion, recalling that, indeed, their significant other did discuss wedding bells and a future together.

The partner then experiences a state of cognitive dissonance—a hazy unreality of confusion. Such emotional abuse renders the target confused and reeling with heartache that the pace of the relationship has slammed to an abrupt halt, in addition to feelings of betrayal and being blamed.”

Now throw in the fact that the partner doesn’t know what cognitive dissonance is or why the brain is doing this and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Not only is the partner feeling the confusion, but they’re also feeling the guilt for staying.

You know that something is off but you stay any way which just adds fuel to this cognitively dissonant fire.

More great info from Medium.com:

“Your mind tries to find more and more distorted pieces of evidence for the less painful belief, which in most cases, is, “he is a good person, and he’s abusive because I did something wrong or he was stressed.”

As the dissonance becomes more prominent in terms of the confusion, the abuse is suppressed more. It is either normalized or minimized in extreme cases.”

Recognizing how this affects your brain and your recovery journey will help you to further understand how to move forward as you continue to recover.

How to fight it

According to GoodTherapy.org,

“Being able to vocalize or write about the particulars of the experience releases the trauma and enables the survivor to reduce cognitive dissonance and continue with the healing work. Talking to a licensed, compassionate therapist can be one helpful step in moving toward healing.”

Talking it out with someone is one of the best things you can do. Reaching out to a therapist and discussing your experience can help you to dig into the root of the problem so you can get to the bottom of what’s holding you back on your recovery journey. Also, getting outside perspective will validate what you’re going through and help to break that cognitive dissonant pattern.

Medium.com makes this amazing point:

“You may have also noticed when you are not in bad shape emotionally or when you are stable, it easier for you to see the real face of the abuser.

Therefore, the real cause behind Cognitive Dissonance is not a messed up mind, but a very protective and survival mode that aims at helping you to survive.”

It’s important to recognize that it isn’t that your brain is broken or there’s something wrong with you. It’s your brain desperately trying to keep you safe and comfortable. When you can provide a safe place for your brain to truly open up, you’ll begin to grow and heal.

Cognitive dissonance is a beast all on it’s own.

It’s desperately trying to keep you safe and sane while unknowingly keeping you stuck.

But while it’s hard to work through, it most certainly isn’t impossible. If you commit to working through the thoughts that create the tornado in your mind, you’ll see growth.

If I could leave you with one last thing, give yourself grace. This is going to take time and because of that it becomes easy to get quite frustrated with ourselves. Try to take a step back and instead celebrate that you’re doing the work. You’ve committed to yourself and that is a reason to party.

Don’t try to rush it. Take your time. You’ve got this, boo!

If this resonated with you and you’re ready to take your power back, then you should check out the Worthy of Recovery printable journal. Every day for 30 days you’ll complete a journal prompt and document your gratitude and your daily victories. Worried that you don’t have the time? Included with the journal is a course that teaches you how to journal your way to freedom in less than 15 minutes a day. As an added bonus, you also get over 45 printable affirmation cards. It has all the pieces that helped me on my recovery journey and I know it’ll help you, too. Click here to grab yours!

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