Cognitive Dissonance: The Saboteur Narcissistic Abuse Victims Rely On

Cognitive Dissonance

The Saboteur Narcissistic Abuse Victims Rely On

Written by Randi Fine, Narcissistic Abuse Expert

Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term used to describe the mental discomfort that comes from having two conflicting thoughts at the same time. Driven to relieve the loss of mental equilibrium, people delude themselves by rejecting, avoiding or rationalizing the uncomfortable information away. This leads to an alteration of beliefs, attitudes, or values that may in hindsight seem irrational.

If you have suffered emotional abuse from your relationship with a narcissistic predator you have surely experienced, and may continue to experience cognitive dissonance. To maintain power and control over their victims, narcissists calculatingly and deliberately create this brain confusion.  Victims become caught between believing what they see and doing whatever it takes to cling to the toxic relationship. They rationalize the truth away, convincing themselves with excuses such as:

  • She bruised my arm but didn’t mean to hurt me. She really is a good person.
  • He makes me feel terrible most of the time, but the good things about him outweigh the bad.
  • I know she loves me even though she’s treating me poorly. If I give her what she wants and show her how much I love her, our perfect relationship will get back on track.
  • He never lets me live in peace, but I am equally responsible for the problems we’re having.
  • I don’t think this relationship can be repaired so I just need to look the other way and make it work. 
  • I should leave him, but he can’t survive without me/ I can’t survive without him.
  • If I try to stop the abuse she will make me suffer more.
  • He always blames me when I point out a problem. Maybe it is my fault.
  • She says I am too demanding. Maybe I’m the narcissist, not her.
  • He did a terrible thing, but I’m not perfect either.
  • Her coercive control is suffocating me but I am grateful to be in a relationship.
  • Her behavior around others is despicable but it’s my job to defend her.
  • My parents ruined my life, but I must still respect their opinion and protect their privacy.
  •  I hate my parents and never want to talk to them again, but others will judge me poorly if I don’t.

Think about what you experience every time your abuser suddenly shifts moods, rages, or accuses you of something you did not do.  Do you get anxious? Do you freeze? Are you unable to think clearly? During these episodes, cognitive dissonance will come into play. The fear, confusion, and distrust of perception you experience are so traumatizing, you will do anything to make those feelings stop. So you whitewash over the reality that the abuse cycle is reoccurring—perhaps convince yourself that you always blow these situations out of proportion—to calm down the unbearable turmoil stirring inside you.

How many times have you refused to see the truth of who your abuser is and perhaps the danger you are in because acceptance of it is too overwhelming? Accepting the reality means you have to take action; something you are terrified to do. This is cognitive dissonance.

Have you done something that is morally against your values because you wanted to please your abuser? That could not have happened without cognitive dissonance.

Does “love” keep you from leaving? Have you convinced yourself that your abuser really does love you and cling to the truth that you love your abuser more than life itself? If you would allow yourself to see the truth, could you deny that your relationship is anything but loving? But that is not an acceptable reality so cognitive dissonance takes over.  

Does accepting the fact that you were an abused child cause so much guilt inside that you cannot bear to face it, so you insist your parents did love you—did treat you well? And you try to continue a loving relationship with them only to get emotionally pummeled with every encounter. But the guilt that comes from acceptance is too much to bear so you refuse to give up.  Cognitive dissonance keeps you coming back for more abuse.

Is it possible to stop denying the truth of your situation and justifying the actions of your abuser? It absolutely is. The problem is that dissonant beliefs strengthen every time you rely on them. Their influence over you becomes stronger and stronger with use.  And you have been conditioned after prolonged exposure to a narcissist to distrust your perception, so you have lost sight of reality, you cannot think , and you have become reliant on external validation to tell you who you are.

Some suggestions for changing these patterns are:

  • Tell a trusted friend, someone who is very understanding and patient and will hold you accountable, to keep bringing you back to reality; and then trust their guidance even if it feels uncomfortable to do it.
  • Keep a list of every abusive episode you experience, how you reacted, and what a better reaction might have been. Refer to it often for a reliable dose of reality.
  • Seek out a narcissistic abuse expert who knows how to help you overcome your maladaptive patterns and replace them with healthier ones.  Highly recommended.

You do not have to remain in the dysfunctional relationship you are in. There is an emotionally healthy life awaiting you—whenever you decide you are ready. Don’t sacrifice your power for a temporary comfort. You can do this!

Randi Fine is an internationally renowned narcissistic abuse expert and coach, and the author of the groundbreaking book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing, the most comprehensive, most well researched, and most up-to-date book on this subject. In addition to helping survivors recognize their abuse and heal from it, this book teaches mental health professionals how to recognize and properly treat the associated abuse syndrome. She is also the author of Cliffedge Road: A Memoir, the first and only book to characterize the life-long progression of complications caused by narcissistic child abuse.

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