Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. (Wickipedia) We are not beings that live well with dissonance. In fact we need to find a way of dealing with it when it shows up because cognitive dissonance can destroy our peace of mind and sometimes affect our bodies as well. Once I was given the opportunity to write a Healing Journey story of a breast cancer survivor. After surgery she was faced by the prospect of having chemotherapy and it horrified her. She explained to me that the logical argument in favour had convinced her that she must go ahead yet her body was crying out, “don’t poison me.” She proceeded in this state of cognitive dissonance to have the treatment with disastrous outcomes. First her clinical experience was a nightmare; everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong and then she had to deal with side effects that seemed unbearable.
She consulted one of my colleagues at the Centre for Integrated Healing for support. “I can’t stand it,” she told him, “you have to help me.” After listening to her dilemma, he realized that she needed to make friends with her decision and explored ways that she could correct the dissonance that was having such a negative effect. The answer that emerged came from the fact that she was reading Harry Potter to her ten-year old daughter. Somehow the reality of the dark world that Harry was exploring helped her develop a context for her chemotherapy that seemed to help her deal with it. She would see it as a “dark potion” conjured up in a magical world that could only harm the bad cells and not touch the good.
Of course the test came when her next bout of chemotherapy occurred and amazingly everything shifted. Not only did her clinical experience improve but the side effects diminished dramatically. The mind has enormous power to control both positive and negative outcomes and finding tools to resolve dissonance and make friends with your decision are very important. A process of conscious decision-making like the DecisionClarity model can help achieve this result. At the end of the process there is a sense of clarity and wellbeing that emanates from a journey through your inner landscape; this can help you make friends with your decision. I worked with someone who was trying to decide whether to leave her successful career and the answer was “not yet but the sign will be when a package is offered you.” I helped her associate her decision with the positive clarity she was feeling at the time. About three months later she called me and said a package had been offered to her. “How did you feel?” I asked. “At first there was a sense of anxiety and fear but it completely diminished when I recalled the way I felt about my decision.” She had made friends with it three months earlier and it had no power to upset her. Any dissonance was long gone