4 Ways To Reduce Cognitive Dissonance

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Dodging Energy Vampires Mood Issues & Stress Relationships

As humans, we tend to seek consistency in our beliefs and actions. So, when you have two conflicting thoughts at the same time, or when you engage in behavior that conflicts with your beliefs, you are apt to feel a sense of discomfort. This is known as cognitive dissonance.  And, if you’re like most people, when you are in a state of dissonance, you feel a need to resolve it.

A very common example of cognitive dissonance occurs in people who smoke. They know smoking causes cancer, so the act of continuing to smoke despite the damaging effects on their health causes cognitive dissonance. Another common example of dissonance is experienced by people who join a cult then realize that their beliefs and those of the cult leaders are not in line.

Life is filled with situations that create dissonance every day. In fact, every time you are faced with making a decision there is the possibility of dissonance. The dissonance we experience on a daily basis is usually insignificant enough that we reduce it automatically – often without even knowing — and move on. However, when beliefs and actions that are important to us conflict, we experience a greater level of psychological discomfort. 

Now, experiencing cognitive dissonance is not always a bad thing.  In fact, the process of reducing dissonance can actually help you weigh both sides of a situation so that you can make the best decision.

How Does Cognitive Dissonance Feel?

Everyone has a different level of tolerance for dissonance and it really can’t be measured objectively. So, how do you know what it feels like?  For most people, dissonance feels uncomfortable, like a nagging feeling that something isn’t right, but it doesn’t create a huge problem in your life. Others may feel the need to change something to resolve their nagging discomfort. 

On the more extreme side of the spectrum, dissonance could manifest as anxiety, especially if it involves a long-held belief, such as a religious belief or moral, that is being challenged. For example, if you grew up in a strict fundamentalist religion and were taught that sex before marriage is a sin, you may find yourself in a state of cognitive dissonance if you begin a sexual relationship before marriage. This can also occur if you were taught that something is inherently wrong with you if you are gay. (This kind of dissonance was far more common in the past than it is now, though it still exists.) Some people experience feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, or anger as an effect of cognitive dissonance. If the dissonance is great, some people may even feel they have become immoral, or they can develop a lack of self-worth until the dissonance is resolved.

3 Proven Ways To Reduce Cognitive Dissonance

If you don’t want to live with a high degree of dissonance, you must change something in order to bring back balance. While complete consistency all of the time in everything we believe and do is almost impossible to achieve, experts typically recognize three ways to reduce cognitive dissonance:

  1. Change your behavior.  One way to reduce cognitive dissonance is to change a dissonant behavior. A person who regularly drinks alcohol then drives, may stop drinking, or they may decide to hire an Uber after having a few drinks. Changing either behavior relieves cognitive dissonance and brings their actions into harmony with what they know to be true about the dangers of drinking and driving.
  2. Change your beliefs. My friend, Paulanne Balch, M., says that our construction of “the way things are” is constantly being adjusted to relieve dissonance. In other words, our minds are constantly filtering out conflicting data to support our beliefs.  So, a person who smokes may look for, and believe, scientific research that says smoking does not necessarily cause cancer. That way, when they continue their behavior, they experience less dissonance.
  3. Justify your beliefs and behavior. A good example of this is a person who spends money frivolously. They might convince themselves that throwing their money away is ok, saying things such as “you can’t take it with you.” Another example is when a person who engages in risky behavior says “you’ve got to live every day to the fullest. You never know when it will be your last” in an attempt to rationalize their risky behavior.

Cognitive Dissonance and the Energy Vampire Relationship

Energy vampires are masters at creating dissonance in their relationships. They often use abuse tactics — intimidation, emotional and physical abuse, economic abuse, sexual abuse, social isolation, and more – in order to maintain power and control over their victims. The threat of abuse is always present and usually becomes more frequent (and even violent) with time.

Because of this, energy-vampire-victims doubt their gut reactions when it comes to the dynamics of the relationship and continues to cling to their narcissistic partner despite living in fear of what will happen next – “Will he love bomb me, or pick a fight and walk out?” This keeps you torn between believing what you want to believe about them –  the narcissist is capable of changing into someone who can really love you if you simply pay enough attention to them and care enough — versus the reality that their behavior is anything but loving. And, they continue to shame, belittle, criticize and punish you. Thus, extreme dissonance is created.

For a person in an energy-vampire-relationship, finding ways to reduce cognitive dissonance is a primary defense mechanism — it’s the path of least resistance that you believe will keep you safe. For example, you may justify your situation by lying to yourself, saying “he loves me and everything will go back to normal as soon as (fill in the blank).”  Of course, every time the vampire does something hurtful, you experience the stress of cognitive dissonance.

The problem for victims of narcissistic abuse who have lived with cognitive dissonance for a long time is that they actually experience brain changes similar to those in people with PTSD. They also develop a whole host of physical symptoms (often called autoimmune diseases) and can even suffer “executive function” brain disorders.  They literally can’t think straight. This makes it difficult for them to change their situation until they learn how to trust themselves again. Techniques such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing(EMDR)Therapy and Tapping can help enormously.

How To Reduce Dissonance After An Energy Vampire Relationship

If you are in an energy-vampire-relationship, you need strategies to protect yourself.  Once you are free from your energy vampire, you need to reduce dissonance in order to begin healing. 

In addition to the three ways described above, in my experience, there is actually a fourth way to reduce cognitive dissonance when it is associated with energy vampires — you must receive validation for your circumstances. This can occur in therapy, when speaking to a close friend about your trauma, or even when writing about your experiences as I have in my book, Dodging Energy Vampires.

Have you struggled with cognitive dissonance?  What was your experience and how did you resolve it?

 

Last Updated: May 22, 2018

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

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  1. Donna
    3 weeks ago

    Together 17 years, married for 14, 3 children. The justifying, the explaining, the reasoning that went on in my head to make sense of how I was been treated by my covert narc husband and the constant overriding noise of my gut. I left 6 months ago exhausted, not sleeping, a auto-immune disease and with only half a plan. Since then, the energy and clarity that has slowly returned has given me the strength to move forward with my life. I’m living with my parents, driving my children 1 hour each way to their schools in a borrowed car and I have no money. But I haven’t felt this happy and free in 17 years. Divorce process is underway and my new found strength has given me the power to respond and to no longer react to his continued abuse.

  2. Wendy
    3 weeks ago

    I finished Energy Vampires about a week ago and it opened my eyes as to why I felt such shame with myself. I have loving parents but from a young age was told that family members didn’t love me because I was born, my heritage and other negative beliefs about my intelligence and existence. I grew up ashamed of who I was and was always wanting approval and to be liked by all. All those years of looking for that acceptance broke my heart many times.
    My husband resented me for going to graduate school because that meant he didn’t have attention. after 9 years that resentment has developed another type of attitude that is draining. Not to get into too much information but he is an only child and was used to getting everything he wanted. It is very upsetting having a man pout like a child.
    Narcissistic boss made me ill for 5 years until I was able to find another job…….had some PTSD and worked through the anxiety with a therapist.
    I turned into the overachiever and unfortunately still suffer with the idea that I have not achieved enough.
    I plan on working through these issues so that I can thrive and be there for my children.
    Not to mention my body is going through changes as well….
    There are so many women with different stories and I was very thankful to have read your book. I bought another copy for one of my friends going through a rough time with her narcissistic husband.
    I know I am not crazy and that my intuitions are strong.
    I read a lot, exercise and have taken up new hobbies— I know not everyone can do this and I pray for all women that they can find some help and comfort knowing we are all sisters.
    My heart goes out to all.

  3. Nancee
    4 weeks ago

    Dr. Northrup,
    Thank you for bringing this topic to the forefront. I am finding after my experience, that there are so many of us empaths that benefit from your explanation. Yes, it is like a PTSD! I was married to an energy vampire for 37 years and should have divorced him 20 years ago. I was always afraid that I could not survive on my own (that is what he constantly told me) and finally 17 months ago I made the break and am free of the verbally and emotionally abusive relationship. I am in therapy at my local abuse therapy center and am very thankful for every day that I am healing and grieving at the same time. It is going to take a long time to get over the fact that someone could purposely try to hurt me, and I truly believe he was trying to make me sick to possibly get rid of me. I was so sick at the time I left with all kinds of stomach issues and after one week away from the marriage all of my symptoms disappeared. I had been to various doctors trying to find out what was wrong with me; gut issues, diarrhea, vomiting, anxiety and if someone had told me that he was causing it I wouldn’t have believed them. It has been a very hard 17 months, his anger issues with the divorce, his new girlfriend after 10 days, him threatening to ruin me, lies, retirement hopes shattered and having to share my family inheritance with him was the worst of all. My parents are turning over in their grave that he is living a grand lifestyle with their hard earned money, while I will now have to go back to work to support myself. I know it will all be worth it in the long run but I am just glad the “lightbulb” went on in my head and I finally was able to say “I am done!”
    Thank you for telling us all that we aren’t crazy because that is how they make us feel, now I know he was the psychopath, not me. My therapist said “it is so gradual, you don’t even know it is happening.” I have written on my bathroom mirror “I survived and now is my time to Thrive.”
    Please keep up the great work that you do on this topic…..we need you!

  4. Sierra
    4 weeks ago

    I’m afraid to read your book. I fear I won’t have what it takes to do what needs to be done. Considering the vampire is my child’s father, guess who he uses as bate? How can one what forgive him or herself for such a “bad” choice… It’s next to impossible :'(
    I’m going through Somatic Experiencing with a therapist, and I wonder if it’s enough? I might try EMDR again, perhaps I didn’t keep at it long enough?

    In any case,
    You are a tremendous comfort Dr Northrup and I thank you for everything you do.

  5. Lillie Lee
    4 weeks ago

    Nero Emotional Technique also heals PTSD and normalizes the brain.

  6. Elaine Correia
    1 month ago

    I have noticed that when I say yes when I’d rather say no, don’t speak up when I need to call an employee or partner on their behavior that I get really tired, frustrated, angry and feel like a victim. I am more aware of these things now and have started speaking up, but I still defer important conversations. I can see how these actions can create dissonance and inner discord.

    Is not speaking up a big challenge for empaths in particular? I’m wondering if it is the core action that affects self worth, boundaries, self care and much more. I’m wondering if you can comment. Thanks.

  7. Connie
    1 month ago

    Thank you, Thank you Christiane Northrup!
    Your life work has been a blessing over and over. Now once again you are there with your wisdom sharing.
    Quick question: what was the name of the organization that works with trauma from energy vampires?
    Thank you again.

  8. Joan Darling
    1 month ago

    Christine, you have hit the nail on the head! And Desensitized over desonence! Wow!
    I didn’t know other people were like me. 38 years in a tumultuous relationship, always being in protective mode, never being able to share, no, receive the love I believe I’m worth, but giving, giving, giving instead.
    I barely recognize myself, withered within. Always questioning my actions, tiptoeing around how I say things, and more often, not saying anything for fear he will get angry, or verbally attack me, or just ignore what I said.
    I’m 69 and think, well, too late to change now.
    Need to get your book!

  9. Maureen
    1 month ago

    I was a lonely widow 7 years ago and fell for a man 20 years my junior because he said all the things I wanted to hear. I realized after a very short time that the feelings I had about him and the relationship were fantasy because he seemed to be an emotional void. I kept thinking in time it would get better, that eventually he would respond to my attentions, my cooking, the sharing of my home, etc. etc. Of course, all of that had no effect on him whatsoever. Normal conversation with this person was impossible, communication almost non-existent. I continued to make excuses for him, and soon developed some mysterious physical symptoms. I went to therapy. The therapist was ready to contact adult protective services on my behalf. I said I would handle it myself. There was never any physical abuse – just a seemingly empty person. Oh, I wondered, what could have happened in his childhood or early life to cause this? I was always looking for an explanation for his behavior – until I listened to one of your lectures during the Hay House World Summit. And there it was. You were talking about me! It was shocking, but that’s what I needed. I have accepted that I can’t help this person, and have finally made moves to get him out of my life. It’s way better for me to be alone than live like that. Anyway, it really wasn’t living at all.

  10. SG
    1 month ago

    Thank you for getting this information out to people. I will spend the rest of my life in hiding from my ex who was diagnosed as a sociopath during our long drawn out divorce and child custody battle. He still got full custody, bankrupted me and continues to try to find me 15 years later. Our courts fail miserably in dealing with these personality disorders. So thank you. Hopefully there is a future for others that will keep them safe from these people destroying their families and lives.

  11. steve
    1 month ago

    So, true. my mother is bipolar spectrum, and she has a very narcissistic abusive grandiose personality, especially when she isn’t depressed. she functions as an energy vampire, most of the time. she even accused other people of “stealing energy”, long before it was a recognized. she was projecting her own behaviors. and i have been diagnosed with childhood PTSD. so, i have experienced this dissonance very much

  12. Claire Brown
    1 month ago

    Firstly, THANK YOU – I really don’t think the health effects of this can be under-estimated. I’m interested in what you say about EV victims developing symptoms of auto-immune diseases. I left my EV nearly 20 years ago (after a 20-year marriage) but it was only about 5 years ago that I developed a host of mysterious symptoms. To cut a long story short, I got so frustrated with the doctors, specialists etc that I ended seeing a psycho-analyst. She told me to write about it which I did, almost solidly for about 3 weeks. Two days after I stopped writing I was taken to hospital in an ambulance, unable to move my legs or empty my bladder. I was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis. That was 18 months ago and I’m much improved – in a funny way I’m almost grateful because I have finally released myself and this has also coincided with me stumbling across your amazing work on this very subject.
    I’ve realised now that in the years after leaving my EV, it was almost as though my own inner voice carried on the Emotional Vampire work inside my head with continual reminders of the shame, the fear, the guilt (although that voice sounded remarkably like my ex-husband’s!). I wouldn’t say this out loud to a lot of people but I can’t help thinking that for me to get an auto-immune disease like MS (which I have no family history of), whereby the immune system attacks its own protective insulation around the nerve cells is somehow connected to that whole nightmare scenario. I’m telling you my story because I believe that your message, along with others such as Mario Martinez is SO important in shining a light on these issues and in possible prevention, research and healing.

  13. Ginger
    1 month ago

    yes. My husband was partners on a sailboat with a narcissist. I tried to stay out of his way but he kept coming at me over and over. I saw in his wife the things you describe the PTSD the autoimmune weaknesses and the executive function deficits. It was a horrible experience and I’m glad it is over but I still think about his wife and what she lives with.

  14. Becky
    1 month ago

    I was married for 33 years to a chronic cheating narcissistic energy vampire. I wanted to leave after 4 months of marriage but was told that I would embarrass the family. I have had hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue and 3 GI bleeds because of the stress. It took 10 years of planning and saving to get out of the marriage but it almost killed me! I have been divorced 2 years and I praise God everyday. I use meditation, mild exercise, affirmations, quantum biofeedback, and foot zoning to put my shattered pieces back together.

  15. Cathy
    1 month ago

    What you describe as an energy vampire sounds very much like a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. Did this never occur to you?

  16. SoniaP
    1 month ago

    Thank you for this. I have spent many, many years becoming more aware of how my childhood as an hsp with a father who was an energy vampire has severely hampered my self belief and self worth. As a child, of course, I had absolutely no knowledge of what was happening. At times it has been very difficult to be mentally well as stresses and overwhelm from daily life have taken me to dark places which as an empath I have felt deeply and intensely. The feelings are so very real. I continue to grow in awareness; to let go of some of the strategies that held me safe as a child, find new ones and to grow my own light which does not have to fit with everyone.

  17. Kathy
    1 month ago

    I have come out of a relationship with an energy vampire. She love bombed me, took me on a trip to Arizona for 6 months. she with held sex, money, time etc she was not honest with me about her feelings. we had different religious beliefs, it has been a year and now I have to find myself all over again. she wants contact but only for musical reasons, she wants to play music with me but nothing else…I understand how this has affected me, its hard to
    become closer to fine again. but possible, with awareness.

  18. Kat
    1 month ago

    Long-term chronic dissonance when dealing with a Vampire is like a computer calculation where the Checksum never resolves… you (I) sit and recalculate, change variables over & over & over TRYING to make it work (after all, the person is supposed to Love you, right? It must be me, what’s wrong with me? Calc calc calc calc) into depression & anxiety.

    How to resolve? It doesn’t. You (I) just have to leave it. And heal from there.

  19. DD
    1 month ago

    Reading your book was a wonderful experience. Even though I left a 17-year marriage to an energy vampire over 20 years ago I still have health problems because of him.

    I finally left to protect my children.

    When I first left, a good friend said I had a wonderful marriage and I should try counseling. I finally started to talk about his actions. I had always felt our problems should be private – the result was my friends and family had no idea how much I was suffering. And my children suffered. Talking helped me but also helped my friends and family understand how much help I needed to recover from such a ‘wonderful’ vampire.

    I also started journalling in the few months before the end. Amazing how many lies he told me with a straight face. And how often he’d later say something the complete opposite and claim I misunderstood him.

    I also started to share his backhanded compliments (“that’s a pretty dress — too bad it’s not a good colour on you” )

  20. Jan
    1 month ago

    What an excellent article. Cognitive dissonance kept me in a self destructive relationship with a narcissist for over two decades. I have finally broken free and am healing well (thanks to the NARP program). Even today I am witnessing his rage and frustration in a needlessly protracted communication wryly feeling only a small degree of frustration and willing to let go of a sensible outcome rather than give in to the attempt at bullying. But even now from a position of much greater strength I find a part of me doubting myself even while being able to see his tortuous manipulative thinking very clearly. Old bad habits die hard but I am now able to smile at myself and give myself a hug of gratitude for being almost completely free.

  21. Su
    1 month ago

    I’m a care taker for my elderly parents twice a week. My mom is a vampire only to me or my dad. I don’t know how to deal with it. I have tried to change the subject by saying happy thoughts. She complains non stop.

  22. Cheyenbe
    1 month ago

    I left my job as an admin assistant to a judge after 3 months of energy vampire abuse. The admin before me was hospitalized after 6 months on the job. Several times a day my adrenals would flare from the constant bullying, the judge would then go around on a sugar high after harvesting my flares of energy. The cognitive dissonance resonates since rather than telling people the judge was an energy vampire, I would say our relationship was like the dissonant sound of playing middle C and B together on the piano. The bad news in the relationship was that I had to speak up for myself. The good news was that I did speak up for myself. However, my head still feels bruised 4 months after leaving that relationship and I’ll be seeing a doctor next week.

    1. Thea
      1 month ago

      Thank you so much for your amazing information about energy vampires .I was married to an energy vampire for 30 years and10 of those years was spent in depression .thank goodness he left 15 years ago and I have had the best time since and have now become a hypnotherapist, reiki healer and channeler.However I have just come through another vampire relationship having known him as a friend for ,3 years which then turned into a relationship but after 6 months I realised he was draining me so have cut the ties and am in the process of letting him go which is not easy as I work with him every week but I am getting there. Thank you once again.with much love Thea x

    2. Christiane Northrup
      1 month ago

      You describe the phenomenon so very well. Cognitive dissonance is a very real physical challenge. Don’t allow yourself to be put on psychiatric meds though. What works MUCH better is EMDR. You are NOT crazy. You just need some support while you allow your perceptions to heal.

      1. Farah Gopaul
        1 month ago

        I am so glad you haven’t tried medication.

        It is like allowing yourself to heal after PTSD. Its like a concussion. I’m very susceptible to bad and good energy around me as have been a healthcare provider for years.

        In my last job, the bullying was extreme. Illness was at an all time high and my glands in my neck and throat were constantly up.

        Terrified of what was happening to me,,,,,i found the courage to leave. My brain has hurt me, everyday for four months. I felt i couldn’t recall my name far less a password. Its so scary to go from happy and functional to living as a shadow of yourself.

        Iv’e now had 5 months off,,,been offered a new career entirely now. My brain,,,,was able to remember a synonym today while I wrote my Bio for a publisher. I have a wonderful support network and i have had a hard lesson in avoiding the energy vampires.

        And during my life-coaching session yesterday,,,,I rated myself as feeling 7 out of 10 in contentment with my life. One month ago I was still having anxiety and palpitations. I felt so low I wanted to disappear some days into the ether.

        The point is,,,,without Hope and Dreams we really are just robots. And for those of us destined to live life by the horns……being in the wrong environment is a disaster. Because, by our very nature, we are meant to fly.

        Good luck to everyone,,,

        Your brain will heal, find your Source power and never play small in the Game of Life.

        Farah

  23. Luvtranquil
    1 month ago

    Yes, I am so happy to understandThere is a term to explain an undying hope that a narcissist would change although I had no substantial reason to believe that. I only saw potential and that the outside looked good. Nevermind the lying, cheating, manipulating, gaslighting, etc., STDs HIV going on behind closed doors. I am working on accepting reality instead of living in false hope. I have to change to be happy, not the person has to change to make me happy.

    1. Christiane Northrup
      1 month ago

      You’ve got it exactly right. It is SO difficult for an empath to finally just give up and focus on her or himself!!!

  24. Kelly
    1 month ago

    My three years with an energy vampire ‍♂️ caused major cognitive dissonance. He is a malicious master seducer of married women. There are very few experts addressing the targeting of married women by energy vampires!! I am so sad that the seductions by the narcissist worked on me. He actually groomed me for ten years until I submitted. The dissonance is that he created the illusion of having the best times of our lives together. So when I finally cut him off it now seems like my life is lusterless and empty without his high octane love bombing and manufacturing epic moments. And I can’t seem to provide myself with spark or replace those epic memories with quality wholesome memories. The cognitive dissonance that I feel is HOW CAN THE BEST TIMES OF MY LIFE come from a malignant somatic narcissist???? I can’t apeak to anyone about this because I am married to someone else and want to make this marriage my priority and not triangulate my husband with the narc lover (anymore). And yes, the energy vampirism is contagious. I keep seeing how he encouraged me developing narcissistic traits. Ugh.

    1. Christiane Northrup
      1 month ago

      I applaud you for figuring this out. It is NOT EASY. And yes– these characters can be VERY exciting. Real life can seem SO DULL by comparison. But after a while, as you come home to your inner self and your essence, you will begin to see that your best years are all AHEAD!!!

  25. RS
    1 month ago

    Having sex with a man who says he cannot love himself so how can he love me. It will be 38 years of marriage this year and we have not had sex since February for a few reasons but mainly because I want love not just sex. I have read your book (thank you) and yes, he is a vampire but he is also a companion just not the love companion as Disney would define in happy ever after. I have desensitized in order to reduce the dissonance and it helps but it has its flaws.

    1. Christiane Northrup
      1 month ago

      It is my prayer that you will find a path to a life that doesn’t cause you to downplay an actual NEED ( love), in order to stay with this person. But everyone has to find her own timing and her own path!

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