Thursday, April 30, 2015

on cognitive dissonance

That's the fancy name for living in a way that is in conflict with your conscience.

It's like a permanent stone in your shoe, or a feeling that something is always just, well, off.

Some who live in a way that is not in alignment with our deepest beliefs experience depression, anxiety, and even physical ailments. I remember having this conversation with myself at different points in my life:

Me #1:
"I wish I knew why I am feeling this overwhelming sadness and having all these frightening, negative and critical thoughts"

Me #2:
"But you do know!"

Me #1:
"Do not!"

Me #2:
"Do so!"

(after several repeats)

Me #2:
"Look, there are these several things that you are doing that you know you really don't feel good about, and they are actually hurting you, spiritually, emotionally and physically." 

Me #1:
"But to stop any of it would mean major changes. It's too scary! I don't know what my life would be like! What if I will be lonely, or lose my friends?"

Me #2:
"It's true that there is an element of the unknown, but who's to say it would be a negative change? Maybe good things will happen. One thing is true, that at least you will be free of the burden that is eating you up on the inside!" 

Me #1:
 "Maybe I am just like this. Maybe I should just accept the way things are now. I can rearrange the furniture and put a new coat of paint. Maybe then I will feel better about everything. 

"That's pretty much what you have been doing, How's that working out?" 

"Okay, I know. I guess I really have known. Maybe it is harder to try to keep the plates all spinning than to hope for some peace. Maybe I will do one thing and see how that goes."

Me #2:
"Yup. And you will find that if you do the first thing, the next one will be easier."

I'm sure you have heard the saying, "Better to face the devil you know than the devil you don't."
Perhaps this is one rationalization we have for staying stuck in patterns in life that are holding us back. I would say that if the "devil we know" is the thing we are finding comfort in and the "devil we don't" is the thing we are afraid of on the other side of change, then, friends, the only devil is the real one who is whispering in your ear that you just can't do it.

For my part, changing my life was not something I did on my own. All I did was humbly admit that my own tactics of never confronting my fears or challenging my methods was definitely NOT WORKING. I knew deep down all along, that God was calling me to follow and trust Him, and all my efforts to do it _my way_ were only amounting to sadness and harm. I had several light bulb moments that pretty much woke me up to the fact that I had to do SOMETHING and soon.

The biggest thing I did was to simply allow God in. I considered what He had to say to me, and asked His help. For me, the turning point was the hardest part. Overcoming the fear was like the drop of oil that got the gears in motion. It wasn't all kittens and picnic lunches from there, but the huge relief that ensued from gradually resolving the cognitive dissonance was like being able to breathe again. It was one step at a time, and frankly, still is.

Cognitive dissonance, in the language of the Church, is simply conviction of sin. And it is a huge grace, not a negative, shaming thing at all. The only shame is in refusing His love and grace.

I think living the Christian life is one long, continual conversion, as we allow Him to conform us to His life for us. It is resolving cognitive dissonance one sliver at a time, towards ultimate peace. The Church provides the vehicle for us to ride upon, partaking of Christ in the Eucharist and the other sacraments that help care for us in this life, and assist us to the next.

It is a great gift and grace, to be able to lay our heads on our pillow at night, and be able to sleep in peace and security. We know that we are not perfect, but that we are on the road with Him, going where He leads, and not flailing around on our own.

I would ask your continued prayers for my family and for me.



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