And other possibly confusing, contradictory suggestions. Some might call it advice.
A more hands on definition of cognitive dissonance is: what can happen when we listen to our own bullshit.
For example: I should go exercise today because it will make me feel better. But I should also eat his cupcake, because it will make me feel better. Verdict: the cupcake wins.
Another example: I know smoking causes all kinds of cancer. I am going to smoke this one cigarette and I will be okay.
Brainwashing and cults would not work nearly as well if it were not for our brains ability to hold conflicting information at the same time and then disregard what is in our best interest and choosing the option from—how shall I phrase this—cuckoo town.
It happens when we convince ourselves that the world owes us for our crappy day. It happens when we convince ourselves of having that 4th (or 5th) drink because it feels better than having that hard conversation with our spouse/significant other. It happens when we isolate from people rather than opening up to someone.
It happens all the time when we want a way out. Of anything.
The way out in nearly all of these examples is the defense mechanism called rationalization.
Rationalization: the art of making convenient self-serving excuses for our behavior or specific lack of certain behaviors.
We talk ourselves into doing whatever the hell we really wanted to do in the first place. Or what is easiest. Or what gets us in the least amount of trouble. Whatever rocks the boat the least. You get the idea.
We all rationalize. Everybody. But too much of it, like cupcakes or smoking, causes lots of problems.
It really gets us into trouble when we start rationalizing about other people. If it was just me and my cupcake and smoking problems, I would just sit here and get really fat and full of cancer—no harm to anybody but myself. But, when we start using rationalization in our relationships—watch out.
Rationalizing within our relationships is an excellently bad way of giving away our personal power. Example: My partner doesn’t respect my wishes because I don’t deserve that.
Another example: No one at this bar is asking me to dance, therefore I must be ugly/unappealing/unapproachable/a loser/a lost cause/etc.
You are taking a personal belief (however faulty and incorrect) and using your partner (or your surroundings) to prove the personal belief to yourself. That is pretty nasty. And pretty common.
And the really terrible part of the rationalization is that the person doing the rationalization doesn’t change anything about themselves, doesn’t gain anything helpful about their situation. They just stay in a rut. Unhappy with something about themselves, but unfortunately blaming their environment or other people for the problem.
So how do you point out to someone they are using a rationalization?
First, it will help to expect that the person won’t agree or even believe you. That’s why it is called a defense mechanism.
Its entire raison d’etre is to protect the one who is using it.
Slipping under someone’s defenses is hard work. Therapists fail at it all the time.
So a good place to start is by mentioning just what you notice and experience when you are with them.
“Every time I bring up either your smoking or your cupcake binges, Henry, you change the subject.”
Yes, it is rather direct. And understandably being direct is often difficult for many people. But ask yourself what is stopping you from being direct. Being direct is ideal. This is not a first date, so you aren’t losing points for being less charming. Being direct doesn’t mean you have to be mean about it. You can be nice, polite, charming and direct.
Why am I suggesting direct communication again? It is becoming something of a theme lately, I admit. The opposite of direct communication or bullshit communication is just too prevalent. It wastes too much time and it makes all of us act like fools.
So let’s change the rules