cognitive dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance: 4 Ways It Can Negatively Impact You

Carrie Gajowski
Sep 10, 2023

What is cognitive dissonance?

According to Psychology Today, “Cognitive dissonance is a term for the state of discomfort felt when two or more modes of thought contradict each other. The clashing cognitions may include ideas, beliefs, or the knowledge that one has behaved in a certain way.”  Your brain will then seek consistency to reduce this discomfort and will try to reconcile the thoughts or ideas that contradict each other. 

How does this all relate to narcissistic abuse recovery?

This is one of the ways that we remain stuck in abusive relationships. Remember in the first few weeks or months with your narcissist how everything seemed so perfect? How you believed that your relationship would last forever? Those ideas got imprinted in your mind, and it can be hard to let go of them when new information is revealed about your spouse/partner. For example, when you find out that your partner has been cheating on you, you remember that he told you that he is always faithful to his partners and never cheats. So instead of integrating the new information that he could be unfaithful to you, you might be tempted to disregard this new information. You might deny that this is a problem for you that he is unfaithful or make excuses for his behavior. A common statement that I hear when I work with people involved with a person with strong narcissistic traits is “I just need that person to be who he/she was at the beginning of the relationship. Then everything will be good again.” Cognitive dissonance can create a form of denial that can present in narcissistic relationships.

When the narcissist shows you other, less than desirable traits, you might be quick to push them away, rationalizing them by saying to yourself that “they didn’t mean that”, “they wouldn’t do anything mean to anyone”, or “they were just having a bad day and that is why they lashed out at me”. There is a strong tendency to not believe what you are seeing and experiencing. And when we don’t believe that these less than desirable traits can be a problem, we might strengthen our resolve to stay with our abuser and bet on that person’s potential rather than betting on the reality in front of us.


    1. Deny red flags: We see things that aren’t working for us on a deeper level but we deny these are a problem because we know that our partner won’t be open to the issues we bring to the table. So we begin denying the issues and the problems. We might secretly hope that the issues will just go away on their own. 

    1. Staying instead of leaving: This is very common. We might think that if we try harder, we can make this relationship work. We might acknowledge that the relationship doesn’t work for us but we stay for a multitude of reasons. We stay because we want the “original” person to come back. We stay because we fear rejection/abandonment. We stay because we feel deep down that we don’t deserve anyone better. We also stay because we have been taught to accept second best in relationships. We also stay to “prove” to our partner that we are worthy of their love and attention.

    1. Change our beliefs, values and ideas: Sometimes, we start changing what is important to us to make the other person happy. This can leave us feeling horrible about ourselves as we are betraying who we are in the process. We may abandon what is true for us (beliefs, values, ideas) in favor of how the other person views the world.

    1. Justify bad behavior: It can be very easy to justify bad behavior from your spouse/partner especially when you view them from the lens of who they appeared to be at the beginning of your relationship. Ideally, you need to start looking at their actual behavior today and not who they were at the beginning. If the person was being authentic at the beginning, they would still be the same person and you wouldn’t be trying to justify their bad behavior. It can be a slippery slope when we tolerate complicated behaviors from our spouse/partner. The more we tolerate their bad behavior, the worse it can get sometimes.

Get Help To Deal With A Narcissist From Clear Directions Therapy

Individuals with strong narcissistic traits have been known to cause distress in their relationships with those around them. It is important to understand how to spot a narcissist and the best ways to deal with one. Clear Directions Therapy can help you identify these traits and provide resources on how to cope with them. Through individual therapy sessions, I can assess your relationship dynamics and recommend strategies that are tailored specifically to your needs. Contact me today at .


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Hi, I’m Carrie.

I’m passionate about working with people who are dealing with challenging relationships. I want to empower you to make decisions that work for you.

Start your journey now.



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