Wikipedia describes cognitive dissonance like this:
In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort(psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. The occurrence of cognitive dissonance is a consequence of a person’s performing an action that contradicts personal beliefs, ideals, and values; and also occurs when confronted with new information that contradicts said beliefs, ideals, and values.
I always had pretty black and white views on what was right and wrong, legal and illegal, fair and unjust and I had no problem speaking my mind when I thought someone was wrong. I never lied, didn’t tolerate lying from anyone else and prided myself on being a very honest upstanding citizen.
The first time I remember questioning my ex’s honesty was when he did a business deal. A neighbor had a motorcycle that had been in a flood, he was afraid to start it because it had been submerged. He offered it to my ex for $400. My ex is an amazing mechanic and can get anything working but he didn’t have $400 at the time and had just lost his job.
The deal was the bike would stay where it was until my ex finished paying for it.
The next day my ex was going through the Buy and Sell; he was always wheeling and dealing and could do quite well at it sometimes. I heard him on the phone saying he owned a motorcycle he was willing to trade for a Mercedes. He was saying, “sure it was running, I just gotten home from riding it”.
I didn’t think it was right to lie, he didn’t know for sure he could even get it running and besides; he hadn’t bought it yet!
Next thing I know he’s got the motorcycle in his shop and he has it running! Apparently he talked the owner into letting him take it home to work on, but he wouldn’t get the registration until it was paid for.
That same day I find him loading the bike onto his flat deck and he’s heading out to trade it for the Mercedes. I argued that he couldn’t sell something that didn’t belong to him. I was told to mind my own business; that I had no idea how to wheel and deal. I had to admit he was probably right, I was not a wheeler dealer.
He traded the motorcycle for the car but the owner of the car wouldn’t hand over the registration until he got the reggy for the bike. Now what was my ex going to do??!!
When we got home the owner of the bike came over spitting mad at my ex. The neighbours had told him his bike left in my ex’s flat deck. Where was his bike??? The whole neighbourhood was up in arms.
But my ex didn’t miss a beat. He took the wheels off the Mercedes and sold them for $600, took four hundred over to the guy who owned the motorcycle, got the registration, called the owner of the Mercedes and delivered the motorcycle reggie. Everyone was happy. Except me. It was wrong, wasn’t it? He sold something that didn’t belong to him but in the end everyone was happy.
I decided to mind my own business when it came to his business dealings. I told myself that how he did business was no reflection on my standards.
But he was always being accused of stealing, got fired from every job he had for stealing and people were NOT happy. It got harder and harder to ignore how he did business and was I not just as guilty for staying with a man who stole from people? How could I respect someone who operated opposite to my values.
Then there was the infidelity. But was it infidelity? Was a personal ad actually cheating? I was sure he wasn’t meeting any women, we were together almost 24/7 and he wasn’t likely to hook up with a Russian Bride. I told myself he was just checking to see if he could still attract women if he wanted to.
Him staying up all night looking at porn and joining dating sites wold have ordinarily been enough for me to walk. But he kept insisting he loved me. I would lay it all out. It’s OK to look at porn, hey, it’s OK to date lots of different women and there are women out there that would be OK with it but I expect fidelity. He would call me paranoid storm, out of the house and I would cry all day. Then he would call, use his “soft” voice, call me Baby and ask how I was. He’d ask if I’d eaten and take me out for dinner. We would be like we were in the beginning. Him staring into my eyes, our hands brushing against each other’s. Him pulling me close and whispering I love you. Him knowing exactly what to do to drive me insane and then the fantastic sex!!
The next day I would be giddy with love. Certain that he had thought about what I had said and decided he would be faithful.
After awhile of course I would discover more ads, and eventually he did physically cheat. By that time I was so far into denial I couldn’t face the truth. We had split so many times it had become “just the way we are”. We had such a deep connection and love that neither one of us could deny, we would always end up back together.
My ex did some really alarming things that in retrospect I should have seen as threats to my safety but I had been denying my gut instincts and basic boundaries for so long I couldn’t recognize the obvious signs my life was in danger.
If his sister had not come to live with us I doubt I ever would have left on my own; my thought processes had become so unhealthy.
I hear it on the blog all the time; a victim thinks she has control of the situation, the kids aren’t affected, she is “on to him” or the woman he’s screwing around on is a stupid bitch for not believing her when she called the new woman and told her all about him.
The victim knows that if they accept the truth or stand by their boundaries they would have to leave the narcissist. They will have to face the fact that their fairytale romance was a lie. The love of their life is a fake. It is often times easier to lie to yourself than face the truth.
The narcissist knows that, that is why he creates the most romantic, movie worthy romance, you are perfect, he is your knight in shining armor rescuing you from all the ugliness of the world, the boredom of marriage, the drudgery of motherhood, whatever it is that is pulling you down. He makes you feel alive, beautiful, safe, exciting, loved just the way you are. This is what meeting your soul mate feels like. This is love, being in his arms becomes like oxygen to the victim so she must somehow rationalize the facts to match her fantasy.
It becomes so ingrained by her in her own mind that it is very difficult for her to separate the truth from fantasy when she finally leaves the narcissist.
She will go back time after time refusing to fully accept the truth because she has cognitive dissonance and isn’t seeing things with clear eye glasses. It takes months away from the narcissist and the fog that follows them before the victim can think clearly and rationally.