Cognitive Dissonance

“Wisdom is tolerance of cognitive dissonance.”  ~Robert Thurman

Lexico.com gives this definition of “cognitive dissonance:” the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

I had a dream last night that I was to take dictation from a classmate when they call, type it up, and hand it in when I get to class because they are unable to go. This may have been a message from my Spirit Guides to listen and write what they have to say. 

Over the past several months, I had been extremely irritated by two family members. Different issues, but my ruminations about both were the same. How do I deal with their constant negativity and critique of me? Not blatant critique, but subtle and underhanded, the kind of criticism that’s not obvious at first, but over time erodes my tolerance of their every word.

The most recent exchange drove me to block one of them on Gmail–which of course I had to google having never done that before! But, I immediately questioned myself. Did I overreact? Am I a bad person? Isn’t the answer always Love? Love thine enemy? But how do I weigh Love and care of myself against Love of their “lost” souls? Shouldn’t I protect myself from constant attack or at least take a respite from my inner work? Is it wrong to evade self-reflection about what each of them is showing me about myself: old hurts that I’m tired of feeling?

A messy scene. My baggage clashes with their baggage. A jumble of backpacks and suitcases thrown open with our contents strewn about and mixed up until I can’t tell whose stuff is whose. (This is the only time I wish my baggage would get lost or sent to Hawaii or Curaçao so I could go there to claim it!)

They’ve both burned bridges with other people: friends and family. It’s not just me. They both thrive on conflict. They seem to get some kind of pleasure out of stirring the pot and inviting arguments for argument’s sake over politics or over…any subject will do.

So, no. It’s not wrong for me to disengage from petty unwinnable arguments with people who believe only they are right. They don’t like to be wrong. They prefer to prevail.

I don’t enjoy being wrong either, but I am open to other opinions and discussions to reach a new understanding. I draw the line at personal attacks that buzz in like haloed hornets with smiles sweet enough to boil my blood. I am more than willing to let down my guard if/when they stop giving me reasons to keep it up.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep my distance. From here, far away from the flying barbs, I can try to find in my heart an iota of Love and compassion for them at some point. I can ponder–or not–what might have made them like this. I can dwell on truths about myself.

            Dear Self:

            Remember that how others treat you is telling of who they are, not an indicator of who you are. It’s ok to take a respite from the battle. It’s ok to feel anger, hurt, and rage. No, you are not a bad person, and, dear one, neither are they. It’s just a clash of baggage.

            Take all the time you need to return to your own peace of mind. Once there, you can choose to allow your heart and Higher Self to sense compassion. You can’t change others, you can only change your response to them. But do know that All are Loved.

P.S. So, yeah. A few days after originally posting this, I opened the book by Gay Hendricks titled, The Big Leap. My mind was far away from the issue of this post. I opened to a random page using both thumbs, as I often do when I feel a message is there for me. Reading the passage felt like hearing musical dissonance resolve into harmony:

“If we’re in the grip of worrying while someone around us isn’t, we seem to have an almost uncontrollable urge to criticize that person until he or she jumps into the stream of negativity with us.”

Ahh…so that’s what’s going on. This message from my Spirit Guides answered my original question: How do I deal with their constant negativity and critique of me?

Answer: With understanding and compassion.

Insomnia allows for answers.

It was my third night in a row of insomnia. My brain was latched onto a problem that had persisted over months of back and forth, leaving me feeling out of control, overwhelmed, and unable to let go. In my view, it was taking too long to resolve and I had very little control over the issue. It felt like the slow, painful removal of a bandaid.

The “witching hour” seemed to always be 3 a.m. Each night I tried concentrating on my breathing, changing my focus, practicing conscious relaxation, but none of those worked. I couldn’t release the buzz in my brain or my limbs.

It is suggested that when you can’t fall back to sleep, you should get out of bed and do something with low-lighting that avoids looking at screens. I went downstairs to listen to a guided relaxation, but that didn’t help either. I came back upstairs feeling out of control. I begged my Spirit Guides for help. Please show me a sign that you are listening.

Distraught, I lay on the couch with my cat on the floor next to me. Ah! Petting animals is supposed to lower blood pressure. I reached down and pet him for a bit, still feeling lost.

On the coffee table was a book that I had gotten off the shelf a few weeks back: How to Be an Adult. I picked it up thinking it might be a useful distraction. Or, there’s a message in here for me somehow. With both thumbs, I randomly opened to a page that I sensed was what I was supposed to read. On the right side was a new chapter about adult relationships. Whatever, I thought. That’s not where the problem is. That’s where I get the most support.

On the opposite side, was a quote that exactly matched where I was at emotionally. Therein was my answer and the sign I had asked for:

What is hard to appreciate, when terror shapes a catastrophic gap, is that blankness can be a Fertile Void. The Fertile Void is the existential metaphor for giving up the familiar supports of the present and trusting the momentum of life to produce new opportunities and vistas.

The acrobat who swings from one trapeze to the next knows just when he must let go. He gauges his release exquisitely and for a moment he has nothing going for him but his own momentum.

Erving and Miriam Polster, Gestalt Therapy Integrated

My stress was immediately calmed with the reminder that I was not going at the speed of Life. I wanted an end to the pain immediately. I also had distrusted the Universe that things were being orchestrated to work out in due time.