Do Narcissists Have Cognitive Dissonance?

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Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a person holds two or more contradictory beliefs or values. When this happens, people attempt to resolve the mental discomfort it creates by either changing their beliefs or denying evidence that contradicts them.  So, do narcissists struggle with cognitive dissonance?

Narcissists do experience cognitive dissonance since their need to feel special often leads to behaviors that are inconsistent with that image. To resolve the discomfort they feel, they may justify their bad behavior by blaming other people or denying outright that they did anything wrong. 

One way to understand the relationship between narcissism and cognitive dissonance is to look at how narcissists justify their actions and beliefs. My narcissistic mother, for example, would regularly blame me for the numerous ways she would punish me. This is called blame-shifting, and it’s a common narcissistic tool of manipulation. Let’s look at the many ways narcissists compensate for cognitive dissonance. 

Why Do Narcissists Experience Cognitive Dissonance?

Why Do Narcissists Experience Cognitive Dissonance

Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by a grandiose self-image, a lack of empathy, and a strong need for admiration, as the following video explains. That combination often results in behaviors that are inconsistent with their ideas of being both special and superior to other people. 

Narcissists may experience cognitive dissonance when their beliefs or behaviors conflict with their self-image. For example, a narcissist who believes that they are always right may experience cognitive dissonance when they make a mistake or are proven wrong. To resolve this conflict, the narcissist engages in behaviors such as blaming others or denying responsibility for their actions. This can lead to an abusive relationship with others.  

To use another example, a narcissist may cheat on a partner while simultaneously believing that they are a loyal and trustworthy person. To resolve this dissonance, they may minimize or justify their infidelity by blaming their partner, rationalizing their behavior as necessary for their own happiness, or denying that they did anything wrong. Such narcissistic abuse can have a devastating effect on their partner.

In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that narcissists were more likely than non-narcissists to engage in self-justification when faced with evidence that contradicted their beliefs or actions. This suggests that narcissists may be more prone to cognitive dissonance because they are motivated to protect their self-image and maintain their sense of superiority. 

According to the study, that often leads them to aggressive behaviors and psychological abuse when faced with such a contradiction. It makes sense because they can’t accept that their behavior is wrong in any way. That emotional stress creates more cognitive dissonance, given that they have come to believe they are superior to other people. That’s a strong motivator for aggression. 

What Role Does Cognitive Dissonance Play in Narcissistic Abuse?

What Role Does Cognitive Dissonance Play in Narcissistic Abuse

Cognitive dissonance can play a significant role in abusive relationships with narcissists. When a narcissist experiences the psychological stress associated with their bad social behavior, they will turn to emotional abuse in order to engage in cognitive dissonance reduction.

Some examples of how cognitive dissonance can occur in the context of narcissistic abuse are:

  • A narcissist switches between idealization and devaluation of their partner, making them feel loved and then worthless.
  • A narcissist promises or agrees to something and then breaks it or acts as if it never happened, making their partner feel confused and betrayed.
  • A narcissist blames or criticizes their partner for everything, making them feel guilty and responsible for the problems in the relationship.
  • A narcissist isolates or undermines their partner’s social support, making them feel lonely and dependent on the narcissist.
  • Narcissists use silent treatments to make their partners guess what’s wrong and ignore their bad behavior.

These tactics create a sense of inconsistency in the victim’s mind, making them question their own sanity and reality. The victim may also experience a conflict between their love for the narcissist and their awareness of the abuse. They may try to rationalize or justify the narcissist’s behavior to reduce their own sense of cognitive dissonance.

This can make it hard for victims of narcissistic abuse to leave the relationship or to heal from the trauma. It can also affect their self-esteem, mental health, and trust in others. 

How Does a Narcissist Regulate Their Emotions?

How Does a Narcissist Regulate Their Emotions

Another way to understand the relationship between narcissism and cognitive dissonance is to look at how narcissists regulate their emotions. This video discusses what kinds of emotions they have. Narcissists are known for their emotional volatility, known as narcissistic rage, and their tendency to react strongly to perceived threats or criticisms. This is part of what prevents them from having a healthy relationship. 

When faced with evidence that contradicts their beliefs or self-image, narcissists may experience a range of emotions, including anger, frustration, and anxiety. These emotions can create a state of mental discomfort or dissonance that the narcissist may attempt to resolve by denying the evidence or rationalizing their behavior. 

For example, a narcissist who values honesty may experience cognitive dissonance when they lie or deceive others. To resolve this conflict, the narcissist may alter their beliefs or attitudes towards honesty, or they may engage in behaviors that justify their actions. This is part of why a narcissistic partner can create such dysfunction in their personal relationship. 

Individuals high in narcissism are more likely to engage in emotion regulation strategies that involve denying or minimizing negative emotions. This suggests that narcissists may be more likely to experience cognitive dissonance because they are motivated to avoid negative emotions and maintain their sense of superiority. 

After all, someone who is superior doesn’t feel anything negative about their behavior. If they do, it must be someone else’s fault rather than their own. This can lead to some far-reaching effects for both individuals and society as a whole. 

Narcissistic individuals may be more prone to engaging in unethical or immoral behavior. Additionally, individuals who experience cognitive dissonance are less likely to change their beliefs or behaviors in response to new information.

What are the Signs of Cognitive Dissonance?

What are the Signs of Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance affects both the victims and the perpetrators of narcissistic abuse. Their false self, which is often charming, confident, and successful, is the image they project to the world. 

Their true self is the one they hide from others, which is insecure, vulnerable, and ashamed. This psychological inconsistency creates significant stress They may lose their relationships, their reputation, or their resources because of their manipulation, lies, or exploitation.

Some signs that a narcissist is experiencing cognitive dissonance are:

  • They deny or minimize their faults or mistakes and blame others for them.
  • They rationalize or justify their actions and make excuses for them.
  • They project their negative feelings or traits onto others and accuse them of being what they are.
  • They distract themselves from their inner turmoil and seek external validation or stimulation.
  • They attack or devalue anyone who challenges their false self and try to destroy their credibility or character.
  • They withdraw or discard anyone who sees through their false self and cut off contact with them.

Narcissists use these strategies to avoid facing the reality of their situation and to maintain their false self. However, these strategies are not effective in resolving cognitive dissonance. They only create more problems and conflicts for themselves and others. 

The only way to overcome cognitive dissonance is to accept the truth and change one’s behavior accordingly. However, most narcissists are not willing or able to do that because it would require them to face their deep-seated shame and insecurity.

It’s in this way that the narcissistic abuse cycle is reinforced. The narcissist switches rapidly from love bombing to devaluation as they struggle with their own internal conflicts. This creates a blind spot that makes them unable to resolve their cognitive inconsistency without abuse.

Final Thoughts

The relationship between narcissism and cognitive dissonance is multifaceted. Narcissists may be more prone to this phenomenon because of their strong desire to maintain their self-image and their tendency to engage in psychological abuse strategies that protect their sense of superiority. 

Even mental health professionals have a difficult time treating the narcissist in this regard. Given the narcissist’s fragile identity structure, it’s difficult for a therapist to get them to admit they’ve done something wrong, let alone that they hold inconsistent beliefs or values. It’s a difficult catch-22 to resolve. 


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Narcissistic abuse takes a terrible toll on your life. I’m Patricia, and my mother is a narcissist, so I know what you’re going through. These blog posts will help you understand narcissism better and give you tips for dealing with the narcissists in your life. Healing starts here!

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