By Mat Wilson
According to National Post columnist Andrew Coyne "Cognitive dissonance is a term from psychology describing the state of mind of a person who holds two contradictory beliefs at the same time. The conflict between the reality conveyed by the senses and prior belief commonly gives rise to feelings of immense anxiety and frustration, which the patient attempts to resolve in various ways."
Thankfully Mr. Coyne is not a psychologist because he does not appear to understand the meaning of cognitive dissonance.
The phrase cognitive dissonance was coined in 1957 by U.S. social psychologist Leon Festinger and it describes the discomfort of holding two contradictory ideas at the same time. It is not possible, as Mr. Coyne otherwise indicates, to hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time. It is certainly possible to synthesize them, but by definition, one belief makes the other a fiction, in the mind of the believer.
His confusion is clearly understandable because what Mr. Coyne is actually talking about is "psychotic dissonance" and that is a term that does not exist. Needless to say, I write this article to suggest that our lexicon is in dire need of expansion in this area of psychology.
If our lexicon included a term like "psychotic dissonance" it could explain the natural progression of the well recognized term, cognitive dissonance, thus I understand where Mr. Coyne is coming from and where he intended to go. The inquisitive mind of the journalist thinks "outside the box" and he inadvertently contemplated the consequence of unresolved cognitive dissonance without possessing the word that is necessary to describe the condition.
Like cognitive dissonance, "psychotic dissonance" is about the anxiety that an uncomfortable mental state produces, the difference being is that if the discomfort is prolonged and unresolved, a psychotic response is inevitable.
Needless to say, awareness and understanding is the antidote that is necessary to intervene to resolve cognitive dissonance before it becomes a serious breach of reality and that is why psychotic dissonance (the way i have proposed) ought to become a term that psychologists recognize. If the enormous gap between what we in fact believe and the actual truth continues to grow, mental health will continue to deteriorate.
In practical terms, cognitive dissonance is essentially the self-deceptions we accumulate to settle the strife between our natural inclinations and the expectations that society imposes.
The thesis that unresolved, cognitive dissonance produces a response which is akin to a psychotic reaction is a good one, in my opinion. After all, when we repeatedly sacrifice the accuracy of our perception to avoid the discomfort of cognitive dissonance it is reasonable to assume that the escalating consequence of misrepresenting reality is some form of psychosis.
If some Ivy league university can fund my research, I will be able to further enlighten Andrew Coyne and others who have limited knowledge in the field of psychology.
By the way, widespread tolerance and respect for everybody's opinion is the only way to adequately deal with the adverse consequences of every kind of dissonance.
Mental health is about promoting the capacity to make independent choice, but the way the system is currently set up, it is about promoting the individaul therapists' idea of what it means to be normal.
I propose a new category of mental disorder called the psychotic dissonance disorder. I place hopeless ideologues who are dangerously predictable on one end of the psychotic dissonance scale and independent minded thinkers who are engagingly inclusive, objective and open-minded, on the other. Reasonable people understand the difference.
PH.D. research psychologist, Dr. Paula Caplan, an Associate at Harvard University's DuBois Institute and a Fellow at the Women and Public Policy Program of the Kennedy school at Harvard, warned us about the problems of current psychiatric practices when she said:
We're going to focus on what's wrong, what's negative, what's deficient, and so, you come to think of yourself as if your whole identity becomes, "I was the victim of sexual abuse." And of course we need to talk about the hurt and the pain and how you shouldn't have been treated that way and how it was horrible, but if all we talk about is your experience as a victim, that becomes your whole identity and so you want to say to these people, you are also a person who loves strawberry shortcake and you like to go to movies and you are a great parent and so on. And so the danger becomes feeling that your whole identity is as a patient, as a person who is mentally ill. And that can happen whether you are diagnosed as schizophrenic or depressed because of sexual abuse and there are all sorts of people who are getting these diagnostic categories -they're losing custody of their children, they're not getting jobs, they can't get disability insurance. There are real serious, real life consequences.
Someone who is labelled mentally ill loses rights in society and that makes the need to introduce more precise tools to the discipline of diagnosis rather urgent.
The lack of science and the presence of bias in the current methods of assessing mental health is not appropriate. A psychotic dissonance scale can be used to assess mental health in the precise and practical manner which makes science and reason the primary criteria of an assessment enhanced by professional accountability.
The phrase psychotic dissonance was informally minted in 2012 by Canadian author Mat Wilson and it describes the potential consequence of the failure to resolve the conflict of trying to hold contradictory ideas at the same time.