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Ask Amelia

Is Cognitive Dissonance The Cause Of Your Anger?

Posted on October 10, 2020 in Design Your Life

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On my webpage, I have an area called, ‘Ask Amelia’, where people can write down questions and receive an evidence-based response. A few weeks ago, I received the following question from a married father of three, ‘Ray’, who works as a Managing Director of a Bank. Ray wrote:

“I love my wife and my kids very much. I know how hard these past months have been for all of us. My life is good and I have nothing to complain about compared to so many others right now. I’ve just been so angry lately and I don’t know why. I feel like an entitled ass sharing this with anyone because nobody wants to hear from a privileged complainer. The last thing I want to worry about is my wife thinking I’m mad at her because I am so miserable. What do I need to do about my rage?”

Perhaps you can identify with Ray? He is a humble and genuine man. He is kind but he also doesn’t take crap from anyone. Ray ‘seems’ to have a good life, he is well-respected, and he lives by his values.

I explained to Ray that there are two types of fuel for his anger. “Let’s call your anger petrol and diesel. The petrol type is anger born from expectations (not getting something we want). The diesel type of anger is born from getting hurt (being put in a vulnerable situation). Both types of anger have something in common: wanting. With expectations, we can get angry when we don’t get something we want. With fear, we can get angry when we get something we didn’t want. The only difference is the polarity.” “Expectations are related to wanting more of something, and fear is related to wanting less of something.” Then, I asked Ray, “Which do you think it is for you? Or is it both?”

In our first session, Ray expressed to me that he was mad because he felt like he couldn’t protect his family from the pandemic, he felt concerned about the mental health of his children with them not being able to go to school, he was feeling guilty about how his wife was handling the majority of the household duties, her own job (that was now remote), and he was feeling guilty because his wife was at home doing most of the parenting now that he has gone back to the office. Ray was managing the wide range of feelings from his team at work, impatient clients, and the shame he was feeling about his recent self-discovery of his ignorance about racism. Ray knows he has so much to be grateful for, but Ray didn’t have a safe place to share all of this.

In our next sessions, Ray will uncover that grief doesn’t discriminate. Ray is experiencing cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is used to describe the mental discomfort (often presenting as anger) that results from holding conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. Ray is logical, consistent, and good at making decisions. However, cognitive dissonance is interfering with his perceptions about himself and his abilities. Our learning will involve the following:

a) aligning some existing beliefs with values; or;

b) adding new beliefs to align with values; or;

c) reducing the importance of some existing beliefs;

d) understanding why his brain is working this way; and;

e) learning that a good life isn’t an armour for grief.

I will respond to Ray’s learning style by giving him concrete hands-on steps to try. I will explain why I chose a particular strategy and what the anticipated outcomes are. Ray and I will monitor the impact of these strategies together.

Ray wanted my services because he was looking for someone who would help him take action to address his most urgent need. Ray had the courage to trust that I will listen without bias and acknowledge his anger. Ray was looking for someone to problem-solve with and didn’t want to burden his spouse. Ray’s will learn what his anger is teaching him and the strategies are quite simple. Ray is committed to this work, and because of that, he will begin noticing changes within the first three weeks.

If you are feeling like Ray, please know you are not alone. Feel free to ‘Ask Amelia’ here: https://life-by-design-coaching.com/contact/

Sources:

https://europeansting.com/2020/07/20/re-educating-the-angry-brain-amidst-covid-19-2/

https://www.drnorthrup.com/4-ways-to-reduce-cognitive-dissonance/

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