Posted by: dianaiannarone | August 4, 2014

Tug-of-War The Power of Cognitive Dissonance



Tug-of-war, an exercise frequently thought of as fun and challenging. A game of force and resistance. It is easy to see the game in your mind’s eye. You might even recall a time or two you played it. You may recall that sheer brute force you utilized trying to pull the rope in your direction, collapsing the other team’s energy so you could pull the rope past the mark and label your team—Victor! Perhaps you even recall what happens when one side just choose to let go…you may recall falling on your ass, but in the end, you were also free from the resistance; perhaps even relieved. You may be dizzy, tired, frustrated and feel a bit like a loser, but it is over. And frankly it being over is better than the battle of continual, unending resistance you were in. So in some ways, either way you are the victor by getting out of the constant resistance. The path you choose requires you to understand the consequence of each.

Welcome to cognitive dissonance; a real life depiction of that game of tug-of-war that can go on in your mind and body as exhaustively as the game you may recall, and, there is no release until it ends. And the timeline to achieve release is determined by many factors. This experience of dissonance is without a doubt one of the most painful, confusing and often unexplained circumstances and can drive you to believe you are actually going crazy. Cognitive dissonance can occur anytime you have two opposing thoughts in your mind.

Seems simple enough, just pick one belief or the other! Oh, but if only it were that simple. Cognitive dissonance can be created in our own mind by the restrictive rules we create for ourselves and our inability to follow them. Or by our belief that something is unhealthy for us, yet we have an inability to remedy the behavior to get in to congruence with our beliefs. This experience is routinely endured at one level or another, one time or another, by all of us.

Cognitive dissonance can also be forced upon us by the subtle or blatant behaviors of another, who has the intent to harm. In this instance that dissonance can be outright debilitating. The determining factor in deciding how much pain you will be in, is directly dependent upon just how contradictory these opposing thoughts are and the degree of control you believe you have to resolve that opposition of thought. This tug-of-war at its worst can immobilize you, can have you feel like you are dying, and in fact, wish that you were. In these moments you have a complete contradiction in your mind that can feel like a tug-of-war, or worse, like your mind will explode. This level of cognitive dissonance can literally bring you to a point where you feel you cannot even function; yet cognitive dissonance is always resolvable. Just not necessarily easily resolvable. This form of dissonance, whose pain cannot be articulated unless you have experienced it, is often caused by gaslighting, or what I call, on a day I chose to refrain from a more appropriate name—crazymaking.

To resolve cognitive dissonance your beliefs must become congruent. Your inner beliefs must match your outer reality, put another way, in essence you must get in alignment with truth, no matter how difficult. Or redraw the line of where the boundary is to align with your truth. But truth isn’t always evident, and isn’t always easy to face even if it were…

So what makes this so hard? The depth and breadth of this discussion is vast. I will touch upon this on an ongoing basis. Today, I am going to choose a few examples to illustrate it in both its simplest and most devastating forms. I will also suggest some ways you can come to peace when you are in this potentially crippling place.

The level of cognitive dissonance that is felt by most of us at one time or another, is when we are trying to break a habit, or start one, or we know we should take better care of our spiritual, financial, emotional, physical, or mental self, but we can’t.

Here are a few excerpts from my book to illustrate:

In the healing process I felt I was in a constant tug-of-war. I felt like pleasurable things would bring me pain. I felt so convicted in this belief that my life was a reflection of its truth. I understood I had created these rules about what perfection looked like relative to my physical self, the way I cared for my body, and the way I should behave. I would intentionally disobey these standards. I found a way to always feel bad about myself. It was to the point that this conflict, this cognitive dissonance, was consuming.

I was so used to feeling guilt and shame that I didn’t know how to exist without their presence, so I engaged in behaviors to justify my feelings of guilt and shame. Without my “shameful” behavior I would have no idea why I was feeling guilt, therefore, I would just feel like I was crazy. Instead I was more comfortable carrying those emotions and deeming myself bad. I believed I was not good enough.

I was a harsh and judgmental parent to myself. I was unforgiving for any misstep. My vision of how I should be was in conflict with the way I wanted to be. I wanted to be freer and yet I was bound by all these rules of my own making.

I could consciously, intellectually, see the conflict and I knew all I had to do was give up one or the other, the rule or the behavior, but emotionally I couldn’t get there. I didn’t know which I should do; or even if I could do either one.

So the cognitive dissonance here is exacerbated by the uncertainty of which change is even the most “right;” so to speak. Are my rules too rigid, and so I need to lighten up? Or, are my rules appropriate and I need to get in alignment with them. Until both the thought and the behavior can get congruent we have officially obtained a rope pulling us in both directions; cognitive dissonance. To illustrate further…

I want to stop drinking, I know I need to exercise, I don’t want to work so many hours, yet I can’t seem to change it; I have no choice. If you have felt guilt your whole life, you will continue to engage in behaviors that make you feel guilty. You create justification for your guilt. Otherwise you would walk around feeling guilty, and not know why! The more we dwell on these behaviors that we no longer want in our lives, the longer we will find ourselves engaging in those behaviors. It is only once we accept ourselves in our “flawed” state and begin to love ourselves, that we can move past these behaviors. Release the adamancy of these behaviors (I have to work out three days a week, I must give up drinking) and they will be much easier to change. As long as you are holding steadily to your false beliefs, or your condemning, harmful thoughts, very little will change. Permanent change requires a permanent extinguishing of your negative beliefs and self-talk, and the creation of boundaries that are truly acceptable to you; who you really are. Sadly we struggle to change our behavior. It is as if we want to stand up, but our belt loop keeps getting caught on the chair. We feel stuck, gripping and focusing on what we no longer want in our lives.

It is up to us to build our self-confidence and self-esteem. The sooner we release our grip on the things we want to change, the easier it will be to move to living free. Often, recovering our self-confidence and self-esteem and building our boundaries happens simultaneously.

Until we alter the programming, the beliefs that are harming us, those outer experiences will not permanently change. As with all areas of our lives, the change must begin within. Our self-talk is the easiest thing for us to control. So start there by accepting those things that you perceive as bad behaviors for now, embrace them. No longer condemn yourself for them. Remind yourself that you will better care for yourself moving forward. No longer be that harsh, judgmental parent to yourself. You deserve nurturing and compassion. Like raising a child, you must embrace yourself where you are, not criticize yourself. Begin to believe that you can move to a better place. Rejection of any part of yourself will create more negative emotions, and more negative emotions will likely lead to intensification of those behaviors. You can’t reject part of yourself hoping to arrive at wholeness. These behaviors will melt away once you begin to live in alignment with who you really are, and love and accept yourself in every step along the way. It is so liberating. It is so freeing. Trust the process, trust yourself.

The second form of cognitive dissonance is that which is thrust upon you by another. This is the worst mind-fuck imaginable. This term, that some may find offensive, is a widely accepted term to describe this experience because it defines it precisely. I assure you, those that find it offensive, have never experienced it. Crazymaking, gaslighting, it’s pseudonyms, just are so often deemed to fall short.

To illustrate, here is another excerpt:

Those that have experienced this methodology will validate the agony it induces. This “Crazymaking” is exactly what it sounds like. The abuser will send contradictory messages, or claim that we do not remember events as they actually transpired. They work to get us to doubt ourselves, to think that perhaps we really are losing it. They want to break us.

For insight into how the crazymaking is played let me give a little detail.

Eventually, you tire of their manipulations and you begin to find your strength. They sense you pulling away. They fear that you are gaining the awareness that you hold the “game-over card” and that once it is played they will lose their reign as controller of your life. It is important that you recall, that when they sense a game-over card is near, the first approach is generally to present to you the behaviors they know you want to see. They know, because we have vocalized them in full detail. Suddenly that love, compassion, and acceptance we have been longing for, appears. They know that those things will lure us in, just as they have in the past.

One instance that illustrates what I am describing was in the moments leading to my full awakening. After returning from the vacation to my parents’ house, I was on the phone with my then abuser who I was looking to end the relationship with. As established during that trip we were no longer living together, and of course he was looking to manipulate his way back into my home. Remember, this is always a ploy. They will try endless techniques to get in, or get you physically to be near them, which is often how people end up dead. I was not letting him in, a strength that illustrates just how close I was to fully waking. I was finally beginning to trust myself instead of him.

He had been working tirelessly to prove to me how he had changed. He was being the picture of the man that I had longed for. The behavior was impressive. However, as he sensed that I was still pulling away, he became harder to predict, and more confusing.

When he saw that his act was not being as effective as it had been in the past, he tried a new strategy. He moved to accountability. During a memorable phone call, he took ownership for his failings in the relationship. One by one he emotionally listed the ways that he had damaged our relationship. He listed the many ways he had harmed me and let me down. I was stunned as I listened. I was moved to tears at this admission of guilt, and his longing for redemption. I knew I had to leave him for good, yet so much of me wanted to believe, still, I was suspicious. Unconsciously though, the incongruence of his words and the behavior I had always known, was so apparent that I asked if he was alone, or if he was taping the call. I wanted to know whose benefit this ownership of his failings was for. Suspicion was part of the evidence that I was on the verge of waking.

In that instant, he switched. He now turned the tables.

He began to accuse me of all the failings in the relationship. He began to say that I abandoned him. Each and every accusation he owned just moments before was being calculatedly hurled at me. One by one, in painstaking detail, I was being diminished and destroyed. Suddenly, everything wrong with our relationship was my fault. He denied any claim he had made just moments before. I couldn’t breathe. I dropped to my knees. I was in sheer agony over the head game. I screamed, “You betrayed me, you betrayed yourself! How could you? Who are you???” I was crying, screaming. I thought I must have been having a nervous breakdown. My scream was not one of anger. It was a scream of destruction; of uncontrollable pain. Just as it began to dawn on me that this insanity is what he had wanted all along, I hear him say, “Do you want me to come over and hold you?” I still couldn’t breathe. I thought, Oh my God! What? What did he just say? He is offering compassion? Comfort? What is he doing? The insanity stops me dead in my tracks. I went silent. I was in absolute confusion and pain. I am not sure how long I held my breath. I guess I hung up.

I was stunned and confused. I didn’t understand his mixed signals. Which was it? Was he apologizing or blaming? My head was throbbing. The incongruence was taking its toll on my body. My head and heart were experiencing intolerable, excruciating pain. This pain left me on my knees unable to breathe for some time. Finally, I inhaled. I tasted the sweet breath of life. I then considered how that tape of our call would harm me. I was now confident there was one.

That encounter was “Crazymaking”. This is what they do so that they can call you crazy and you will believe it. This is not you acting or being crazy. As a new friend that I met days after this experience would repeatedly remind me, “You were having a sane reaction to an insane situation.”

As you read these words, if they resonate at any level you are likely in the unfortunate situation to be in relationship with a narcissist and/or a sociopath. In spite of what an individual who has never been in such an entanglement may tell you, this trauma is not resolvable by trying harder or getting your mind clearer. This trauma is resolved by getting out and never looking back. If you would like help or guidance to be permanently free from this type of abuse, contact me at for a free consultation so we can design a plan to release you from this painful confinement.

Copyright © 2014 by Diana Iannarone

If this strikes a chord with you, consider buying my book:

Me and My Shadow

Move from Fear and Control to Love and Freedom.

 On Amazon:

The thoughts in this blog are my opinion. I am neither a medical professional nor a lawyer. To learn more about my work go to

This is my Mission: 

Partner with people to relinquish their chaos and confusion in exchange for clarity and resolution from whatever crisis they find themselves in. 

I do not give legal advice, nor do I use legal principles to apply to your circumstances. Instead I focus on how to empower you to communicate and use proper positioning to win through influential and concise communications. I guide people to Wake Up, Stand Up, Live Free.

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