Cognitive dissonance narcissistic abuse

People with marked narcissism not only stand out for that feeling of omnipotence and that highly bloated and unrealistic self-image. In addition, another aspect that draws the most attention about their personality is the way in which they relate to others, and how easily and spontaneously they come to generate discomfort in those around them.

Today we will talk about cognitive dissonance in narcissistic abuse. We will see the characteristics of narcissists and how cognitive dissonance plays an important role in this phenomenon.

Cognitive dissonance narcissistic abuse

The generalized term called cognitive dissonance is one of the main techniques of mental manipulation practiced by persons with narcissistic tendencies. What this technique of violence does is build a feeling of unreality, uncertainty, and a mind-set of not trusting their own understanding of the situation in the target.

The social psychologist Leon Festinger was the one who first coined the term “cognitive dissonance” in his work “Theory on Cognitive Dissonance”. If you want to know how to understand and heal narcissistic abuse, in this article we explain what cognitive dissonance consists of and what role it plays in abusive relationships.

To understand this expression, we will examine each of the words in it. “Cognitive” refers to thoughts, while “dissonance” has to do with a tension between two elements. Together, the two words signify a tension between disagreeing thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.

For example, a person who thinks “smoking kills” and smokes a packet of tobacco a day, causing internal discomfort and tension.

This discomfort is what is called cognitive dissonance. Continuing with the previous example, to resolve the discomfort, the person may have thoughts such as “smoking is not so bad”, “I’ll quit next month” or “it’s my friend’s fault, who was the one who invited me to smoking for the first time.

Another way to resolve discomfort would be to quit smoking. Both of them resolve cognitive dissonance. The first involves using defense mechanisms such as denial or projection. The second requires more effort to achieve internal coherence.

Narcissistic people are known for the kind of relationship they establish with their own self-image. They consider that the aesthetics they convey, that superficial part of themselves, is something that deserves all possible care so that it fits well with an idea of ​​”perfection” that they create for them.

That is why it is common to find that narcissistic people try to be the center of attention through the simplest excuses, and try to create a mythology of themselves that can be transmitted through their social circles.

But there is something else that characterizes the narcissist: he tries to make other people feel bad about themselves and have doubts about their potential.

Narcissism and harmful social relationships

The tendency of narcissistic people to undervalue others in a subtle or explicit way is strongly related to their way of being and their egocentricity; It is not by chance that both characteristics occur at the same time.

But … what exactly makes these types of people jump into reinforcing these kinds of toxic relationships? These are the main keys that explain it.

1. Cognitive dissonance

If anything characterizes narcissistic people, it is that they not only believe that they are worth more than the rest, but that they go to great lengths to make this belief supported by facts.

This means that, if he senses that an event can be interpreted as something that calls into question his superiority over others, the narcissist will create a new interpretation of what has happened, one that allows him to continue to trust the validity of your beliefs about your own perfection.

This phenomenon whereby the clash between two incompatible ideas produces unease and uncertainty is called cognitive dissonance, and we usually tend to solve these kinds of problems in the sloppiest way imaginable, whether we are narcissistic or not.

In the case of the latter, they will resolve this tension between ideas by acting as if, directly, that proof of the value of the other had not occurred.

For example, if someone has scored better than oneself on a test, the narcissist may attribute this fact to the luck of the beginners (no, he does not have to go to great lengths to construct an alternative interpretation to the obvious one).

In addition, he will not only believe in this “new truth”, but on many occasions he will transmit it to others. The objective of this is to make this interpretation gain strength and be internalized by your social circle.

Somehow, a narcissist will force reality to fit personal beliefs that he uses to structure his own identity. And if that happens to humiliate others or to minimize the merits of others, he will do it.

2. Frustration at the lack of special treatment

Narcissists believe they need special treatment just because they are. When they find that others do not offer them the exclusive treatment that in theory they deserve, it is very easy for them to blame others instead of revising their beliefs about their self-concept.

Specifically, treating others as if they are not worthy of your company in the face of evidence that they do not recognize one’s genius is a recurring departure from this class of people.

3. Lack of empathy

Being a narcissist implies having levels of empathy significantly below what would be expected in an average citizen. This means that, beyond the motivations that may lead to humiliating and undervaluing others, when this occurs the narcissist has no reason to realize that he has made a mistake.

The simple fact of seeing how he does it and says it hurts others is not reason enough to correct certain behaviors. In other words, there will be no compensation mechanism when others are hurt: regrets will tend not to appear or to be very weak, which makes it possible to continue trying to negatively influence others.

4. Underestimating others is useful

There will always be a part of the population willing to believe the criticisms and contemptuous comments that come out of the mouth of a narcissist. These suggestible people will act as if they really aren’t worth much, and will fuel the narcissists’ ideas of grandiosity.

Somehow, without realizing it, they will allow themselves to be emotionally vampirized in exchange for the possibility of being around or being able to learn from a narcissist. In reality, believing that one is worth little and that another has the keys to what true empathy is something that allows a social magnet to exist in some contexts and with certain people.

In fact, there are some studies that even show that narcissistic people are more attractive.


Creating a world tailored to your own ego

We have seen that narcissistic people actively construct versions of reality that allow them to continue to believe that everything revolves around their ego. The collateral damages of this strategy of preservation of self-esteem will not be valued, because for this it would be necessary to have a capacity for empathy that narcissists simply do not have.

However, it must be borne in mind that, sometimes, narcissists make others feel bad not to feel better themselves, but because from their point of view it is a kind of forms of expression are not ways of judging, but descriptions neutral of reality.

After all, spending the day constructing fanciful explanations about the apparent success of others in certain areas of their lives would be exhausting, and the narcissistic personality would not exist if at least part of this process was not automatic, unconscious, and at best possible.

What role does Cognitive Dissonance have in an abusive relationship?

Well, suppose you are with such an abuser or that you were together and recently separated. A part of you knows that this person is abusive, manipulative, hurtful, and toxic to your life.

The other party still clings to believing that there is something “good” in the abuser, to wanting to remember the “good” moments that were at the beginning or sporadically and that were dosed by the abuser to keep you there, waiting for things to happen believing that they were changing and that the relationship could be saved.

When you are in cognitive dissonance, you will notice that your mind goes back and forth turning 180 ° between an “everything is fine” to an “everything is wrong”, from saying “he loves me” to “he does not love me”, from thinking ” this person is wonderful ”to“ this person is abusive and hurtful ”.

Basically, you will be going back and forth between the illusion of a love and the truth of abuse. This truth is unpleasant and nobody wants to pay attention to it, so it is easier to enter a state of denial to cling to fantasy and hope.

Cognitive dissonance dissolves spontaneously in an instant of growth that result from 4 practices:

  • Face the truth relentlessly: Write a Sobriety List with the key points about every hurtful, manipulative or abusive thing that person has done to you. Read it to yourself whenever your mind returns to that fantasy, illusion, toxic hope, or denial. 

The list helps your mind to stay sober in the truth. This is the most important part of the work you will have to do to get rid of cognitive dissonance.

  • Integrate the mantra “It was not your fault” – this will help you unhook yourself so that you stop wanting to fix the irreparable. The abuse was never your fault, regardless of how much the abuser may have tried to make you believe it.
  • Naming the abuser and abuse – use the word or term that makes you feel best (narcissistic, psycho, sociopath, abuser, manipulator, etc.) and understand that there is nothing wrong with having good judgment. This does not make you judgmental.
  • Speak your truth with more people who understand and support you, and make Zero Contact with people who feel offended by your truth.

The key is in the people you are willing to accept and tolerate in your life

In that you do have control, in deciding who you let in and who you let remain in your life.

After breaking the traumatic bond, you will no longer accept manipulation or abuse unconsciously. As soon as another manipulator or abuser appears in your life, you will immediately put a stop to it.

You are no longer attracted to the idea of ​​teaching someone to behave like a decent human being. You no longer try to repeat old abuse lessons with new abusers. Your self-worth is on the rise, your self-confidence grows and you are heading towards the stage of wholeness.

Understanding these concepts of traumatic bonding and cognitive dissonance helps us understand why victims stay with their abusers or come back again for another chance.

FAQS: Cognitive dissonance narcissistic abuse

What are the signs of narcissistic abuse?

5 signs that you are a victim of narcissistic abuse

You experience dissociation as a survival mechanism.

You walk on eggshells.

You put aside your basic needs and desires, sacrificing your emotional and even physical safety to please the abuser.

You develop a general sense of mistrust.

What is narcissistic victim syndrome?

NSA is a chronic pattern of physical, emotional and / or sexual abuse perpetrated by a pathological narcissist against weaker and more vulnerable individuals. Because NSA victims generally lack confidence, self-esteem, and a social support network, they are prone to feeling trapped by the perpetrator. 

What does narcissistic abuse do to your brain?

There is also a physical aspect related to the abuse you have suffered: when constantly emotional abuse is suffered, victims experience a reduction of the hippocampus, an inflammation of the amygdala, as well as an inhibition of the prefrontal cortex. Which leads to devastating effects on the victims who suffer this type of abuse.

What are the stages of narcissistic abuse?

The cycle of psychopathic and narcissistic abuse consists of three phases: 1) love bombardment, also known as the totalization phase; 2) devaluation, also known as the mistreatment and humiliation phase; and 3) discard, this phase often does not occur immediately because the abuser returns to the bombardment phase.

What are the red flags of a narcissist?

You are definitely dating a narcissist if you find yourself justifying the conduct, toxicity, and violence of your girlfriend in any circumstances. Durvasula said that whether you say something like “it will get better” or blame depression, a “touch childhood,” or say they “didn’t really mean it” these are all red flags for your partner’s actions.

Today we talked about cognitive dissonance in narcissistic abuse. We have seen the characteristics of narcissists and how cognitive dissonance plays an important role in this phenomenon.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!


Wise, N. Narcissistic Abuse IS Domestic Violence.

Cascio, C. N., Konrath, S. H., & Falk, E. B. (2014). Narcissists’ social pain seen only in the brain. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10(3), 335–341.