Cognitive Dissonance and Child Abuse

Cognitive dissonance is a stressful state of mind that occurs when a person is holding either two beneficial or adverse options simultaneously and the person is asked to make a choice.  This is a psychological concept that can be quite subtle.  April is Child Abuse Awareness Month http://www.safehorizon.org/.  Most people would say harming a child is wrong and good parents do not harm their child.  Cognitive dissonance is practiced often as way to reduce the angst when a parent finds themselves having to choose between the lesser of two evils.  The lesser of two evils is an illusion.  At any time as a society we can become aware of these beliefs that have been passed down through multiple generations on parenting.  And we can become aware that some of these beliefs are dangerous and deadly when put into action.

Most parents think that an obedient child (well-behaved) demonstrates that they are a good parent AND harming their child is wrong.  When a parent is confronted with his child’s disobedience does he correct the behavior through understanding and instructions or does he chose to hit or yell at the child?  Many times the response will be what the parent experienced in his own childhood.  If he was hit or yelled at then he will deny that he is harming the child because that was he experienced.  And the parent believes that he has evidence that was okay to do him because he turned out okay. He got through the experience as a child, so his child can do the same with no ill effects.  The negative dissonance is reduced (you are harming your child and you are not a good parent) through denial of his own experience in childhood.  If he allows himself to be aware of the pain of being hit or yelled at as a small child then he becomes aware of the bad feelings that he holds towards the person who had hurt him as well as how harmful it was to him.  This awareness causes a lot of anxiety (dissonance) and he doesn’t want to feel this way so he repeats the pattern with his own child as a way to reduce the negative affect linked with dissonance.  So when you hear a parent or hear yourself say I’m doing this for your own good, be aware that’s not true.  You are doing it for yourself because it reduces the negative affect associated with dissonance.

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