Training your brain to love your flaws: Using cognitive dissonance to your advantage

If you’ve ever taken a psychology class, the term “cognitive dissonance” might sound familiar. It is the discomfort an individual feels when they believe two concepts, values, or thoughts that directly contradict one another. This discomfort can also be felt if an individual does something that contradicts their own values. For example, if Suzy thinks she is a good person but she made fun of someone, then she might feel some sort of personal mental discomfort, because her action contradicted her belief about herself.

To cope with this sense of discomfort, many of us might try to rationalize our actions so as not to be out of line with how we think of ourselves. For example, Suzy might say that the person she was making fun of was being mean to her earlier, and therefore he “deserved it.” In thinking this way, Suzy might feel better about herself, despite having made fun of him.

It’s really a very interesting concept, if you think about it. Our brain tries to self-correct our own way of thinking so we can get back “in line” with our beliefs if we ever “fall out” of line.

Okay, psychology review/lesson over. Now, how can we use this to our advantage?

Whether you have low self-esteem in general or there’s just one, two, (or a handful) of things you don’t like about yourself, you might have the conscious or unconscious thought: “I really hate my ____.” Perhaps you even think this thought every time you see this feature on yourself, so the message is pretty engrained in your brain. The good news is, we have power to change our thoughts using thought stopping techniques, and thanks to cognitive dissonance, we have the power to change how we feel about things.

Here’s how: Let’s say Suzy has freckles and she hates them. Every day she looks in the mirror and thinks “I really hate my freckles.” One day Suzy wakes up an decides that she doesn’t want to hate her freckles anymore, so she employs some thought stopping techniques—anytime she has a negative thought about her freckles, she says “STOP” out loud, and instead, replaces that thought with a new one: “I really love my freckles.” She does this every day until she no longer has negative thoughts about her freckles, and when she sees them, she continues to think “I really love my freckles.” Eventually, the new thought is the one “burned” in her brain, and the old one is no more.

Right now you might be thinking, “okay, but where does cognitive dissonance come into play?” When Suzy first started the thought stopping and introducing the new thought, her brain had two conflicting messages: “I hate my freckles” and “I really love my freckles.” Because of cognitive dissonance, Suzy’s brain is really scrambling, because it can’t possibly believe the two contradictory thoughts at the same time. When Suzy continues to repeat the message “I really love my freckles” over and over again, her brain has to change its wiring to cope with the uncomfortable feelings it experiences by having the two contradictory thoughts. To put itself back “in line” with the new thoughts it is being bombarded with (“I really love my freckles”), Suzy’s brain starts to have more positive feelings about her freckles.

Perhaps the long explanation sounds confusing and makes the matter more complicated, but the basic message is this: If we introduce a new, positive message in our brain that contradicts an old, negative message we have, with enough repetition our brain will begin to believe the new message.

Be patient with yourself in trying this. Remember that repetition of the new and positive message is key. Eventually your brain will start to adjust to—and accept—the new message, while pushing the old one out. This is because the two conflicting messages can’t both be accepted by your brain at the same time, and your brain will be forced to start agreeing with the message you are repeating every day.

Happy brain rewiring!


By: Lauren Buetikofer, LPC

Coping With Your Child's Chronic Illness

When you have a child who has been diagnosed with a chronic illness it can feel like your family has been hit by a tornado.  From the initial moment of finding out your child has a chronic illness and throughout the process of learning about the condition and figuring out how to cope, parents go through various stages of emotions.  There are so many factors that impact the parents and child as they work together to get through the emotions and stages of grief (shock & denial, pain & guilt, anger & bargaining, depression & reflection, the upward turn, reconstruction & working through and acceptance & hope).  Some parents have a difficult time wrapping their heads around what they should do next? 

The first step is to become knowledgeable about your child's chronic illness:

  • Knowledge is Power: the first step to coping with your child's chronic illness is to become educated about the chronic condition.  The unknown can create fear, anxiety, sadness, loss of control and helplessness.  Knowledge is empowering!  Becoming educated can help you and your child feel more in control of the condition and enable the parent to advocate for their child.  

Once educated about your child's chronic illness, parent's need to be able to:

  • Advocate for your child: as a parent you are your child's voice at the doctor's office, hospital, school and with family and friends.  For example, if you are uncomfortable with your doctor putting an IV in your child's head, then step up and say "no."  At the end of the day, you know your child best and you are in control of the situation.  Don't let anyone make you feel like you are a bad parent because you are standing up for your child. 
  • Develop relationships with your child's health care team: ask your child's health care team as many questions about the chronic illness as you can.  You are a parent, not a doctor so you still need time to become the expert of your child's condition.  As your child develops additional questions will arise.  By developing a relationship with professionals you will feel more comfortable asking questions about your child's condition and you will also feel more at ease knowing you have someone you can call and count on.  Please note: if your child's health care team is not responsive or helpful in educating you about your child's condition keep looking until you find a professional that fits your families needs.  You do have options!  
  • Join support groups: gaining support from others going through similar experiences can be liberating.  At first you may feel alone and that no one understands what you are going through  because they do not have a child with a chronic illness.  By gaining support from others, one can become educated first hand by other parents, make you feel like you are not alone and can look at what worked and what did not work for other parents.  There is a list of benefits that support can offer parents.  There are also online groups you can join if there are no support groups in your area or if you prefer the convenance from your home.
  • Attend to your own needs: it can be easy to forget about ourselves when you are caring for a child but it is important to realize that you are human and you can only do so much.  You need to take care of your needs and take the time to exercise, meditate, hang out with friends and family or just do something you enjoy!    Having a family member with a chronic illness can be exhausting and stressful and it is important to do activities (art, music, sports, journaling, exercising) to help relieve your stress.  Learn how you and other family members can best cope with stress.
  • Accept Support: chronic illness can have an emotional impact on the entire family depending on the type of condition.  It may be challenging for you to be able to support each family member when trying to learn how to cope with your own anxiety, sadness and grief.  It is important to understand that you do not have to do this alone.  Reach out to other family members, friends, and support groups for help.  Whether it is asking a friend to drive another child to practice or asking a support group member to just listen to how you are feeling.  Asking for help does not mean you are weak, it shows how strong you are to be able to reach out and ask for assistance. 

"Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful."
       -Joshua J. Marine

Don't forget you are strong and can get through anything! 


It is easy to get caught up in your emotions and feel like you are loosing control.  Whether you feel like you are loosing control of a specific situation or your life, you need to realize you have the ability to influence your future through the decisions you make.  You have the ability to take control and manage your emotions, feelings and the way you think and act.

Maybe you are thinking, what is she talking about?  I am talking about self-empowerment.  Self-empowerment comes from within your inner being, soul, mind, feelings, and thoughts.  We have the power to change the way we think, feel, and act and are in control of choosing what you envision for yourself.  I know it sounds easier said than done, but like everything else in life, change takes time and dedication.  Only you can be accountable for yourself and your responses to life's situations. 

When you can accept responsibility for what you think, you can influence the way you feel and act.  For example, lets say you are running late to work, your alarm never went off, you lost your keys and you are angry at the world.  If you choose to think, "I am late for work, today is not my day and it is going to be a crappy" then more than likely the rest of the day will be crappy and you may feel irritable, angry or sad.  If you change the way you think and choose to think, "I am late for work and there is nothing I can do to change it but I have the rest of the day ahead of me," then you are setting yourself up to have a good day and will generate positive feelings.  Our minds are powerful in generating positive and negative emotions and you are in control.    
Accepting responsibility can be challenging but is key in becoming empowered and recognizing that you are in control.  Our responses to our experiences help determine our futures and the decisions we make today.  Responsibility means overcoming fear, the unknown, and learning new ways to think, feel and act to create the life you want for yourself.

The beauty of life is the journey we go through and realizing that you have a choice!  You can choose how you want to cope with life’s challenges in either a positive or negative way.  If you choose to respond to life's challenges negatively then you are choosing to experience negative feelings of anxiety, fear, and sadness.  If you choose to respond to life's challenges positively then you choose to experience happiness and empowered.  Becoming empowered allows us to personally grow, experience happiness and peace of mind.

The purpose of this blog is to start generating your own thoughts about how you think, feel and act and how you can take control of your life, become self-empowered and influence the future you envision for yourself.  Life is too short, take action and make changes today!

Ask yourself:

  • Am I holding myself accountable and responsible for the way I think, feel and act?
  • How can I change the way I think, feel and act?
  • What do I envision for myself? 
  • What outcomes do I want in life?
  • What are my goals?
  • What do I need to do to achieve my goals?

"The lack of action is not a result of depression; it is the cause.  And inactivity is most often a choice rather than an inescapable factor of life.  Action is also a sure-fire way to avoid being victimized by yourself and others.  If you decide to do something about your problem, than grumble about it, you'll be on the road to changing things around for yourself."  -Dr. Wayne Dyer