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 Back to School Stress

The time has finally come. Summer is officially over and you are probably in denial that it is time to head back to school. Where did the time go? Did you do everything you said you were going to do over the summer? Do you feel like you made the best use of your time on your days off? These are all questions you may be thinking about when the summer has come to an end.

Heading back to school after being off for a long period of time can present various challenges, thoughts and emotions. Going back to school can be exciting, anxiety provoking and a stressful time for children, teens and parents. Getting back into a scheduled routine can present challenges. Getting up early, prepping lunches, making sure homework is complete on top of doing all of your daily tasks, working and so forth. One recommendation is to use a calendar. Whether it is paper or on your phone, it is essential to get organized and know everyone's schedules and deadlines. Staying organized helps eliminate stress and prevents you from running around like a crazy person trying to get everything ready. Don't be afraid to ask for help from another parent, grandparent or even your children if they are of an appropriate age to help. Most kids can make their own lunches and check to make sure they have their homework and books they need for school.

Take one day at a time. I know, easier said then done. We tend to look at the huge list of things we need to do instead of taking one task at a time. The more we think about all the things we need to do the more stressed and anxious we become. Take each task, focus on it and if those irrational thoughts keep popping in your head that you will "never get all of this done", do thought stopping. Stop the thought in its track and reframe your thought by reminding yourself that you have to get through your current task before you can move on to the next one. Getting overwhelmed and worried that you won't get it all done takes up more time then if you would have started the task in the first place.

Maybe you have figured out your whole scheduling routine and are managing your endless task list. Lets shift the focus to our children and teens and how they are coping with back to school stress. What if you or your child/teen is struggling with the transition beyond the normal transitional time period and is having a difficult time adjusting? Listen to your child. Listen to what they are thinking and feeling and validate their emotions. Acknowledge that going back to school can trigger various emotions of excitement, anxiety, or fear. Empathize with them what they are experiencing and provide support for them during the transition. It is also important to find a solution with your child to help them transition effectively. For example, if your child is struggling with separation anxiety and misses you during the day. Do a craft together that reminds them of you or send your child with a picture and let them know that you are always with them even if not present. As parents we are here to help our children grow and overcome difficult challenges and times in their lives. If you feel like your child is really struggling beyond the transitional time period, is experiencing anxiety that is disrupting their functioning at school or home, have them assessed by a counselor to identify what is going on and what helpful tools and techniques your child can learn to help the adjust smoothly and enjoy their overall school experience.

 

Helping Your Teen Overcome Bullying

It is no surprise how challenging life can be for a teenager. Teenagers have educational and peer pressure, hormones that effect their moods, and high expectations from family and friends. To top it all off, social media has created a whole new world for teenagers.
 
It is 2014 and teens are using apps such as Kick, Instagram, Facebook, Snap Chat, Ask and whatever else they can get their hands on that is "cool". This new tech savvy era has created a whole new dimension for bullying and peer pressure. Teens are thinking if I post a picture, how many likes will I get? I can see my friends are hanging out with some other of my friends, why wasn't I invited? And my favorite, anonymous posts telling them that they are ugly, slutty, and should "kill themselves". The pressure on teens to fit in has hit an all time high and not only is this effecting our teens but parents as well. This new lifestyle is presenting many difficult challenges and it can be hard to learn how to cope with these new developments.

Parents need to respectfully monitor their teens electronic usage. How much time is your teenager spending on their electronics. Try to identify a balance that will work for your teenager. I know it is important to stay socially connected to friends but there are also other important things in a teenagers life that need to continue to be balanced. Parents need to look at what content and pictures their teens are posting on apps. 

Talk to your teen about what is appropriate to post on various apps. Have the conversation with your teen about what they should and shouldn't post on their apps and also about what they are posting on other peer's pictures or walls. I get that parents can only control so much about what their teen posts or says to others but having them realize what is appropriate or not appropriate can be helpful in guiding them in a positive direction.

Cyber-bullying is a new phenomenon that is negatively impacting teens; ask your teen if they or their friends have ever been a victim of cyber-bullying. If something is posted to them that is hurtful and is a form of bullying, discuss the way it makes them feel and help them identify that what was said about them is not true. 

If you feel like your teen is being bullying on social media, limit their usage and discuss your concerns with a professional counselor. It is important to discuss their thoughts and feelings as soon as possible when bullying occurs in order to prevent other mental health issues.