Cognitive dissonance is holding two beliefs that are in opposition to each other, as if there is no conflict or disparity between them.
Trauma is often a sudden or even brutal resolution of that disparity in a way that results in your belief of how the world works and how we should behave in the world is disproved or so undermined that you cannot sustain the belief anymore.
The concept of post traumatic stress disorder took shape with the American soldiers returning from Vietnam – earlier veterans who experienced battle related traumas were deem shell shocked – they were distressed at what they say, but the world wars did not shake people in the same way, because they were fighting for a cause they believed to be right and war was the mechanism of re-affirming that rightness in the world. People managed their trauma with an ends justified the means mentality.
With Vietnam, the goals and purpose of the war were not as pure as with previous wars, and as a result, many soldiers experienced trauma for having to behave in a manner – shooting people – which was not morally just or defensible and it shook their identity as good and moral people to act in a way that was not moral and for a cause that was not just. Neither the means nor end were just, thus, cognitive dissonance resolved in a traumatic way, the realization that there was nothing good, moral or just.
Post traumatic stress disorder is not just for soldiers anymore.
People experience trauma of varying degrees as part of everyday life – certainly, being exposed to news – being sensationalized and focused on the sordid and morbid – results in a sense of the world being more dangerous and less kind than it actually is – and over time, people develop emotional calluses to cope or they become very nervous – either way, functioning in the world is impaired and disordered by the perceptions of a limited data set – if it bleeds it leads – and then through the filter of being indifferent, excited or anxious by the information.
But when trauma is personal – something happens to you that pulls the rug from under you, knocks you down or off your axis, when your sense of self and your place in the world in relationship to other people is not in harmony with your belief about how the world operates and you have to deal with a situation where the world is no longer safe or familiar, or no longer operating along the rules you have come to rely on – you are traumatized.
Your ability to recover, to find a new level or harmony is dependent on how far off your beliefs about reality and the reality you are confronted with and what kind of support system you have to access.
Because part of the rules of how the world is supposed to operate is your expectations of how you interact with other people – when they act in unexpected ways – such as being a bully or being an authority figure allowing the bullying – you are further traumatized and knocked off your axis and functioning, the world becomes smaller and scarier – and your ability to cope and bounce back is reduced and eroded.
The longer conflict is unresolved or the conflict escalates and more people either bully or condone bullying, the more traumatized you are and the more sensitized to repeated and lesser traumas you become.
Instinctively, we can only turn to ourselves, we can only know our own intention and motivation and soon trust is eroded to the point where you can’t tell who can be trusted – the idea of being utterly alone is unpalatable and likely why many people cling to religion, to feel as if they are a person of consequence, not alone, and they resolve the cognitive dissonance of being alone and not wanting to be, as that there’s a deity with a plan that we can’t know but includes this being alone, so it’s okay because there’s a plan that we’re not worthy enough to be in on but worthy enough to be included in the plan, so you just have to trust in the deity because people aren’t trustworthy.
Except the next cognitive dissonance that if being alone and outcast is part of the deity’s plan then other people are just carrying out their end of the deal to make sure the plan is carried out.
So in a way, religion can helps people deal with trauma or justify causing trauma, because people can connect their sense of the world and safety/purpose by their sense of being connected to something larger than themselves, because they cannot trust themselves or others. Religion is a worldview in which humans are not deserving, not trustworthy, thus, all things must occur for other and larger purpose, which we are not privy to know.
But religion is itself a cognitively dissonant belief – since there is no evidence or logic to religion being real. Other than religion exists and reflects and defines cultural boundaries between groups of people, sometimes like people and sometimes very opposite people.
Religion is a preference for a worldview that is not supported by reality – and this idea of the religion being untrue, results in anger and defensiveness – and this is why atheists especially and gay people generally are so hated in American society – because being atheist forces religionists to resolve their cognitive dissonance and gay people force them to deal with their inclination to conformity.
Atheists and/or gay/lesbian are outside of the norms, we do not conform therefore, we must be defective or demonized.
This is where sacred and secular come into conflict – because secular ideas and law allow for diversity, allow individuals to make choices and act on them – sacred ideas demand conformity and obedience.
Secular is respect for all people and sacred is worship of the divine – which is why religionists demand special consideration of their sacred sensibilities – why cartoons, images, artworks, commentary, disagreement and questions are offensive, censored, and violently responded to – sacred does not brook disbelief – which spills over to the political sphere as “my country, right or wrong.”
This is why it’s dangerous that Americans believe their country is a Christian nation when America was a founded as a secular nation where individuals were and are the unit of consequence – that the ability to criticize the government and express disagreement was the basis of America being founded – no more rule by kings – rule by the mob, er… democracy, er… well, a representative republic, anyway.
In theory, that’s how it’s supposed to work, and understand how it works and how it’s supposed to – woulda coulda shoulda – gets you back on an even keel and into recovery – by drawing on your support network of family and friends – and supporting them in turn and asserting yourself in conflict before people can knock you off your axis and traumatized you, and if they do, to have that network in place, to help you get up, dust yourself off and understand this new place in the world.
Which, if it doesn’t kill you, it does make you stronger, because you will go through an existential process to determine what has meaning and purpose and the understanding you develop of the world will be closer to the world as it is, and not how you would like it to be.
If you don’t experience an existential crisis, the trauma won’t kill you or make you stronger, it will just leave you walking wounded.
That’s a big part of understanding the difference between what is good and what is evil and not being concerned with the plans of others, especially plans that you cannot know you were considered in or had any part in forming – because that’s the first step that many plan makers miss – engaging others in the plan and connecting them to the goals and outcomes – sharing in the plan making commits people to the success of the plan.
So make your own plan for your life, engage your support network, family, friends, coworkers, people you meet – and engage them, engage the world. Be the best you that you can be in the moment and with the information and resources on hand, because in the big picture, that’s the best that any of us can do – and we have to accept that we and others will more often than not, won’t be capable of being our best at any given moment.
We have to cut each other slack, but not enough to hang ourselves or slip through the cracks. We are all what we each have to work and play with.