Ego Defense Mechanisms
Our ego goes to great lengths to defend itself, with the intent of protecting our mind and ourselves, or egos from anxiety and to provide ourselves with a refuge from a situation where we cannot currently cope.
One of the ways it does this is through cognitive dissonance, which is closely related to denial and rationalization, justification, and we do this all the time without ever realizing it. We need to feel in control of ourselves, so at times, it’s just easier to form the belief that we know the reasons for the things that we think and do.
What is cognitive dissonance?
Cognitive Dissonance is when you have a conflict between your beliefs, opinions, values, and your behavior, or the uncomfortable tension we feel when we are holding two conflicting thoughts in our mind at the same time.
When this happens, it creates anxiety within yourself, and so you try to reduce the anxiety by either reducing the importance of your beliefs, opinions or values; try to form new beliefs, etc., or changes your beliefs, opinions, values or behavior.
A simple example of cognitive dissonance was told in one of Aesop’s Fables, “Sour Grapes”, where a famished fox happens upon a beautiful bunch of ripe grapes that were hanging from a vine that were was wrapped around a high tree branch. They were much higher than he could reach. The fox’s mouth watered as he gazed upon the grapes that looked like they were bursting with juice. He took several running leaps trying to reach the grapes, until he became exhausted. No matter how hard he tried, he could not reach those luscious grapes. Now he sat down looking at the grapes in disgust.
‘‘These grapes are sour, and if I had some I would not eat them." He proclaimed as he scornfully walked away.
We also use it all the time to justify to ourselves regarding choices and decisions that we have made. Blaming others and circumstances, is a prime example of cognitive dissonance. Excuses for being over weight, lying and the justifications we dream up for doing so, cheating, and I could write page after page of examples of where, when and how we use it. I bet you can come up with a lot of instances, if you are honest with yourself, when you have done it. Even in the cases were we have made immoral decisions, people quickly adjust their values to fit their behavior. Some people will go to uncanny lengths to evade the inconsistencies between their beliefs and the facts.
Human beings aren’t rational, we are rationalizing creatures, and we want to appear reasonable to ourselves and others, so our mind has a way of making us believe our own lies, better known as denial, or in this case cognitive dissonance.