Years ago I remember a struggle taking place within me – a battle for my heart, mind and soul. In a nutshell, it was the pull between two worldviews. Which would win: the secular or the sacred? If I followed my feelings, I would go with the secular. However, if I followed my values I would have to side with my Christian upbringing.
Psychologists call this condition “cognitive dissonance”.
It is where the mind is in pain because it cannot hold two opposite beliefs at the same time. One must triumph over the other before there is internal peace.
This situation often occurs in relationships when there is a high level of conflict. What I feel like doing never aligns with my values. Whether my nature is to want to fight or run, staying and remaining calm and suffering for the sake of the relationship is not my first inclination.
This same kind of struggle happens with unmarried couples trying to follow a path of purity. The pull towards sexual activity does not align with their Christian beliefs. So they either abandon their values, or they modify their behavior (if they are acting out their feelings). And that choice is a hard one because of the cultural normalization of sexual activity as well as the internal drive to connect.
We can also deceive ourselves by rationalizing and modifying beliefs (“it’s not really all that wrong” or “God really didn’t mean that” or “I married the wrong person – this person over here is my real soul mate”). Ultimately, though, we return back to cognitive dissonance if we become honest with ourselves and break denial.
What are we to do when we hit these impasses?
We honor our integrity by grieving the loss of the way we wish things were, but align our behavior to fit a level of maturity that values character qualities over immediate gratification.
By the way, I hate that part, too. We all do.
However, the benefits are far-reaching – often beyond what we can see at the moment. The result is that we bring stability to relationships, marriages, families and communities – and hopefully peace to ourselves.