Cognitive Dissonance


When I found a yellow sheet of paper in my school mailbox I was expecting it to be an advertisement for a school event. Instead, on that yellow sheet of paper, were words telling me that I was going to be winning an award at Honors Convocation Chapel. For those not in the know, at the end of the year my school puts on a special chapel for graduates. Everyone graduating in the spring gets to wear their cap and gown and all of the professors wear their regalia as students who have gone above and beyond are recognized for their hard work.

As a December graduate I was not expecting to get anything, so when I found that fateful yellow piece of paper in my mailbox I was over the moon. Somehow I was finally good enough.

Yet the joy that piece of paper brought me was soon diminished as my anxiety set in. What award was I getting? Was it stupid to be so excited about it? Was there someone else who deserved it more than me? What if they made a mistake? There is no way that I have done well enough to get an award…

The thoughts ran rampant and I slept terribly the night before Honors Convocation Chapel because all I could think about were the things that could go wrong. I have anxiety issues. I’m working on it.

I think above all of the anxiety issues and unfortunate events that arose after I received the award (the ceremony going off without a hitch as I didn’t pass out or trip on my way up or down the stairs), I learned something: I put a lot of thought into all of the reasons I don’t deserve an award and completely neglected to pay attention to the reality of the situation. I fight to talk myself out of being happy about being recognized. Why?

I’m posing the question and I don’t even know if I have an answer. There is something about being recognized as someone who is good and successful that directly opposes this other part of me, a part of me that is the exact opposite. Cognitive dissonance comes into play and because I can’t come to some compromise between wanting to be happy in being recognized and validated and this underlying lie I’ve always told myself that I’m not worth it. So instead I justify: I didn’t deserve it or want it anyway.

The best illustration of cognitive dissonance comes from one of Aseop’s fables. A fox sees some grapes and wants them. He gets up on his hind legs trying to reach them but cannot. Then, he decides he really didn’t want the grapes after all because they were probably sour anyway. The award is the grapes, my inability to see myself as worthy of receiving recognition is the inability to reach, and the denial of wanting the recognition in the first place is my justification. Now the question becomes this: How do I move away from that?

Well simple, by admitting that I am someone worthy of being loved and recognized because I am someone who is able to do good things.

Easier said than done most days, but I’m working on. Tonight I’m just going to sit with the idea that it is okay to be proud of the certificate I now have framed on my shelf. After all, I have to start somewhere.