Kill Me Now | A Personal Journey of Anxiety, Guilt, and Growth - Bitter Threads

Kill Me Now | A Personal Journey of Anxiety, Guilt, and Growth

The idea for the "Kill Me Now" shirt design originated from a dear friend, and is definitely one I'm wearing to work neatly tucked into my high waisted jeans, under my beloved organic cotton Prairie Underground navy blazer with the lapel that looks like a vulva (not exaggerating here). With each new t-shirt idea I wonder how many others might feel the same way and exactly why it resonates with me.

This curiosity has led me down a path of self-exploration, particularly when I recognized that I often felt this way in moments of embarrassment or shame —shame that arose from cognitive dissonance when my actions didn't align with my moral beliefs and embarrassment when I did not meet up to society's expectations.

This realization prompted me to examine the relationship between my actions and my internal conflict more closely. As I began to monitor my levels of anxiety and my actions I found a strange (not so strange) correlation. I discovered that much of my anxiety was fueled by my dissonance. The times when I carried anxiety around were times when I had acted in ways that contradicted my core values, leading to a sense of moral failure and a pervading sense of anxiety. Kill Me Now. I Hate Myself. I Am Such A Shitty Person. 

This realization was a true ah ha moment. It wasn't that I was anxious about the degradation of the planet but that I wasn't doing my part to stop it. And, my constant anxiety around my children's well being stemmed from believing I could parent better. Each time I felt anxious about a situation, I began to dig deeper into the source of that anxiety. In most cases, I discovered a disconnect between my moral beliefs and my actions.

Cognitive dissonance, a psychological phenomenon that occurs when an individual holds two or more conflicting beliefs, or behaves in ways that are contrary to their beliefs, can lead to significant emotional distress. Here’s how it specifically impacts mental health:

  • Increased anxiety and stress: Constant internal conflict between actions and beliefs can lead to pervasive anxiety, as it did in my case.
  • Shame and guilt: The mismatch between how we act and what we believe is right can evoke intense feelings of guilt and shame.
  • Low self-esteem: Persistent dissonance can erode one's sense of self-worth, as living inauthentically undermines self-esteem.

To cope with cognitive dissonance, people often engage in various strategies. I've done every single one of these:

  1. Doubling Down: Instead of changing their beliefs or behaviors, some people reinforce them even more strongly. They convince themselves that their initial stance is correct to reduce discomfort.
  2. Denying: Some individuals refuse to accept the conflicting information or reality of their actions. They might ignore evidence that contradicts their beliefs to maintain a sense of consistency.
  3. Becoming Defensive: When confronted with their contradictory actions, people might become defensive. They may argue aggressively or deflect blame to protect their self-image.
  4. Ignoring: Ignoring the dissonance altogether is another common response. People might avoid thinking about the inconsistency, hoping the discomfort will diminish over time.
  5. Justifying: Rationalizing their behavior is a way some people cope. They might create explanations or excuses to make their actions seem more acceptable in light of their beliefs.

Understanding these coping mechanisms is pretty darn crucial for addressing cognitive dissonance. Recognizing when and why we employ these strategies can help us move towards greater self-awareness and alignment between our actions and values. 

Through this personal peek inside myself, I've come to understand the powerful and painful effects of cognitive dissonance. This exploration has not only deepened my understanding of my own mental health challenges—such as anxiety, feelings of shame and guilt, and low self-esteem—but also highlighted the universal struggle to maintain personal integrity in the face of conflicting actions.

Cognitive Dissonance in Societal Contexts

Cognitive dissonance isn't just a personal battle; it pervades societal structures, influencing cultural norms, social policies, and collective behaviors. This phenomenon becomes particularly pronounced in discussions around racial justice, privilege, and historical accountability. For example, many white individuals may struggle with the cognitive dissonance of acknowledging the benefits derived from systems built on the labor and exploitation of people of color. This dissonance can lead to a range of responses, from denial and defensiveness to doubling down on initial beliefs or ignoring the conflict altogether. Eventually, some may reach a point of acknowledgment and become an advocate for change.

Similarly, in geopolitical contexts such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israelis may experience cognitive dissonance when confronted with the realities of the hardships faced by Palestinians. The tension between seeing oneself as morally just and the harsh truths about one’s country’s policies can create a significant psychological burden. Acknowledging these truths is difficult but necessary for true understanding and reconciliation.

Here are some ways in which societal cognitive dissonance manifests:

  • Denial of Inconvenient Truths: Often, people choose to ignore facts or rationalize them away to maintain comfort in their pre-existing beliefs.
  • Social and Political Polarization: Cognitive dissonance can drive individuals and groups further apart, as reconciling conflicting beliefs with opposing parties becomes increasingly challenging.
  • Resistance to Change: When societal norms or historical narratives are challenged, cognitive dissonance can lead to resistance against reevaluating or changing these views, despite new evidence or perspectives.

Understanding these dynamics is essential for addressing the root causes of many social issues and moving towards solutions that acknowledge and incorporate the complexity of human beliefs and behaviors.

Psychological and Social Benefits of Acknowledging Dissonance

Acknowledging cognitive dissonance is not just a path to personal relief but also a gateway to broader social healing and transformation. When individuals confront and resolve their internal contradictions, it not only alleviates personal anxiety and stress but also fosters a more empathetic and understanding society.

Psychological Relief: Recognizing and addressing dissonance reduces mental health burdens like anxiety and depression. For many, realizing the roots of their discomfort and actively working through them can lead to profound personal growth and stability. It's akin to unburdening oneself from the weight of unresolved internal conflicts, leading to improved mental clarity and emotional peace.

Improved Relationships: By confronting personal biases and reconciling with one's own contradictions, individuals can build deeper, more authentic relationships. This transparency can bridge gaps between differing perspectives, enhancing mutual respect and communication.

Enhanced Social Cohesion: On a societal level, when groups address collective cognitive dissonance—such as historical injustices or systemic biases—there is potential for greater social unity and justice. Acknowledging uncomfortable truths can pave the way for reparative measures and policies that reflect a more inclusive and accurate historical narrative.

Catalyst for Social Change: Understanding and addressing the causes of dissonance can also lead to proactive efforts in shaping a fairer society. By challenging the status quo and advocating for changes that align with moral beliefs and ethical considerations, societies can evolve in significant ways.

The process of reconciling our inner conflicts is not only about alleviating personal guilt or discomfort but also about contributing to a more harmonious social order. It encourages us to live more authentically and to foster environments where truth and justice prevail.

Practical Steps Towards Resolving Cognitive Dissonance

To effectively manage and resolve cognitive dissonance, it's important to adopt practical, actionable strategies that address the root causes of internal conflict. Here are some steps to consider:

1. Awareness and Acknowledgment:

  • Identify Dissonance: The first step in resolving cognitive dissonance is to become aware of it. Recognize when your actions and values are not aligned. 
  • Acknowledge the Discomfort: Accept that feeling uncomfortable about a contradiction is a natural and valuable signal that something needs to change. 

2. Reevaluation of Beliefs and Actions:

  • Assess Conflicting Beliefs: Take time to critically assess and reflect on the beliefs that lead to dissonance. Are they still valid? Do they reflect the person you aspire to be?
  • Modify Behaviors: Adjust your actions to better align with your values. This might involve stopping certain behaviors, starting new ones, or finding a middle ground that feels more authentic.

3. Seek Information and Perspectives:

  • Educate Yourself: Often, cognitive dissonance arises from incomplete or outdated information. Always seek out new data, perspectives, and insights that can help you form a more coherent understanding of the issue at hand.
  • Engage in Dialogue: Talking with others can provide new insights and help clarify your values and beliefs, leading to more consistent actions.
  • Play Your Own Devil's Advocate:When you develop a belief, you should seek to disprove it, rather than trying to reinforce your belief. By actively searching for evidence that contradicts your own beliefs, you can more rigorously test its validity and strengthen its credibility if it withstands such scrutiny. (Most people do the exact opposite, only seeking information that validates their beliefs, which can make their foundations shaky.)

    5. Continuous Self-Reflection:

    • Monitor Progress: Keep track of your efforts to reduce dissonance and evaluate their effectiveness regularly.
    • Adjust as Needed: Be prepared to continually refine your beliefs and behaviors as you learn and grow.

    For those interested in a deeper exploration of how ancient philosophy and modern habit formation theories relate to these concepts, I recommend reading my blog post on Aristotle's ethical philosophy and its parallels with James Clear’s "Atomic Habits". This piece offers additional insights into how cultivating virtues and forming good habits can support resolving cognitive dissonance.


    Recognizing and addressing cognitive dissonance is essential for maintaining psychological well-being and integrity. By aligning our actions with our values, we reduce internal conflict and lead a more authentic life. This process involves not just adjusting behaviors but also growing as individuals and as a society. It’s an ongoing journey that will continue throughout my life. There will always be moments where I'll feel like slipping into my "Kill Me Now" shirt and hiding away in my closet, but I hope these moments diminish as I become more self-aware. One day at a time. 



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