Cognitive Dissonance:

Everything You Need To Know

We’ve all flung the term cognitive dissonance around once or twice – but what does it actually mean? Coined way back in the 50s by groundbreaking psychologist Leon Festinger, the theory of cognitive dissonance refers to the mental conflict one experiences when their beliefs don’t line up with their actions.

Uh oh – sound familiar? We’re all prone to a little cognitive dissonance here and there, so let’s dive into everything you need to know about this fascinating state of mind.

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What exactly is cognitive dissonance?

The best way to approach understanding cognitive dissonance is to start with an example.

Let’s say you’re on a super strong health kick – you’ve been exercising like a pro, you’re eating clean, and you’re starting to feel pretty great. You’re crushing it. But when you head to the supermarket with a clear-cut shopping list, and you still nab that tub of on-sale ice cream, you might be dealing with a tad of pesky cognitive dissonance.

The mental conflict you experience in a scenario like this happens when your actions don’t line up with your beliefs, or the way you’d like to be living.

A sense of dissonance occurs which creates a sense of mental discomfort and can induce shame, and it can often be a pretty sticky rinse and repeat cycle – particularly as you try to justify or rationalize things.

It’s important to remember that cognitive dissonance isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it all depends on how one deals with it, and whether it leads to physical or mental problems for an individual down the road.

As an example, if someone wants to give up smoking but continues to keep puffing, physical health problems could arise, and the guilt caused by every cigarette may cause a lot of mental stress, too.

What can happen when you experience cognitive dissonance often?

So how can we assess how affected you are from cognitive dissonance? It all comes down to the disparity between the conflicting beliefs, as well as how much the beliefs mean to a person. It also involves how well one copes with not living true to their nature.

Let’s use another example: If a vegan spends their whole life saving baby animals, talking about the beauty of veganism and living sustainably, the way they feel about eating meat would likely be a lot more intense than the friend we mentioned above who grabs a tub of ice cream. In this instance, there’s a broader distance between their beliefs and actions.The discomfort caused by cognitive dissonance can force people to rationalise their decisions, which is a lot easier to do if the action at hand doesn’t put their whole identity at stake.

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What are the effects of cognitive dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance becomes a major issue when you continuously justify or rationalise destructive and harmful behaviours. It can also affect an individual if your skewed actions majorly affect the way you feel about and see yourself.

When it’s unaddressed, it can also lead to long term impaired decision-making skills.

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What are the signs of cognitive dissonance?

You might be experiencing cognitive dissonance if an action repeatedly causes you to feel:

  • Confused
  • Conflicted or unsettled over a disputed subject matter
  • General discomfort that has no clear source
  • Having conflicting views or desires and not knowing how to grapple with them

And despite how unsettling it can feel to have these emotions, it’s important to remember that recognising this state of mind is an incredible first step to finding the way you work things out, and resolving the dissonance.

Competing values, beliefs and attitudes are only problematic when they’re not integrated or reconciled – and at the end of the day, it’s completely human to experience cognitive dissonance.

What is the best way to resolve cognitive dissonance?

Although cognitive dissonance can be tricky to navigate, resolving it can lead to wonderful positive changes in your life. The good news is that it doesn’t always require huge shifts either – sometimes a tiny change in thinking can have the most profound ripple effects.

Director of the outpatient clinic at the Centre for the Treatment and Study for Anxiety (CTSA) says the key to busting cognitive dissonance is identifying it, assessing it and figuring out how to resolve it.

“You have to identify which values are yours and which values are someone else’s. And if you’re taking on someone else’s values, then you have to ask yourself why,” she says.

So, for example, if someone says, ‘I can’t believe you would spend money on a housekeeper.’ You have to figure out what your values are and what’s important to you, and then you have to be okay with them, Gallagher says. “Sometimes, there’s not a right or wrong; it’s what’s best for you and this time in your life.”

After all, life is complex and full of an evolving and endless range of situations, experiences and feelings. It can be hard to make sense of it all at times – but the most important thing you can do is to acknowledge it; and the rest will follow.

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Therapeutic support for cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance often surfaces in the therapy room as people work their way through transitions and life changes. Infidelity is a common dissonance; “I love my partner but I am seeing someone else”, as are conflicts around one’s working situation and values; perhaps someone does not agree with gambling but works for a casino.

While these are obvious conflicts, dissonance can also be more covert. A trusted, trained therapist can help you work through what can be murky ground. The process involves aligning to your values and making values-based decisions about your life, while ensuring you have support and accountability along the way.

We have an incredible team of therapists who can help with cognitive dissonance.

To find a psychologist or counsellor who can help you, get in touch via (02) 9212 5469 or [email protected] – or get matched to a therapist now.

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Meet Our Therapists


annia baron, Clinical Psychologist


dr navit gohar-kadar, Clinical Psychologist


maja czerniawska, Senior Psychologist


eunice cheung, Psychotherapist & Counsellor


ayanthi de silva, Registered Psychologist


tayla gardner, Psychotherapist & Counsellor


katie odonoghue, Relationship Coach & Couples Therapist


lorna macaulay, Senior Psychologist


shuktika bose, Clinical Psychologist


deepika gupta, Clinical Psychologist


eva fritz, Senior Psychologist


dr emer mcdermott, Clinical Psychologist


nicole burling, Senior Psychologist


natasha kasselis, Senior Psychologist


dr perry morrison, Senior Psychologist


gaynor connor, Psychotherapist & Counsellor


shauntelle benjamin, Registered Psychologist


liz kirby, Psychotherapist & Counsellor


sam barr, Clinical Psychologist


darren everett, Senior Psychologist


jamie de bruyn, Senior Psychologist

Frequently Asked Questions

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We are a progressive online counselling practice, providing telehealth services in Australia. Our passionate and experienced local team includes psychologists, psychotherapists & counsellors, coaches and therapists that are trained to deliver online therapy to you in a safe and convenient way.

Whether you are looking for short or long term support through a challenging time, or looking to discover your potential, we want you to feel comfortable on every step of the journey.

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Every therapist is different and their therapeutic style and personalities are all unique. However, all of our Indigo practitioners will hold a compassionate and non-judgmental space for you, where you are free to be who you are. Your therapist is there to listen to you, guide you, and help you overcome life’s challenges.

Generally, you’ll spend the first session getting to know each other, talking about your history and what it is you’d like to work through. From your second session onwards, you’ll get to go deeper, peeling back the layers and all the while learning practical strategies to help you transform and grow.

At Indigo we encourage our clients to have at least 10-20 sessions, because we believe that therapy is a long-term journey of commitment, growth and investment in yourself. After seeing your therapist for a while, you may continue to book occasional check-in sessions as you feel more confident doing life with the knowledge and tools you have gained.

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Everyone is welcome to attend online counselling or therapy with one of our practitioners at The Indigo Project.

Online counselling or therapy via Zoom is an accessible, safe and convenient option for those who are unable to attend face-to-face appointments, or simply prefer to meet online. Whether it be a busy schedule due to work and family, health-related reasons or distance, online counselling can help you.

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Our team of trained clinical psychologists, psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors attend to a range of common mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, grief and loss, life transitions, relationship issues and more.

A number of practitioners also specialise in areas such as sexuality, gender and identity, addiction, sports and performance, personality disorders and therapy for children and adolescents.

Several therapists also provide services in marriage counselling and couples therapy.

Finding the best psychologist or counsellor for me - where do I start?

We highly encourage you to view our practitioners and use the filtering options to find a psychologist or counsellor who can help you with the issues you are seeking help for.

Meet our therapists and what they can help you with here.

If you need help, our Therapy Matchmakers team will be able to match you with a practitioner. Give us a call on (02) 9212 5469 or email us at [email protected] so we can support you on your journey.

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Our therapists typically have capacity to see several new clients each month. However these openings can get filled up fast from those who have been on a waitlist. If there is someone that you particularly want to see but is currently unavailable, we can place you on a waitlist until there is an opening.

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If you are the parent or legal guardian of a minor, you will need to make an appointment online or via the phone.

We have many psychologists, psychotherapists & counsellors who have experience dealing with children and adolescents in therapy. See who can help here.

Someone I know needs counselling. Can I book an appointment for them?

Those who require online counselling or therapy will have to make an appointment directly with The Indigo Project via our online booking form or on the phone. We do not accept bookings on behalf of an individual or couple from a third party unless as part of an insurance plan, support scheme or similar arrangement.

We want marriage or couples counselling. Can we see a couples counsellor together?

Couples are welcome to attend online therapy sessions together with one of our couples therapists.

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We recommend setting up for your online therapy session 5-10 minutes before it commences. Make sure your computer or phone microphone and video is working, and that you are comfortable and ready to sit through your session uninterrupted.

There’s zero pressure to prepare anything for your first session but if you find it helpful, you can jot down some points about specific things you’d like to work on or discuss with your therapist.

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Everything you discuss with your therapist here at Indigo is absolutely confidential, and will not be shared unless you or someone else is at risk of serious harm.

How do I pay for my online therapy session?

For first time clients, payment is made via debit or credit card at the time of booking. For returning clients, there are a number of payment methods available such as authorised direct debit or online via the payments link on your invoice.

Who to contact if you are in crisis

The Indigo Project is not a crisis service.

  • If you are in a crisis, if you are experiencing suicidal or homicidal thoughts, or somebody else is in danger, DO NOT use this service.
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Lifeline 13 11 14 - A crisis support and suicide prevention service for all Australians.

Mental Health Line 1800 011 511 - The Mental Health Line offers professional help and advice for everyone. Operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 - Beyond Blue provide support to address issues related to depression, suicide, anxiety disorders and other related mental illnesses.

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 - A free service for people who are suicidal, caring for someone who is suicidal, bereaved by suicide or are health professionals supporting people affected by suicide.

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 - A counselling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25.

Parentline 1300 1300 52 - Parent Line is a free telephone counselling and support service for parents and carers with children aged 0 to 18 who live in NSW.

What else does The Indigo Project do?

Our courses, workshops and events are designed to transform the way you think, feel and live.

Not ready to commit to therapy? Indigo founder Mary Hoang has created Get Your Sh*t Together, a self-directed digital course for those who want to develop greater self-awareness, tackle stress and anxiety, and learn practical skills to help heal, grow and thrive in life.

Mary has also written a book Darkness is Golden: A Guide to Personal Transformation and Dealing with Life's Messiness that combines her experience in the therapy room with unique audio experiences framed by her research in music psychology.

Available for free download are a number of toolkits to help you combat your depression, deal with your anxiety or transform your relationships.

Although an online counselling practice, The Indigo Project believes in the power of community, and we often host events throughout the year. Keep an eye out for events such as Listen Up, a contemporary digital sound bath some describe as a “soundtracked therapy session”.

We are also available for corporate events, workshops and related projects. Please contact us at [email protected] if you’d like to know more.

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