Cognitive dissonance and trans

The theory of cognitive dissonance holds that people wish their understanding of the world to be consistent, and when they become aware of contradiction they feel discomfort, or dissonance, which leads them to alter their understanding. Very powerful people may change the world instead. Or, in an absurd situation people will rationalise to produce a comforting illusion. It depends how committed you are to your fantasy- when the world did not end, fringe members of a cult accepted they had been misled, but the most committed members formed the view that the world was saved by the faith of the cult.

To reduce dissonance, one could change a belief or behaviour, but this can be difficult. You accept that smoking is harmful, but still are addicted. So, you could discount the information and decide to believe that the scientific link was uncertain. It would be healthier to believe the truth of its harmfulness, and recognise that smoking is a hard habit to break, but that is a belief in ones own impotence, which can be painful.

Or you can reduce the importance of your belief, saying that smoking is pleasurable, and therefore worth the risk. Against that, campaigners say the smell is unpleasant, and it makes you breathless now. It reduces the elasticity of your skin, so produces wrinkles now.

People go to great lengths to avoid cognitive dissonance. If you are forced to do something, you may persuade yourself that you did it freely, that it was a good thing for you to do it. When you choose between two alternatives, both of which have good and bad points, you are stuck with the unpleasantness of what you have chosen, and cannot have the good side of what you rejected. So, you minimise that good side- I would not have liked it anyway. You emphasise the good side of what you have chosen.

Or, you could accept that you had made the wrong decision. I did the best I could. I am not perfect, and do not have perfect knowledge. There is rarely one perfect choice among many bad alternatives- my choice was good enough, and it is better not to spend too much effort deciding.

People value the goals which have taken the greatest effort to achieve. Otherwise, they will believe their decision to take that effort was wrong. Anxious people are particularly likely to avoid dissonance, but some people can cope with a great deal.

Most of this comes from this article.

How does this work with me having transitioned, yet now not being gender essentialist? There is no essential “femininity” in women or “masculinity” in men, and the way we express them are social constructs, culturally conditioned. I am not a real woman.

I am intelligent, so have a complex, nuanced understanding of the matter, but I have dealt with the dissonance using self-hatred and a belief in the world as particularly threatening. I was wrong to transition but it was the best decision I could make at the time. It was the only way I could see to express my true nature. Transition is not really accepted in society, but being visibly queer we are tolerated: if at first I appeared to be normal but showed confusing signs I was not, that would be more unpleasant for others who would make things unpleasant for me.

I remain imprisoned in the need to have a consistent belief.

One alternative is to see the world and myself as inexplicable. That I have made bad decisions in the past does not mean it will always be thus. I am still alive. I am learning, so likely to make better decisions. Getting things wrong is rarely a complete disaster. Belief in possibilities- whatever happened before- might be more useful.

The need to believe in something gets in the way of seeing things as they really are.


Recent art work by Alice Pike Barney, her varying degrees of female fear and uncertainty. This woman looks nervous, but given the title- Hollywood– she may be the most confident of the lot! The next one seems under threat, but not surrendering, though resistance must be covert. I like her resistance, and found the title a shock.


It is “Head of a boy”.

Desire and action

Why does anyone do anything? They think it will advance their goals. It relieves an immediate discomfort- I feel a headache, so take a painkiller. I believe it will relieve discomfort in the future- in case I get other headaches, I buy painkillers. Or, they think it will give them pleasure. Positive feelings arise from experience, all slightly different- satisfaction, contentment, happiness, excitement.

Often, a person’s problems seem too great for them. This may be because they do not trust or know themselves sufficiently, and have too great fear of things which might not happen. So they seek an escape. A video game takes you into the now, in a way which is the Opposite of meditation: walled off from the world, concentrating on something brightly coloured in constant motion but unreal, with an endless stream of false feelings of achievement. I became addicted to Tetris, and weaned myself, then became addicted to Candy Crush, clockwatching until I could get more “lives” without paying for them. I don’t go near the things. I do like a glass of wine, though, and hang around my blog stats more than just to see what is being read.

Some level of escape is OK, some gets in the way of actually facing problems. In a vicious spiral, problems appear greater so you spend less time facing them. It is not always clear where the boundaries lie.

We are taught what will advance goals. I associate taking a pill with relief of an ache because someone told me it would work, I tried it, it worked. I clean my teeth because I learn to associate discomfort with not doing so, relief from discomfort with doing so.

It can be worth effort and concentration in pursuit of pleasure. Listening to Bach partitas at first I was bored and perplexed. I just wanted them to end. Now I find them beautiful. I have had epiphanies with art works, suddenly seeing them in a new way, appreciating after a long time looking, even years of familiarity.

I have false beliefs in what I might enjoy. This is what we as a family do for pleasure. So I go along with it. Later I still do it, expecting enjoyment where there is none. Seeing the false beliefs, seeing how empty some of my actions are, I lose trust in what I have learned and seek to learn what actually motivates me. I thought when starting my first job after University, I cannot endure this job. I must enjoy it. Yet I found myself enduring, then not enduring it.

Black and white thinking gets in my way. Cycling is effort with moments of delight. I want to notice and savour each delight without denying the effort. In work there was tedium and triumph: the achievement needs to motivate me, so I must see and prize it all, to its full value. Overwhelmed by everything, yet wanting more so much- acceptance of what is is the thing. Seeing what is possible. An endless puzzle, never worked out, the intolerable wrestle with words and meanings…

I lose motivation. I could do that if I wanted. I just don’t want to at the moment, I think- then tell myself that as fear and disbelief grow. And, I grow to like and value myself. I am worth looking after.


Ingrained belief

I can never get what I want.

This is not true. I write it because it has been a belief ingrained in me, and even now I detect traces of it. It goes along with “There is only one way of getting what I want” and even “I do not deserve what I want”- I hope I have digested and passed out that last one, but it ate me for some time.

“You are so covered in scars!” said a counsellor once- but that was many years ago.

I still detect traces of it in my distress and disappointment.

One value of Affirmation is inculcating behovely beliefs. I needed “I am worthy of life” in November, I do not need it now. Delete. Substitute “I am a powerful woman”. Someone with integrity and discernment told me that, after all. Take it into my heart.

I am a powerful woman.

I went for my usual walk- across the fields, along the river, round the lakes- in wellies, as much of it is squishy mud now. I have blisters on the soles of my feet. I wondered if I was enjoying it, put the question to my emotional being, and decided I was. The sunshine was glorious. I love the green, and the birds; this is a primordial response in me, australopithecine or earlier. Even the hard work had benefits. Doing this walk for the first time in my new hair, I notice that just the slightest breath of wind comes from behind and the curtains close over my face. I look ridiculous! And- my heart is open. I am a powerful woman. I play with these thoughts as I pass people enjoying the sunshine. Once, I notice my cringe. I do not like my old cringe.

When someone asks God
"What does 'feminine' mean?"
God points at me.

I like that line. Conceivably, I am a bit high; I can see that just a bit higher for just a bit longer might frighten someone and their relatives, so that the Doctors come and make it go away with drugs. Then it becomes the shadow, the thing to avoid, and the slightest sign of it terrifies the Sufferer and the Carers, and is yet more proof of Sickness. Now, though, I am simply being creative. Delete “I am soft, gentle, peaceful” and replace with “I am Feminine“. Soft, gentle, peaceful is part of it; that word is mine, for me to colour in.

Boldini, Cléo de Mérode

Comforting thoughts

File:Illustration to 'Tam O'Shanter', John Faed.jpgWitches are extremely dangerous. Fortunately, one may protect oneself:

For mony a beast to deid she shotFile:Walpurgisnacht.jpg
and perished mony a bonny boat
and shook both meikle corn and bear
and kept the countryside in fear…

Now, do thy speedy utmost, Meg
And reach the keystane of the brig
There at them thou thy tail may toss
A runnin stream they darena cross

Witches have the power to blight a farming community completely, destroying crops and animals, but as they cannot cross a river, we can get away. If only that superstition had been used, two centuries before Burns, as proof of innocence! But the witchfinders only sought proof of guilt.

It is striking how much effort I put into retaining beliefs about myself which are not true, or not obviously true. I could, of course, prove them, or decide to prove them- at some unspecified point in the future, which never comes. Procrastination is only a particular type of this thought.

I have false negative beliefs too: at least, I hope they are false. Two Upworthy videos depress me. The dancers in the Amsterdam prostitutes’ windows- I cited it before– shows how awful the World can be; the junkyard orchestra, which should be uplifting, I find a judgment on me: they can overcome their appalling difficulties, why can’t I? Whereas if I use it as a spur to think of the Possible, are my dreams just dreams?

Justifications are unnecessary.
I express myself female because I am transsexual.
I want to practise Reiki because I can channel healing energy, or Qi.

Well. I want to practise Reiki because it is a wonderful placebo, and I have the showmanship to carry it off. If you can fake sincerity, you have got it made. I express myself female because I am a transvestite pervert who has lost all sense of proportion. Or something.

I am fairly sure that the theory of autogynephilia is trivial. Yes, we get turned on by the thought of us female. No, this does not cause us to transition: if it did, “gender dysphoria” could have no meaning.

Some think there is that causal link, though I think the cause is likely to be the other way round. What do I do with contrary evidence?
-Blot it out of consciousness, ignore it, deny it, pretend it is not there, collapse weeping thinking of it occasionally-

Acknowledge it. It exists. It will not make me change my actions. It does not affect my situation: few cissexual folk care. What matters is my reaction to it. Is it a threat? Only if I find it so.

I have felt my hands grow warm, and I have felt warmth seemingly communicated from another’s hands, without touching. Others have valued my attention. And I want that to be the reason why I perform healing: I want it to connect to the reality of the other person.

I spoke to a man who has given several types of Healing over thirty years, and said it seems it’s just placebo. He said, “Yes, that’s about the size of it”. That shocked me. I should have asked straight out, “How do you let yourself do it, if that is all it is?” He told me of spending time with Shiatsu practitioners, and how lovely that was.

What I want is a reason for doing this. My inner rationalist should sense my hands growing warm, sense heat or coolness as I pass my right hand over someone, and use inductive reasoning to connect that to a measurable positive result for the other. It does not work that way.

Relax. It is alright. What I have instead is that I want to do this, that I like to do it, and that other people seem to like it too. It is not this amazing mystic calling, which I cannot follow without perfect certainty that it is right; it is a thing I can do if I want to. And- placebo is a powerful effect.

The God Complex, part 2

How can I have faith in God, and be an adult?

The first reason is, this is my experience. Synchronicities throughout my life, moving me towards growth and healing. Every hair on my head numbered? It feels that way.

Second, it is the experience of others. Forgive me, but all that New Age stuff- the Golden Light project which I am now following and which blesses me, the Law of Attraction, a Reality Computer programmed by our thoughts, is moving towards a reality which was long before found by Quakers, Sufis, Baha’is, Franciscans.

Third, I have taken to heart a paradox. There is no God. God exists. As my psychiatrist friend said, he could help most people except the ones who vomited their problems onto his consulting room floor and said “You deal with it”. My idea of God fits my idea of Reality, my adult responsibility and all, and all my life I have received unlooked-for and unimaginable Gifts (often quite painful at the time) and Blessings.

What God is- Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, whatever- I accept as myth. I do not need to make a decision as to whether I believe in the Resurrection, for example; I am aware of the image, and I treat it with respect. It does not matter whether it happened, it only matters whether it is true.

I have faith in so many things I cannot understand, from the strange propensity of other drivers to drive on the left too, so we can all rush along at 70mph, or the amazing medical solutions to problems people I know have, the diversity of Earth and Universe, the force of Love and Life and Reality, and so I am happily Panentheist.

Oh, and I had a cliffhanger. How Doctor Who is that?