Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance

Is there a proven method of overcoming cognitive dissonance in another human being? For example an Iraq Veteran who is being driven to suicide by his inability to accept that Iraq was an illegal war, even though he knows it was sub-consciously.

I do not ask this question casually.

Sounds far more serious (or complicated) than cognitive dissonance. The man’s been to war and is now back home contemplating suicide.

He may not have believed in the war he was fighting, but there’s got to be more to it.

There are cognitive therapies that can change a person’s thoughts, even thoughts that are irrational or conflicting. Someone whose thoughts are making him suicidal needs to be seeing a therapist who can help to redirect his thinking. Of course, while therapy has been proven to work for some people in some cases, that doesn’t mean it will be successful for everyone.

There’s the rub. He did/does believe implicitly in the given reasons for the war. He’s been home four years. He is getting therapy and taking pills. But he doesn’t sleep more than two hours at a stretch. And he has moments when he gets nervous and just has to quit whatever he’s doing and get away alone somewhere. He saw some pretty heavy combat, was wounded severely, and lost some close friends. He’s a smart guy. It’s obvious some of the things he reads on the internet, like the stuff about WTC7, hit him like a bag of cement. He put it like this to me a few days ago, either we went in to Iraq to overthrow Saddam and avenge 911, in which case he’s a patriot and a hero. Or we went in to steal their oil, in which case he is a murderer. I want to point out to him that if it’s number 2 then he needs to turn his anger away from himself and towards the men in authority who lied to him, but I’m afraid to meddle. Thus my question. I’m looking for a third way.

He was lied to, as we all were (WMD). Plenty were taken in. No shame in that.

This is where his thinking breaks down. It’s assuming a logical connection that doesn’t necessarily exist. In cognitive therapy, I think the focus would be on finding alternatives to the “if…then” scenario. I’m also curious how he feels about his fellow soldiers? Were they all murderers? And if so, what kind of punishment do they deserve?

There’s also the “usefulness” approach. Even if the war was a lie, what value is there in him being angry with himself? How does that resolve or change anything? Is there anything positive he can do based on his experience (even something as simple as not supporting future similar wars, or not voting for people who support them).

IANAT, but those are the kinds of techniques that cognitive therapy would use in this situation.

It does sound like he’s dealing with a lot more than just distorted thinking, though. There is probably some serious PTSD involved.

Moderator Action

Welcome to the SDMB, UncaRay.

The General Questions forum is for questions with factual answers. The question, as asked, is factual, and can be answered by citing the accepted treatments for cognitive dissonance. The example given makes me think that there’s more going on here, though. I think this thread will do better in our In My Humble Opinion forum, where people can give advice and opinions as well. Medical and health related questions (even mental health) are generally placed in our IMHO forum with the understanding that what you receive in response are just opinions and are not the equivalent of professional medical advice.

Moving thread from General Questions to In My Humble Opinion.

You should point out to your friend that he went to Iraq because he was ordered to do so. That’s a soldier’s duty. Soldiers don’t get to decide what is right or wrong or where they should go. Soldiers follow orders. It’s the Commander-in-chief and the top military brass (along with the elected officials in Congress) who have the decision making ability, and the responsibility is all on them as to whether they were right or wrong.

Unless your friend is also a member of Congress or is a top Pentagon leader, or personally consulted with the President, he had absolutely nothing to do with the decision to go to Iraq and therefore shares in absolutely none of the guilt.

There are a few specific instances when a soldier can refuse to obey an order. However, it is very difficult to make the case that going to Iraq was one of those instances.

The guilt lies with the decision makers, not those bound by oath or duty to carry out their orders.

Factually speaking, outside of Dick Cheney, I don’t think that there were very many people in the government who targetted Iraq as a source of oil, during the decision-making process. So while there was one man, that was strongly in it for bad reasons, everyone in the Legislature and the people of the US were in it to fight terrorism and to help the Iraqi people.

If he was fighting to end terrorism and to help the Iraqi people, then factually, that’s what HE was fighting for. That’s what all of his fellow soldiers, his command structure, and the Legislature were fighting for. That one dude got a side-benefit from it, and probably falsified some information to start the process, doesn’t negate what the intentions of everyone who was actualy involved in the planning and manlabor was going for.

It’s possible that his suicidal thoughts and guilt over the war’s justification were driven by his combat experiences. Maybe he has PSTD.

IANA therapist, but I would help get him to a support group or a therapist so that he can discuss his combat experiences with someone. Preferably someone who can help make sure that his past experiences do not lead to suicidal thoughts.

Not to Godwin-ize but the same could be said of the German military in WW2.

If he knew it was wrong to invade Iraq he should have resigned from service. If he believed the lie that invading Iraq was a matter of pressing concern to prevent nuclear warfare, then he is in the same boat as the rest of us. Just sit him down and talk to him about it.

Wait, what?! He’s a Truther?

I’m a “Truther” but he’s not. Not yet anyway. I’m speaking for him, so I could easily be talking out of my butt. I don’t think his issue is guilt. Except maybe some “survivor’s guilt,” no, his problem is more like being very close to waking up one day and discovering that every thing you have believed since childhood, truth, honor, Mom’s Apple Pie, are all a pack of murderous lies. I finally realized back in 2003 that WTC7 was brought down with explosives. It was the blackest day of my life. He’s facing the same awakening, multiplied by 100, with a generous dollop of PTSD on top. I don’t want to hammer him with Truther stuff. I could precipitate what I fear most. I’m looking for a third way.

Whatever problems he’s facing are most likely due to the trauma of combat and have nothing to do with politics. You should stop trying to impose your views of the war on him.

PSTD is not the dollop on top. It is the bedrock. Seeing combat, getting injured, and seeing friends die is going to beat an erroneous political view any day of the week.

In a truly fair and just world I honestly believe that those who have served are the only people that would ever be put on a pedestal in society; not wealthy people, highly intelligent people, not good looking, etc., etc., etc. I sometimes see homeless desperate veterans on the street and hold them in higher esteem than myself. I say this having never served and also thinking the Iraq war was completely pointless.

More to the point though, I believe you may be looking for a logical answer to an illogical problem.

<bolding mine> - there is an old proverb - you must remove the plank from your own eye before you can help take the splinter from your friend’s.

You gotta be kidding me.

Do him a great big favor and stop trying to help him. Leave this to people who don’t have an agenda, who are trained and who know what they’re doing.

perhaps he deserves whatever guilt he feels?