012: Cognitive Dissonance and Faith Transition

ATF-generic-150x150The theory of Cognitive Dissonance is a well-established concept in the field of psychology that explains why we all experience discomfort and anxiety when we are exposed to new ideas and beliefs or engage in behavior that conflict with our pre-existing views, ideals, and beliefs.  Micah Nickolaison conducts this interview and states, “I’ve been extremely interested in producing an episode of A Thoughtful Faith that could explore the concept of Cognitive Dissonance as it relates to an LDS faith crisis / faith transition. When the opportunity came to produce a collaborative episode with the wonderful Natasha Helfer Parker at the Mormon Mental Health Podcast, this seemed like a really good fit for both audiences. So, I couldn’t be more thrilled about sharing this discussion with Natasha Helfer Parker and the amazing Jennifer Finlayson-Fife.”

Both Natasha Helfer Parker and Jennifer Finlayson-Fife are active Latter-Day Saints, as well as marriage and family therapists. Natasha and Jennifer each have experience with treating Mormon individuals and couples, and have observed the function of Cognitive Dissonance as it pertains to Mormon culture and ideals. Please visit their respective websites below.

In the first part of this episode we explore the clinical definition of Cognitive Dissonance, including some of the history behind the theory, as well as common examples from day-t0-day life. Afterwards, we transition into how understanding Cognitive Dissonance can be useful in understanding and navigating faith transitions and crises. We hope you enjoy, and please share your thoughts and comments with us below.


Shaken Faith Syndrome by Michael Ash
FAIR presentation by Michael Ash
TED Talk about Cognitive Dissonance
FAIR presentation addressing Cognitive Dissonance by LDS psychologist Wendy Ulrich

Nathasha Helfer Parker’s Website
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife’s Website


Many thanks to The Lower Lights for the beautiful bumper music.

9 comments for “012: Cognitive Dissonance and Faith Transition

  1. Bradley Hintze
    March 18, 2013 at 8:59 am

    I so appreciate this conversation. I usually love when these two wonderful women get together. However, I’ll have to respectively and wholeheartedly disagree with Jennifer when she described the differences between TBMs and post Mormons. She described them both as dishonest. I was a TBM and now am post Mormon and sincerely feel that honesty has always been at the very top of my values list. Ironically it was honesty and authenticity, not to mention emotional heath, that lead me to the post Mormon status. While I do think that there are post Mormons who have thrown the baby out with the bath water, I believe the majority of them (at least the ones I interact with) emphatically do not fit this label. Labels can be damaging but while we are on the subject, I believe there to be four accurate broad-level labels: TBM, nuanced Mormon, nuanced post-Mormon and apostate. The line between the two nuanced labels is personal and should never be judged. Theoretically, the only ones who will juge are the people who fit in the two extreme labels.

    I believe that one hope of this discussion was to give current members with cognitive dissonance hope in a nuanced path. I actually suppor this. However, the description given here of falling away as maladaptive and dishonest is quite harmful, especially for those trying desperately to make the church work for them but can’t. In the end though, I agree that gray is a legitimate color and I’ve embraced it and have found true happiness. 🙂

    • Jennifer Finlayson-Fife
      March 18, 2013 at 10:37 pm

      Hi Bradley,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry that you (and probably others) have heard what I said the way you did. To be clear, I absolutely DO NOT think that TBMs or Post Mos are dishonest. I could never embrace such a simplistic view of the world or of good and divergent people. I think I know which section of the podcast you are referring to, and to clarify, I believe that approaching these challenges of dissonance honestly, no matter where it leads you, is the most important in being able to create a better ( more adaptive) map of reality. I also believe that for many of us, fear clouds our judgment in this process—fear of losing the meaning framework that has shaped our lives or fear of losing a view of ourselves that we cherish. I think there are many, many honest disbelievers who have claimed that status with full integrity. Thanks for letting me clarify.

      • Bradley Hintze
        March 19, 2013 at 12:17 pm

        Thank you for the clarification Jennifer! I do think it to be extremely problematic when leaving is not presented as a viable option. There are people who truly hurt, even unto hurting themselves physically, because what they are told at church. Leaving to get healthy is viable when the LDS version of Christ doesn’t work.

        • Jennifer Finlayson-Fife
          March 20, 2013 at 12:07 am

          Yes, I fully agree. The podcast that this was originally broadcast for is “A Thoughtful Faith”. The audience is for believers grappling with questions about their faith. So I focused my comments to that group, but I agree that leaving the impression that those who leave are dishonest or are somehow making an illegitimate choice is potentially harmful.

    • scott
      April 13, 2014 at 1:52 am

      sometimes there is no baby in the bath water, only a turd.

  2. John
    January 22, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    I’m in a faith transition and I was hoping for something different from this episode (it was great – I just expected something else). Being right in the middle of a transition is fraught with a range of feelings that I don’t know what to do with. Friends and I in the same position just describe it as confusing and then end up leaving conversations about the confusion really tired.

    That being said, what I know about cognitive dissonance I’ve found really helpful when I think about what I’m feeling. If you wanted, I’d love to hear more about the faith transition, cognitive dissonance, and how we can go about the dissonance/transition in a healthy way.

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