There are times when my rational mind does not agree with my emotional one. It’s during those times that I don’t know which part of myself to trust. The voices overcrowd and discredit each other. During those times, I find it most crucial to have an anchor to hold me to objective reality, whatever that may be.
I think that the core root of my cognitive dissonance is the cultivation of two different and seemingly opposing frameworks, and holding them simultaneously in mind. One is derived from my acquired western individual-focused culture, and the other from my origin Arab-Muslim collectivist background. Reconciling these two factions of my identity is an ongoing process that I believe will last the span of my life. The most challenging part of these mental inconsistencies is the feeling of disconnection and isolation that come with them.
The feeling of being estranged from the people around you is an unhealthy, destructive, lonesome, and dreary state of mind. It transcends your relationships to your environment and outlook on the world. It is when the mental dissociation becomes more natural and frequent than being present. Questioning your reality becomes a habit that leaves you doubting your own sanity. The existential panic leaves you frantically searching for any objective observer to confirm which perception of yours is true, and when you fail to find refuge or the language to do that, you feel stuck in your own mind unable to communicate or even ask for help. So you are left with nothing but the panic of the recursive perpetual doubt. You lose the hope to be understood for the mere need to feel understood, and so you conform to wherever you happen to be, and in the process of doing so you start losing your sense of identity, autonomy, and independence.
It’s been a long and difficult process, but I’ve started to develop the mental and emotional language to express myself and navigate my reality. I decided to break loose and live according to how I see and interpret the world, and remain as authentic as possible, even when that does not align with the culture I’m surrounded by as long as I keep learning. That’s when I feel the most genuine and fulfilled. Changing my approach to how I see things opened up pathways I could not recognize or even imagine before. It has introduced me to amazing people and communities. I realized that the differences between others’ worldviews and mine were not necessarily an invalidation to my experience, but an authentic expression of theirs.
If you have felt, or still feel this way, I believe that you can reach to your own version of this realization. Start with your mind, and get to know yourself. Find your language before finding your people. After you do that, you will be armed with the cognitive vocabulary, and emotional resilience to problem solve and rationalize what might seem incomprehensible to you. It may be a repetitive and recursive process. However, when you loop over the right solutions, you learn something from them each time. That is how I know which paths to follow, and which to leave behind. Listen to yourself, be true, authentic, and never stop learning. That may mean that you will be viewed as odd, strange, or hard to understand depending on where you happen to be, and who you happen to be surrounded by. Believe you are not alone, and that you will find your people; your tribe. Just like our individual minds are able to hold conflicting ideas simultaneously, I believe that the collective mind of our society can as well, ensuring healthier and safer lives for the individuals in it. Until then, stand strong.