By Anna Alford: Culture Columnist

Everyone wants to be happy, right? But are your good intentions repeatedly flawed by your ‘bad karma’? Or do you just have plain old bad luck? If you often find yourself shooting for the moon and end up shooting yourself in the foot, you could be experiencing something called psychological reversal.

Psychological reversal, a term coined by psychologist Roger Callahan, is a subconscious state of self-wreckage. Without knowing, you are making choices that will bring you hardship, instead of the contentment and satisfaction everyone strives to achieve. Prime examples of this are staying in toxic relationships, antagonizing good friendships or sticking it out at a job that has you pulling hairs and loathing your alarm going off every morning.

People who experience this disposition feel uneasy when important aspects of their life such as love, work or finances are looking up. Individuals subconsciously resist unfettering their emotional distress symptoms such as depression, fear and addiction, and so psychological reversal works to set your subconscious objective on ravaging your successes.

A closely related theory to this feeling is something known as cognitive dissonance. It occurs when an individual holds conflicting attitudes, values, beliefs or behaviours, resulting in a feeling of mental discomfort. This malaise leads to an alteration in attitudes, values, beliefs or behaviours, in an attempt to reduce this discomfort.


We will always appear to select the most beneficial perceived action out of any choice, every time…but is it the best?

“a subconscious state of self wreckage”

A common instance of this is the fact that many people continue to smoke through an entire packet, or more, of cigarettes a day, even when they are aware of their cancer-causing and life-shortening abilities. They comeback at this dissonance with thoughts such as ‘I tried quitting, and it was too difficult’, or ‘it can’t be as bad as they say it is’. Regular smokers give grounds for their behaviours through denial and justification, a common act for people faced with cognitive dissonance.

No one likes to believe that they are wrong, so we curb our intake of any new knowledge that does not align with our pre-existing attitudes. Something referred to by psychologists as ‘confirmation bias’.

But is lying to ourselves such a bad thing? Does cognitive dissonance help protect our perspective of the world around us? or help us find a sense of self? While it may act to resolve the internal disquiet we feel over two juxtaposing beliefs, dissonance may also unintentionally reinforce future unwise decisions, as is the case for psychological reversal.

In both cases it is important to pin-point the incident in which a person first became unbalanced – either by becoming psychologically reversed or faced with a decision where conflicting beliefs are at play. By understanding your own current attitudes and behaviours, the value of their potential negative effects, as well as where they stemmed from, you can actively become more aware and act to continually challenge these attitudes. You may even start to feel like luck really is in your side.

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Header Photo: Kelly Sikkema