It seems to me that there is a type of Cognitive Bias where someone continues to justify their suffering by claiming it was "meaningful" or "necessary" even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. What is the name of this type of cognitive dissonance?

Examples could be:

  • Working long unpaid over time on a project that was completely miss spec'd and useless but insisting it was useful in spite of strong evidence to the contrary.
  • Justification of participation war in spite of evidence that the war was built on false pretences and had a net, very negative outcome.
  • Maybe also being a victim of abuse and maintaining that "you deserved it", when quite clearly you didn't.
  • Donating to a charity that has been shown to embezzle funds and flatly denying that the funds are used for the good cause you intended.

The closest I can get to explaining this is the sunk costs fallacy, but instead of investing more time or money, it is the continued investment of "mental energy" to maintain the incorrect position. The function of this is to prevent someone having to accept the truth, and process the trauma of the event.

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    $\begingroup$ Sometimes people give meaning to what they're are doing, to not admit that they're doing it for compliments or fame or money. Will probably did the work so that the management could see his worth. And it's normal for him to deny the truth. Not because of "the meaning" but because he did all that effort for nothing, and also he can't go tell his manager "hey, your specs were wrong" when his manager just told him how a wonderful employee he was. I think you're just overthinking the situation. Anyone who worked hard for something would get defensive if they were told it was for nothing. $\endgroup$
    – Doliprane
    May 20, 2021 at 7:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Doliprane Will is completely fictional. This is just an example. It might have been about religion, political ideology or a relationship, I just figured this was the least divisive example I could think of. $\endgroup$ May 20, 2021 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ It's a bit like a sunk costs fallacy for cognitive dissonance. $\endgroup$ May 20, 2021 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ This was very specific for an example. It sounded to me like it was a real life experience. But now I understand what you're talking about. I've seen this kind of behaviour in religious people. It's like being in denial and refusing to accept that all their efforts were for nothing. $\endgroup$
    – Doliprane
    May 20, 2021 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ OK. Totally understandable. I will keep the story as an example but will try to edit to get my point across better. $\endgroup$ May 21, 2021 at 7:03

1 Answer 1


What you're talking about I believe is psychological rationalization.

In psychology and logic, rationalization or rationalization is a defense mechanism in which controversial behaviors or feelings are justified and explained in a seemingly rational or logical manner to avoid the true explanation, and are made consciously tolerable—or even admirable and superior—by plausible means.[1] It is also an informal fallacy of reasoning.[2]

Rationalization happens in two steps:

A decision, action, judgement is made for a given reason, or no (known) >reason at all. A rationalization is performed, constructing a seemingly good or logical >reason, as an attempt to justify the act after the fact (for oneself or others).

Rationalization encourages irrational or unacceptable behavior, motives, or feelings and often involves ad hoc hypothesizing. This process ranges from fully conscious (e.g. to present an external defense against ridicule from others) to mostly unconscious (e.g. to create a block against internal feelings of guilt or shame). People rationalize for various reasons—sometimes when we think we know ourselves better than we do. Rationalization may differentiate the original deterministic explanation of the behavior or feeling in question.[3][4]

It is important to put emphasis on the notion that rationalization is >exclusively a defense mechanism; as such, it must be a denial of an >idea.[citation needed] Many conclusions individuals come to do not fall under the >definition of rationalization as the term is denoted above.



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