Psychological Rigidity: What is It?

Cognitive rigidity can lead us to a clearly unhappy life. Not admitting other perspectives, refusing to change, attending to and valuing other points of view and making use of a more open mind, ends up generating suffering and frustration.


Psychological rigidity defines those people who are captives of a strong cognitive and behavioral pattern. These are profiles that do not open up to new perspectives, that do not admit other points of view or tolerate changes. They do not understand that mental flexibility is essential for a healthy life, to face difficulties, to enjoy happier social relationships…

Although it surely comes to mind more than any acquaintance who follows this same pattern of behavior, we must admit that all, in a certain way, we apply at some point a certain psychological rigidity. It is common to think, for example, that certain things can only be solved in one way. Also that those values ​​and beliefs that define us so much are little more than universal truths.

Each one of us clings to a series of concepts that we assume as immovable. In other areas, we know how to give in, we open ourselves mentally to other opinions and perspectives easily and without resistance. That this is so is not negative. Not while there is a balance where we are always more inclined to practice psychological flexibility.

On the other hand, those who do not give in, who fall prisoners of the same mental schemes, are destined to a clear suffering and malaise. However, it is necessary to bear in mind that this characteristic sometimes goes beyond a personality style to be a typical feature of certain disorders, such as certain types of dementia, autism spectrum disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder.

Let’s see more data below.

“To see clearly, it is enough to change the direction of the look”.

-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry-

Psychological rigidity: 3 components that define it

Within the therapy of acceptance and commitment, the concept of psychological rigidity is key. In this type of therapeutic approach framed in what is known as third generation therapies (focused on educating and reorienting the patient’s life from a more holistic point of view) it is essential that the person detects these mental inflections.

In this way, it is understood that a large part of our suffering as a person is part of those unshakable beliefs. The same ones that, in some way, are nourished by what they have culturally taught us. Also of those values ​​and schemes that we use without questioning and that structure our whole life submerging us in a reality lacking in impulse, of variation, of openness to change and opportunity.

For this type of therapy, psychological rigidity is therefore a mine to detect and a bridge to circumvent. However, it should be noted that this concept had its first appearance with Sigmund Freud in psychoanalysis. For the Viennese psychiatrist, it was the patient’s resistance to change, it was that point where a series of attitudes and behaviors emerged that made progress very difficult and at the same time showed the tip of the iceberg of a problem.

On the other hand, the psychologists Robinson, Gould and Strosahl (2011), explained in the book Real Behavior Change in Primary Care that psychological rigidity is defined by three components. They are the following.

They do not connect with the present, they are uncomfortable and they fear it

People characterized by psychological rigidity do not appreciate the present. They live in their particular mental setting, where all the windows are closed. They do not admit those novelties that the discourse of that here and now brings where so many things happen. These profiles do not appreciate opportunities, they do not tolerate variations, they shy away from the unknown, from everything unforeseen…

All these dynamics capable of breaking their “iron stability” generates fear and contradiction.

They do not know how to recognize priorities, what really matters

When someone has a clear priority, all roads are clear. When someone knows what is important to them, they are not afraid to risk, to generate changes, to open themselves to other perspectives with which to allow themselves to grow and to better attend to what they value and value.

Now, a person with psychological rigidity is limited to following some fixed rules, his. He is unable to look beyond his comfort zone and what worries him most is to have absolute control of his reality. This means, for example, that they are incapable of giving in for others, the needs of others, of being tolerant, of connecting with people, understanding their points of view…

Little by little, their relationships lose quality, frustration rises until they let go of many of the things that were important to them (and that they do not appreciate).

Cognitive closure: not tolerate uncertainty

Psychological rigidity does not tolerate the unforeseen, let alone the uncertainty. So, something we must understand is that our world is governed precisely by this characteristic: unpredictability. Knowing how to adapt to changes, being able to react in a creative, original and flexible way allows us to go around these typical variations of day to day.

For its part, a profile with psychological rigidity presents what is known as cognitive closure. It is this need to “eliminate” as soon as possible any uncertainty or ambiguity that arises in any situation. They are those people who first of all issue a single answer and often, the most extreme.

They are also those men and women who, faced with a discussion or disagreement, also adopt the least useful or constructive behavior, such as breaking that relationship or simply stopping speaking to those people.

In conclusion. If we ask now how and how we can break the psychological rigidity, we will point out that therapies such as the cognitive-behavioral or the aforementioned acceptance and commitment therapy are very useful.

Also, as revealed by a study by Jonathan Greenberg, from the University of Beer-Sheva, Israel, practices such as Mindfulness are very appropriate in the day to day to train a more flexible mental approach.