Coherence literally means holding or sticking together. Psychological coherence refers to a system, a belief, or view where the different parts (emotions, memories, beliefs) fit together to form a perfect whole. Coherent beliefs flow smoothly with other aspects of our life without conflict or contradiction. Psychological Coherence is opposite of psychological dissonance.
Daniel Siegel holds that a coherent narrative is an essential aspect of integrating past experiences into a healthy present. Siegel explains “by organizing the self across past, present, and future, the integrating mind creates a sense of coherence and continuity.” He continues, “narrative coherence is reflected in the way a life story is told and the manner in which life is lived” (2020).
Processing New Experiences
Merlin Donald, PhD. suggests that coherence is important for new events to register in consciousness. He explains that an “event must have internal coherence- that is, makes sense—or it will not register properly in awareness.” He continues “an incoherent event may actually present itself briefly in consciousness as a distracting moment of confusion” (2002). This matches well with selective information processing. Basically, if incoming information clashes with internal beliefs (dissonance), then we are more likely to move on without processing the new information.
Psychological Coherence and Wellness
A central component of psychological wellness is a person’s sense of a unified whole. Life coherence creates an enduring and dynamic feeling of confidence that one’s environment is predictable and kind. When psychologically we experience less inner conflicts, we enjoy greater peace. No wonder there is a new push towards whole person wellness.
Coherence creates safety. When tragic life events strike, shattering our sense of a kind and predictable environment, we suffer. Ronnie Janoff-Bulman wrote that when tragedy strikes, “the very assumptions that had provided psychological coherence and stability in a complex world are the very assumptions that are shattered” (2002).
Transitional periods—leaving home, changing jobs, divorce—often disrupt coherence. Once we reestablish psychological coherence, we often experience profound peace. Coherence is a also a key component of resilience.
Donald, Merlin (2002). A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness. W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition
Janoff-Bulman, Ronnie (2002). Shattered Assumptions (Towards a New Psychology of Trauma). Free Press; Completely Updated ed. edition
Siegel, Daniel J. (2020). The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. The Guilford Press; 3rd edition