Monday, February 04, 2008

The Curse of Ambivalence

Of all the things I've seen in my work, I'd have to say that Ambivalence - the state in which one feels contradictory emotions for a person or a situation - is a rough road. The coexistence of both positive and negative feelings you have toward a person, like love and hate, will draw you in and then push you away. Similarly, the simultaneous approach-avoidance you have with making a decision keeps you in the same holding pattern.

As a result, this rigid cycling pattern never moves you forward. You are constantly moving from one side of the fence to the other. Or you park yourself entirely on the fence.

Ambivalent thinking has been linked to genetic origins akin to obsessive compulsive tendencies, to psychological defensive styles like "splitting" or personality disorders, and underdeveloped cognitive-behavioral styles of problem solving. So if you are ambivalent, there are things you can do to break the holding pattern. Professional help can get you going in the right direction.

If you are involved with someone who is chronically ambivalent, suggest therapy to him or her... and keep an eye on the grains of sand in the hourglass. Sometimes you may have to unhinge from an ambivalent person if the connection is an unhealthy one for you.

PS: Thanks to all for the "E" award.

I nominate all my those on my blogroll as they are totally excellent bloggers!


Disillusioned said...

Interesting comments, Dr Deb. I'm familiar with feelings of ambivalence in my own life, but more towards organisations (and decision making!) than towards individuals. I agree that CBT can be helpful - though at times i feel it can make me even more analytical and even more ambivalent!

Casdok said...

Yes that is interesting, i will give it some more thought.

The Lone Beader said...

I have been feeling ambivalent for awhile about a certain someone.

Scott said...

Hmmm . . . don't we all have mixed feelings on a lot of things? Or is this an extreme thing, like a man beating his wife and then taking her out on a romantic diner in the same day? What about the opposite--when you like something too much or identify with only an extreme pole of something? Wouldn't that be bad, too?

Psychgrad said...

I agree with others with regards to a certain amount of ambivalence being helpful and/or normal. Ambivalence is definitely an issue I struggle with - or maybe ambivalence's cousin, indecisiveness.

CrackerLilo said...

Ambivalence is pretty much where I live my entire life, but I like to think that when I really have to make a decision, I can do so. I waited around and dithered and ended up getting big decisions made *for* me a lot when I was younger. A few incidents like that taught me that I like my own decisions that I make for myself better. In situations where I get ambivalent, I tend to think of a Pearl Jam lyric that struck me, about an old woman who stayed in her small town forever: "I changed by not changing at all/Small town predicts my fate." I don't ever want to be that person!

PalmTreeChick said...

My middle name is ambivalence!!!

Barbara said...

I've never really thought about this before but totally understand the love/hate push/pull thing! Thanks for more enlightening information.

(I have cast a vote for Blogger's Choice Award!)

Barbara K. said...

Very interesting thoughts about ambivalence.

I have found at a few choice points in my life where ambivalence held me in a choke hold that taking action, while holding the ambivalence, created a bigger opening for new possibilities to enter. Instead of staying rooted in place waiting for clarity, action put me in a place where the whole dilemma either shifted or became moot.

Dawn said...

Definately something to think about. I know I'm ambivalent in a few areas of my life, that's for sure.

congrats on the E award.

Deb said...

Dear Dis,
Balance is key for SO much in life. Too much thinking is no good and too much impulse is no good.

Dear Casdok,
Just don't linger on it too long.

Dear Lone,
I have been there as well. It is a hard place to dwell as you decide what to do.

Dear Scott,
Oh yes, mixed feelings and ambivalence are very natural experiences. In fact, they are necessary steps for change. This post highlights the ambivalence that is more chronic and problematic. Being drawn to one polar experience need not be bad, but swaying between two, never moving forward can be unhealthy.

Dear Psychgrad,
Yes, a certain amount is expected and part of the decision making process. But then there are those individuals who experience great difficulty making decisions. It is that "stuckness" that can press negatively on our psyches.

Dear Cracker,
That Pearl Jam song is one I have to hear. I'll itunes it. And thanks for sharing your early experiences with decision making. I know many, including myself, will relate to it.

Dear Palm,
It can be a struggle, I know.

Dear Barb,
BEfore I met my hubby, I dated a really nice guy. He was greatly ambivalent about a lot in his life though. I didn't stay long as I felt I would become another source of ambivalence. We've kept in touch over the years and it's sad to say he continues to experience ambivalence in his day to day life. Seems like he is always chasing his tail.

Dear Barbara,
It is important to be thoughtful and even unsure as things need to change. Your experience is a great example for how ambivalence can be helpful. But chronic stuckness, never being happy with what you have and wishing for the other, is a rough experience.

Dear Dawn,
I have had my share of ambivalent moments, but for the most part I am a very decisive person. I struggle with other issues, but making a choice isn't one of them. I get the feeling that you are a good decision maker too.


Health Psych said...

Congratulations on the award, Deb!

Interesting post.

In many situations, I find ambivalence to be a useful tool. If I find myself in this position about a certain situation or person, it highlights the need to reflect further before acting. In many cases, ambivalence signals to me that I shouldn't take things further. It only becomes a problem when the further contemplation still fails to provide the right direction.

Raine said...

I oftenfind myself "ambivalent". But it is always temporary. At these times I make the decision to make no decision. It never fails that after a short period of time I am able to make a firm decision. Why exactly this is I dont know. Possibly having to do with mood swings.... but it works for me. There are times for making no decisions at all and times for making decisions.

S'onnie said...

I totally agree, ambivilence can be just as dangerous as negative thoughts. I have a staff member who is totally ambivilent and it has really impacted his work for a while. He doesn't hate the job but he doesn't enjoy it either and he just does enough to scrape by in fact not even that sometimes. In his roll it is important to be motivated to meet sales targets.

I have to be really careful not to let his attitude impact mine. Which at times is very hard

Mel Avila Alarilla said...

Hi Dr. Deb,
Ambivalent persons are hard to live with. They're the wishy washy type of person who's neither here nor there. People sometimes have mixed up emotions that they do not really know what they want. It's best to avoid them if we can or if we're related to them, ask them to seek psychiatric help. Thanks for the informative post. God bless you and your family always.

United We Lay said...

Ambivilance is a huge problem in my line of work. Stress is overwhelming at times, and when teachers just can't take it anymore, they decide they just don't care.

Fallen Angels said...

Could ambivalence towards a person be a coping skill in early life? That's the question that came to mind when I read this post. I have heard of people who have a situation where they had a good parent and a bad the same person. Ambivalence sounds like a logical way to deal with such a situation. In my case, splitting happened so it wasn't until very recently that I recognized ambivalence in myself, as more awareness of "the others" has happened.

I think you could pull-off auburn very well! You should try can always go back very easily! :D

Ian Lidster said...

I was once married to a Libra. She invented ambivalence. In her thirst to be always fair, she ended up being unfair to virtually everybody.
Good thoughts on this, Dr. Deb.
Oh, and an 'ambivalence' is an emergency vehicle in which the EMTs don't give a damn about picking you up.

Tiptoe said...

Congrats on the award!

I definitely struggle with ambivalence and indecisiveness. Much times, I end up making no decision which is in and of itself a decision. To me though, it doesn't feel like the right one. Make sense? So then, my mind just goes in circles, analyzing everything. Then that just keeps me in this perpetual "stuckness" state. Unfortunately, I've been in therapy but yet cease to completely turn myself around. Sigh. Maybe one day.

PalmTreeChick said...

Ugh, that's an understatement Dr. Deb!

PsychPerson said...

Congrats on the "E"...good job!

Ambivalence can come in handy sometimes, but not if you stay there for very long. Sometimes it indicates to me that I need to think further about something before acting.

Big Brother said...

I think everyone suffers form ambivalence from time to time. Sometimes it can probably be good making you hold back, instead of going ahead impulsively. But like all things too much is like not enough and will stall you in your tracks.If so it is time to get some help. Good post.

Kawana Aminata Oliver said...

gcVery informative Gurl ;-)

Ms.L said...

Ohh wow,there's a name for that state. Thank you for this post Deb,I have a feeling this will be really helpful in the future.It's neat to see it written and explained so thoughtfully!
I've felt some ambivalence with situations and people and it's awful when you get stuck in that
holding pattern.
I've learned for myself that the right answer (if you can call it that) will come if you let it. You've just got to be quiet,calm and wait for it. Of course I never remember this until I've driven myself into a frenzy;p

Sid said...

I'm wondering which is worse, ambivalence or splitting. I know neither is good, but is there a lesser of two evils in this instance? Just curious.

DrGwenn said...

You definitely hit the nail on the head with this one. We all have these feelings at times but it's when they interfere with life that there's a problem. The chronicity issue is very interesting. I don't think enough people think in those terms.

Dr. G

ellesu said...

Oh, I so get this post, Deb. Thanks!

"keeps you in a holding pattern"
"never moving on"

Yes, I get this.

IntelligentLayPerson said...

I want to comment...

*back space back space*

No.. Maybe I shouldn't.

Wait, what do you think if I comment?

What if my comments affect other people?

*backspace backspace, filter*

Okay... I'm sorry I shouldn't poke fun. It's just too fun not to. :D

heiresschild said...

i have a friend who fits this category and sometimes i do have to back up a bit. she is under a dr's care though.

Deb S. said...

Another excellent post. I think we all know someone who fits into this category. This is a post that makes one think.

Congrats on your award!

therapydoc said...

Fabulous. You put together the doormat thing AND the ambivalence thing. Hats off.

Deb said...

Dear HP,
I couldn't agree with you more, my friend.

Dear Raine,
Another comment that is brilliant!

Dear S'Onnie,
Your comment is exactly what I am posting about....when someone is so often stuck that it can bring YOU down. You sound really smart about it.

Dear Mel,
If ambivalence is so ingrained in a person, it can be hard to live with.

Dear United,
Yes, ambivalence can lead to apathy very easily.

Dear FAllen,
Of course. Not making a decision is a way of coping. Auburn maybe one day, lol ;)

Dear Ian,
Libra - the scales that sway.

Dear Tiptoe,
Indeciveness is part of ambivalence and vice versa. There are those who really struggle with it so much that it rules their lives. But there are things one can learn to combat it. You will be triumphant soon. It takes time and lotsa practice to get the new kind of thinking patterns going.

Dear Palmtree,

Dear Psychperson,
Right you are!

Dear BB,
As with everything in life, balance is key. I so agree with you.

Dear Kawana,

Dear Ms. L,
The holding pattern can be so tough sometimes.

dear Sid,
Splitting is the viewing of something all good or all bad. And ambivalence is the circling of indeciveness. They are similar, but I suspect splitting is the harder of the two.

Dear Dr. G.,
I have often seen people struggle with ambivalence for months and years at a time. Therapy could help if they gave it a go.

Dear Ellesu,
Yup, holding patterns are tough.

Dear Intelligent,
I think your comment is both witty and spot-on, so no worries here.

Dear Heiress,
I have to keep a distance from friends and family who get stuck as well. It's hard because you want to help, but it can zap you of your own well being.

Dear Deb,
Hey namesake pal. Gotta get to visit you soon.

Dear Therapydoc,
I like using the website tools to add an additional visual aspect. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, do I comment, or not? heehee

As usual, informative. I never really thought of ambivalence like OCD before. This will be on my mind today as I feel ambilavent about alot of things alot of the time.

Wendy C. said...

I don't know how I feel about that...


Marj aka Thriver said...

I can say, first hand, that ambivalent thinking leads to splitting.

I have to say, however, that a child who is abused by his own parents is certainly set up for this. How else would a child react, other than love/hate, approach/avoidance, when the very one who the child depends on for survival is the one who is torturing, abusing, molesting the child?

IntelligentLayPerson said...

Cut that out Wendy! You stole my line girl!

Deb said...

Like mentioned above, ambivalence is part of the decision making process, but too much of it can be an unhealthy thing.

Dear Wendy,

Dear Marj,
For a child, it is so hard to move through abuse without the defense of splitting. In fact, it is considered adaptive for a time. You make a very important point here. Hopefully as the child emerges into an adult, he/she can learn how to split less and integrate more.

Dear Intelligent,
Wit and puns always welcome even if repeated!


Id it is said...

That's scary Deb, because I never though ambivalence was a negative trait. I thrive in ambivalence; i fcat that lends me equanimity in the tumultous situations. Why is that now a 'dirty word'?

Awake In Rochester said...

I have a friend who changes her mind about everything. From T.V. shows, where she wants to move, people. She likes something/some one 1 week, don't like them the next. Back and forward. It makes it difficult to know her. She is in therapy. I have been trying to find the name for what she has. Thanks to you I now know it is "emotional ambivalence".

Barbara said...

Gee, and I thought my ambivalent tendencies was simply because I'm a Libran. (grin)