Is this Ambivalence?

By Angela Shaw

Ambivalence is a feeling that can cause a lot of inner turmoil. It is defined as “simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (such as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action; continual fluctuation (as between one thing and its opposite); and uncertainty as to which approach to follow.

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

If you have been in therapy before, or are familiar with psychology terms, you may have heard of the phrase ‘cognitive dissonance.’ This can often be confused with the feeling of ambivalence. Although they are closely related, there is an important nuance. Cognitive dissonance refers to holding contradictory feelings or attitudes towards something. For example, you may love and care about a family member, but not agree with their political views. This would create cognitive dissonance for you about that family member. 

Ambivalence, on the other hand, more so refers to having mixed feelings. It’s a feeling of not being able to make a decision about something because there exists an almost equal but opposing good and bad attitude about it. It’s when you feel very torn. It often presents itself the strongest when it’s time to evaluate or decide on something. 

Ambivalence can often show up in intimate relationships, jobs, or living situations. What makes it so distressing is the tension it creates. 

As a  relationship expert once said, “Ambivalence is an emotional/cognitive/ behavioral oscillation between “I’m in and I want this,” and “I’m out and I don’t want this.” It’s an internal tug of war.”

Aside from the internal turmoil that ambivalence can cause, it also has other implications. Often it leads to procrastination and analysis paralysis. This then reinforces your ambivalence in a cyclical loop. What you need is to untangle your emotions so that you can move forward with healthy change.

One way to do that is to step back and clarify your values. Think about what matters the most to you and consider if your behavior is in alignment with those values. 

Ambivalence is an evaluative process. Acknowledge that most things are a tradeoff and try to avoid making the “perfect” decision. 

Lastly, make sure you are giving yourself enough time to be still and pay attention to your inner guidance.

Whether you’re somebody who experiences chronic ambivalence or are simply going through a change and aren’t sure which road to take, therapy can help you clarify and resolve some of this. You contact our Park Avenue Psychotherapy office via phone or email and book an appointment with me for ongoing support.