The Nightmare of Ambivalence: If You Choose You Lose 😩
We all have ambivalence! Torture!! Here's how to recognize your ambivalence and tolerate choosing!
- •Do I wanna or do I not wanna?? Well, I kind of do and I kind of don't! Oh the ambivalence!
- •Ambivalent starts in infancy. The infant both wants and needs and loves the breast and hates it and wants to destroy it because of his dependency on it.The toddler both wants and needs to go to bed but can't bear to leave her playtime. The adolescent both wants and needs his parents but can't stand to be in the same room with them! Ambivalence is part and parcel of our very being
- •We are all hardwired by the instincts of self-preservation, the need to reproduce and the need to acquire food. As a result, at the limbic brain level, we are a greedy, selfish, violent species.But, and this is a huge but, we are social beings who are deeply attached to others. We need our families, our friends, our loved ones, and we even need our enemies these are the genetic roots of ambivalence
- •But what do you do when ambivalence starts interfering with your happiness? When the very act of choosing brings up intolerable anxieties and fears?? This is a lot of what brings people into therapy.
- •Ambivalence in intimate relationships is so so common. We both want to be as close and intimate as possible, but at the same time we need to protect ourselves in case things don't work out. We can't commit because it means we might lose something we value, like our independence. We might feel trapped or tied down.This is called the "in and out dilemma". If I'm too close to you I'm going to feel engulfed and smothered and I'm going to have to get away. On the other hand, if I get too far away I'm going to feel anxious and abandoned and I'm going to have to move closer. I'm trapped and I'm neither in nor out. Torture--both for you and for your lover!
- •Ambivalence assumes, psychotically so, that there is a perfect answer or choice and that if you only knew the answer you could choose the right one. People fear making the wrong choice.The truth is you can't have everything and you can't make perfect choices. Sometimes you have to tolerate imperfection and tolerate not having everything
- •For example, A woman who values her independent lifestyle but loves a particular partner might have a hard time committing to that partner if she fears deeply that in doing so she will lose the freedom she needs in order to feel safe.She has not grieved properly certain necessary losses. Yes she might lose a certain kind of freedom in exchange for a closer more loving relationship. She needs to name her fears that keep her trapped in ambivalence and get to the roots of what her anxiety is all about
- •So in summary, with ambivalence there is the emotional and cognitive expression. Emotionally, The feeling is of both love and hate, of both fear and need, of both desire and rejection.
- •When we feel these feelings we come up with cognitive strategies that fail us. We tell ourselves there is a perfect choice and we just have to figure out what that choice is. We refuse to grieve or mourn the loss of the perfect choice. We stay stuck
- •Luckily for us all, the human brain is very capable of rewiring!Because brains really are capable of handling complexity, we can all be much more flexible around our conflicts then we might imagine The power of understanding and naming our fears and learning how to calm ourselves and allow others to help us is critical
- •So really therapy helps. Understanding what your ambivalence is about, maybe understanding the childhood roots of it, and figuring out how to tolerate choosing!The old saying is if you choose you lose!! If you pick one thing you lose the other thing. People who are trapped by ambivalence cannot tolerate grieving the losses that will happen if they give up one side of the equation. There is no perfect choice, we have opposing emotions, we both love and hate, and we always will.
- •The bottom line is we need to love and support ourselves, and we need to receive love and support, and to understand that we occasionally have negative and destructive emotions, and that although we might have some regrets about our choices we can usually live with the outcome.
- •Hope that helps. Love, DocP