By: Marilyn L. Davis
Two Mindsets Create Ambivalence
“In these times I don’t, in a manner of speaking, know what I want; perhaps I don’t want what I know and want what I don’t know.” ― Marsilio Ficino,
Ambivalence or of two minds happens when a person has both positive and negative feelings about someone or something and is struggling with deciding which option has more merit.
You’ll know you are ambivalent if you think conflicting thoughts about something, or hear yourself talking about a subject and then qualify it with a “but…”, “however…”, or “on the other hand, I think or feel…”.
Indecision is a form of ambivalence and happens even when we are making pleasant choices.
- Which new car will I buy?
- Should I eat at the new restaurant or my old standby?
- Do I wear the red or blue shoes?
- Binge watch Netflix or go to the movies?
The term also refers to situations where we have “mixed feelings” of a more general sort, or where a person experiences uncertainty or indecisiveness about something. We use expressions like “cold feet”and “sitting on the fence” to describe the feeling of ambivalence.
Alice came to a fork in the road.
’Which road do I take?’ she asked.
‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.
‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.
‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”
There are times that the choices that you have available are both objectionable, although for different reasons. If you look at the alternatives as the rock and the hard place, simply choose the least objectionable and remind yourself it could have been worse.
These are simply examples of types of situations that people will vacillate or stay indecisive about and the thinking that reflects this hesitation:
- “What if an electric car is still too costly to run.” (Fear of making the wrong decision)
- “What if my mother disapproves of him.” (Fear of ridicule from important people in their life)
- “What if I don’t like the new haircut?” (Fear of disappointment in their decision)
- “I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.” (Finding fault with the poles of their decisions)
- “His actions repel me, but I love him.” (Intensely liking and disliking someone or something)
- “I love being the boss, but I think my children suffer from my absences.” (Conflicting emotional states about the issue:
- “I know I do not like my job; however, I know what to do, and I would be starting over with a new job.” (Fear of committing to one course of action over another)
- “I know I need to adhere to my diet, however, that cheesecake looks so good now; maybe just a small piece will not sabotage my diet.” (Wanting to have it both ways)
Ambivalence can keep an individual stuck for years and then compound the conflicting feelings with the guilt associated when you don’t decide one way or the other.
Some people do not want to ask for advice from others; they simply want a sounding board to complain. Only you know which is true for you.
If it is about not having enough information, then removing unrealistic expectations of yourself that you “ought to be able to figure this out,” means that you can humbly ask for a trusted friend’s opinion and then work towards your decision.
“So what do we do? Anything. Something. So long as we just don’t sit there. If we screw it up, start over. Try something else. If we wait until we’ve satisfied all the uncertainties, it may be too late.” ~Lee Iacocca
People often stay stuck because they do not know how to test both sides of their ambivalence or decisions.
A Pros and Cons will work for buying a truck, getting into and staying in recovery, working full-time or part-time, leaving a spouse, or changing jobs. As with any Pros and Cons, there are positive and negative factors.
Sometimes doing a weighted Pros and Cons, where you include your feelings about the pros and cons, can help you decide which side of the fence you’re on; otherwise, sitting on the fence just gets you splinters.
What can happen is that you see exactly which factors and feelings have the most appeal for you. Do not judge any of your Pros or Cons values; they are yours and have merit and worth to you. Evaluate the factors and the feelings value on a scale of 1-5, with one having less importance and five, very important. The table represents an example.As you can see, the pros for recovery outweigh the cons. Unlike many decisions, by using a scale that includes your feelings, you will know that your head and heart contributed to your decision.