Do I change or stay the same? Do I rebel or conform? Do I leave or do I stay? Do I do it now or later?
Of these 20 possible toppings for my pizza, what are my three choices?
Do you suffer from ambivalence? I do, all the time. But I am learning to work with it, master it, observe it, appreciate it. Here are some thoughts that will give you some solid ground on which to find both feet walking on the same chosen path – the path of ambivalence.
Ambivalence. This is a word we need to take to heart. Much of our anxieties would fade if we could accept and understand ambivalence.
Here are two dictionary definitions from the web:
1. The coexistence of opposing attitudes or feelings, such as love and hate, toward a person, object, or idea.
2. Uncertainty or indecisiveness as to which course to follow.
Take a minute and write down the person, object or idea that you have opposing attitudes or feelings for and a few of the choices you doubt you can make. As you read this post, reflect on these.
To the first definition that uses the word “coexistence” I would say we need to add another perspective — ambivalence is the experience of “rapidly alternating” opposing feelings or attitudes.
Coexistence refers to the soul or mind as space. Rapidly alternating refers to the time experience of consciousness. Singularity of interpretation, purpose and evaluation requires a clear sense of place and moment. Of course, movement in space and time means we changes places (points of view) often and moments, never static, lead to other moments. The struggle to be certain and constant can never be conquered.
Uncertainty and indecisiveness have to do with a disconnect from confidence in personal resilience in the everchanging experience of place and moment. And it is not only which course to follow, but which feeling to feel, which truth to state, which good to offer, which harm to avoid.
In our crazy, challenging, over-stimulating world it is so difficult to feel confident in our choices, our feelings, our beliefs, even the impact of our deeds. Do we trust ourselves? Do we make choices based on instincts or insight or both? What is real and what is not – in the world and in me?
Sometimes my ambivalence is just choice exhaustion. The pizza topping dilemma showing up in a dozen ways everyday – the supermarket, the internet, the closet, the bookshelf, the debit card. Knowing what we want and what we need is so difficult. And so often we are making choices for others — children, elderly parents, coworkers, organizations.
Sometimes it is the moral perplexity that comes from obsessing about two equally positive outcomes or avoiding two equally negative outcomes.
Sometimes I am just afraid of myself and the interpenetrating feelings of hate and love, fear and need.
One way out of this ambivalence dilemma – not a good way – so I don’t recommend it, is to leave the choices up to somebody else or conform to an external dogma. Another is to leave it up to delay, hoping time will take away choice and leave only one possibility, also not a good choice. Both of these render you powerless, even unconscious.
That said, there are times I just don’t want to choose because I don’t care or I am afraid I will override the desires of someone I care about.
Since I am confident that ambivalence is a trial we must suffer through willingly, the real solution, rather, the resolution, is to risk and embrace the mistake, the regret, the challenge, the celebration.
Don’t let the fear of ambivalence paralyze your will, freeze your feelings or hamstring your thoughts.
Embracing ambivalence offers no safety, no certainty, no clear outcomes. But it offers the freedom of discovery and the unfolding of potential. And great lessons in understanding consequences, managing outcomes and surprising yourself.
Let go of fear, doubt and anger around ambivalence. Talk about it with friends.
You need to trust yourself, your coherent sense of self, and the ability of yourself to recognize, integrate and modulate the “gifts” of the wrong choice, the wrong judgment, the wrong call. You can forgive and you can make meaning.
And for the coexisting or rapidly alternating love/hate and fear/need of relationships, these are the two faces of the relational coins. We use them to pay the toll that lifts the gate allowing us to move along the inner path to the maturity that is beyond the dramas and blesses us with confident compassion for both self and other. I will write about this more as we move toward Inner Pentecost.
To close I offer two film clips that show the positive results of living with ambivalence and making a choice – regardless of outcome. Both these choices lived in the face of both positive and negative outcomes. Of course, Hollywood plays ambivalence to the hilt and loves the happy ending with nothing to integrate. But ambivalence is always heavy to confront so I wanted to lighten up at the end. I recommend both films for all the corny lessons in risk, growth, trust and values that they offer.
Remember the ending of Dirty Dancing and the leap full of the creative ambivalence of uncertainty and confidence.
And then remember the image of risking self expression in Sister Act II.
Relax and embrace ambivalence.
Your temperamental configuration really impacts your feelings and relationship to ambivalence. Don’t be ambivalent about taking this course. It is no risk in terms of value, enjoyment, and benefit.
Do register for my program on the temperaments: