Monday, June 18, 2012

Decisions, Decisions--Breaking The Cycle of The Ambivalent Mind.

        Some people are able to make decisions with out being bogged down by uncertainty. To them decisions seem clear-cut. They make them quickly and with minimal amounts of anxiety and fretting over whether or not they made the wrong choice in the first place. For others everyday decisions, small or large, are filled with angst and worry. Their ability to make any decision is stopped dead in its tracks by what is known as ambivalence. Ambivalence is what we experience when we have two opposing feelings simultaneously toward an individual, situation, or object. Although all of us have experienced ambivalent feelings at some time or another, chronic feelings of ambivalence can be emotionally debilitating. Ambivalent thinking leads to avoidance, procrastination, inhibits emotional growth and maturity, and prevents us from reaching our full potential.
     So where does ambivalence come from? Many psychologists and social scientists report that certain  personality traits tend to be associated with the ambivalent stance, such as obsessive compulsive tendencies, unhealthy psychological defensive styles (such as splitting), and under developed problem solving skills. Ambivalent thinkers systematically over-evaluate all sides of a situation. They carefully consider all potential options and outcomes yet remain unable to make decisions. Ambivalent thinkers also have a great fear of  making a "wrong" or "bad" decision. This pattern of thinking contributes to constantly moving from one side of the decision fence to the other.
     A certain degree of ambivalence is normal and healthy-in fact moderate ambivalent thinkers are thought to be emotionally and intellectually mature. Moderate ambivalent thinkers are able to recognize and appreciate the world with all its complexities and imperfections. Chronic ambivalence, however, is what interferes with our ability to move forward. Chronic ambivalence results in a rigid cycling pattern where we find ourselves constantly moving from one side of the decision fence to the other and when this happens, ambivalence becomes an emotional and psychological barrier to achieving genuine happiness.
     Psycho-dynamic therapy can help with examining and resolving issues underlying the ambivalent stance.  Issues surrounding intimacy, separation, trust, and self-confidence are commonly at the root of chronic ambivalence. Treatment that focuses on resolving these internal conflicts should help one to develop the courage to take action, make decisions with less fear, and have a "go for it" attitude.

Here are four tips to help you cope with ambivalence:

1.Write down your ambivalent feelings and the circumstances in which they occur.

2. Remind yourself that no person or situation is perfect and that all people and circumstances have both positive and negative aspects.

3. Recognize and accept your ambivalent feelings. Do not force yourself to make a rash decision.

4. Consider seeking professional help in order to help you examine and sort out your ambivalent feelings.

Do you suffer from ambivalence? How do you make decisions when you are ambivalent? Do you find yourself unable to move forward in life because of your ambivalence? I would like to hear from you.


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  2. Hi. I always doubt my slef and my decitions in life. i feel like life is slipping away and i don´t have control over it because none of my decitions feels like the right one. this makes me procrastinate and overanalyse all my waking hour. I have been trying to incorporate mindfullness in my dayly life, i do meditate regulary. But it´s so hard for me to stay in present awareness when i don´t feel happy with my life situation and feel like i need to figure out what i want to do. therefore i think.

  3. Hi. I know this post was written awhile back, but I am just learning about ambivalence today. I am at a point in my anxiety and ambivalence where I feel I have my head buried in the sand most days. I need to apply for jobs but I don't, afraid of applying for not the best job, worried about making a decision if I get hired for more than one, anxious that I'll be rejected from all of them. I am even having trouble completing household chores- I don't know whether to start with the dishes, or laundry, or feeding the pets. I often resort to watching tv for an hour or three, avoiding the pleading stares of my dogs until I can decide what to do. And sometimes I am worn out after just a few tasks because of the decisions I have to make in the process. I watch more tv in a week now than I did in a whole month just a few years ago, all from avoiding the things I should be doing. I've never really had social anxiety, but I find myself avoiding friends and family for reasons I can't fully explain. I feel like a nervous shut in version of myself, a very different person than I was not too long ago,
    Just thought I'd share my troubles, thank you for your article, it is very helpful to me as I struggle to define what is going on in my life and how to adapt.

  4. Jen, I totally relate to your struggle.