Resolving Ambivalence

The most known definition of ambivalence is having concurrent and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward an object, person, or action. People may have both positive and negative feelings, which cause them to feel stuck or confused. Many people may view themselves as someone who “sees all sides” of situations. There is nothing inherently negative about this. Rather, when people stay only in the gray area (never sure about themselves or their responses), they may feel unable to act or to decide. Seeing all sides can be a great way to maintain flexibility, while also causing great distress for ourselves. It is important to honor the duality of ambivalence. Ambivalence is a double-edged cognitive sword, and we need to understand how to harness the benefits while avoiding the weaknesses.

When someone is feeling like they cannot decide or trapped in between two options, they can ask themselves the following question: Is this coming from a lack of self-trust? This is often the root of ambivalence, and it is quite different than acknowledging multiple perspectives or sides. It is when we attend to other perspectives more than our own that it becomes maladaptive. Ambivalence may show up when we fear making the wrong decision about someone or something. We may even remedy ambivalence with avoidance. Here are some ways to resolve ambivalence.

  1. Trust your gut. The gut is a powerful thing.
  2. Before asking others for advice think about why you’re seeking counsel. Is it because you truly do not have an answer or if it is because you do not trust your own voice?
  3. Remind yourself that you have made decisions before and that you are able to exercise your best judgment, even if it feels uncomfortable or even scary.
  4. Write down the contradicting feelings or thoughts.
  5. You may also write down the pros and cons to each decision.
  6. Big decisions often take time, and it is okay to give yourself the time you need.
  7. Think about what the possible consequences are to each decision.
  8. Realize there is never going to be absolute certainty when making a tough choice.
  9. Embrace your ambivalent nature; it often makes you a good listener. This is because you see all sides of a story and can offer flexibility.
  10. Name reasons why you can be trusted with your own judgment.

Ultimately, because of biases and cognitive limitations, humans are not perfect at perceiving the world. A healthy skepticism about our ideas and the willingness to collaborate with other people to get a more complete understanding of the veracity of our ideas is a good thing. There should be a certain level of distrust in our own ideas, because it’s what leads to collaboration and other synthetic positive ways of interrogating the world.

If you would like to speak to a professional counselor about topics, such as the one featured in this blog, and are in the Chicago area, please contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc. at 708-633-8000. We are located at 6819 West 167th Street in Tinley Park, Illinois 60477.

Written by Liz, Mental Health Counseling Master’s Level Intern


Kristin Messegee Coaching, LLC. (2021). Https://Kristinmessegee.Com/.

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