Drowning in Ambivalence

iStock_000010526248XSmallOne of the hardest aspects of anxiety is that people find themselves drowning in ambivalence. According to dictionary.com ambivalence is “uncertainty or fluctuation, esp. when caused by an inability to make a choice.”  People come to my office ambivalent about therapy, ambivalent about whether or not they love someone, ambivalent about where they live, ambivalent about their job and should they be doing something else, ambivalent about the car they drive or whether or not to take medicine etc., etc., etc. People that suffer with profound ambivalence yearn for clarity, certainty, passion and enthusiasm. Anything that will help them choose a direction. People with ambivalence will press their partners for an exhausting amount of reassurance to quiet their own insecurities. I believe that people with anxiety will often struggle with choices because both sides will ALWAYS exist to everything we do. Many times ambivalent people end up making decisions by default and end up disappointed.

Therapy can offer many things but not your answers. Therapy can look more deeply into both sides of every question. Sometimes therapy is reduced to encouraging someone to make a decision, stay with the decision & hate it, get beat up by it and then with enough time; if you are truthful with yourself and the other you will know what to do. For example, here are the things that get in the way of my loving you more wholeheartedly…..can we work on this together?” Someone who doesn’t want to leave an alcoholic wife behind may decide to stay for the kids or family, go to Al-Anon to look at themselves more honestly and not blame the alcoholic, read books, go to therapy and three years later decide separation is a better choice for everyone. Drowning in ambivalence is to feel tormented about the decision anyway because that person is exquisitely aware that it will still be a terrible thing to do.

Try to figure out what you want, be honest with yourself about the good and the bad and accept both, if another person is involved be honest with them about both sides. Understand that sometimes it means let’s try this out, I think it’s worth it, it won’t be perfect, here’s the dark side and I’ve got to find out if I can live with it.

Uncertainty is a huge part of life because:

#1. Fears are loud, noisy, powerful and distracting.

#2. There are always both sides to every situation so fear can easily bounce you back & forth between them.

Therapy offers these solutions:

#1. Stay with the messiness & get bounced around in it, then find out what’s worth it.

#2. Stay with knowing the downside and talking about it honestly. Love is a leap of faith that says “I can live with this dark side.”

#3. Think through your fearful emotions, they are not the lynchpin to the universe.

#4. With enough time put into a truthful process you will know what to do. Truth is a quiet voice, never loud or dramatic. Truthful process means saying “It’s hard for me to live here because _fill_in _the_blank__  and I’ve decided to do it.”

A lot of life choices are experiments that fail and those failures nurture the choices that lead to greater success. Life is built on choices (which is why kids need so much practice with doing them for themselves) and not knowing whether or not they will turn out. We have to do our best,take the leap, go along for the ride and be willing to find out what happens and howl with the pain of loss or the thrill of success. Everything in life boils down to; “Is it worth it?” and you are the only one who can answer that question.

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One thought on “Drowning in Ambivalence

  1. kaylarobertson says:

    Rhoda,

    as always, I needed to hear this; thank you. I’m still a little unclear about what to do if I am in a drama triangle- how to stop making those choices (because to me, they still don’t feel like choices). It seems to me like everyone is ready to point out what bad things exist in relationships (needing the reassurance, creating drama, etc) but there’s little advice on how to move on or fix it.

    Thanks again!

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