Finding Healing in Ambivalence

Ambivalence healing process of change

Ambivalence sometimes gets a bad rap, even in therapy!

Ambivalence in Treatment
In everyday life, we often dismiss ambivalence as being wishy-washy or non-committal. However, some therapists view clients who are ambivalent about engaging in treatment as “resistant” or in denial. This may have negative consequences for a client if this perception affects the therapeutic approach. Clients who are “mandated” to seek treatment are concerned about hidden biases. Evidence-based treatment approaches recognize ambivalence as just one of the stages a person can go through as part of the process of incorporating new skills and changing habits. It’s natural to be reluctant to let go of past coping skills that served a purpose even if they were self-defeating.

What is Ambivalence?
Ambivalence occurs when we experience conflicting and seemingly opposing viewpoints on a matter. Simply put, we feel two different ways about a matter. It’s a yes and a no. We doubt. If you think about it, aren’t you ambivalent about a lot of things? In a sense, ambivalence could be perceived as cautious and wary reflection to counteract impulsivity. You know, that thing that most of us treat in therapy sessions to help people self-regulate.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing are two important interventions that recognize how to identify and work with a person’s ambivalence in a therapeutic manner. Sometimes ambivalence is part of the process of change. Some of the ways in which you can stop fighting with yourself and accept that you are conflicted are:

Ambivalence is part of the process of change
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“Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation– the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible,” come true.”

― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up

What Holds us Back?
Imagine the freedom that comes from being able to accept that you feel two ways about something. It need not be all or nothing. Black or white. Maybe you are not resisting at all. Ambivalence is part of the process of change. It’s not outside of it. When therapists recognize this, with proper training, they can work with ambivalence to gently guide someone to decisive action. This is particularly relevant in treating addiction. Some of the negative thinking that results from addiction can be rather rigid which can in itself generate a lack of self-compassion, shame and perfectionism. IPracticing mindfulness can help with finding balance and acceptance. It’s less about being resigned and more about showing up as you are which is a great stance for processing distress.

You can find other soundbites related to well-being, self-compassion and healing here.

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