Friday, October 18, 2013

Don't Be Ambivalent About Ambivalence

Ambivalence is always a funny subject for me. Ever since my psychiatrist attempted to medicate it out of me the topic amuses me to no end, however that doesn’t make it any less of an important one. For those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder, making decisions, especially about important things in our lives, can be very difficult. Not because we don’t want to make a decision, but because we feel too many different ways about one thing. Overwhelmingly. What can we do about it though? That’s the question.

Don't Be Ambivalent About Ambivalence
Michael S. Broder, Ph.D.

Ambivalence is a feeling that we all have experienced at one time or another in some important aspect of our lives -- I know I certainly have. But if you're ambivalent often or in a lot of areas of your life, the feeling of ambivalence itself can actually destroy your quality of life more than you know. Theoretically, if you had everything you could possibly want going for you, but were ambivalent about the decisions you make -- particularly with respect to your life direction -- no matter what you did have going for you, no matter what you choose to do, you could be dwelling on the fact that you should be doing something else. Thus, no matter what kind of life you have made for yourself, being chronically ambivalent could ruin the quality of it all!

So let's first acknowledge that we all have at least some degree of ambivalence. Since life itself is such an extremely complex process, and certain aspects of it often get more complicated as they evolve, a certain amount of ambivalence is actually normal. In fact, a tiny amount of ambivalence might even serve to protect you sometimes from being thoughtless about certain things that need to be reasoned out more carefully. But the problem is with the degree that you allow yourself to operate under the all-too-common myth -- that there is one and only one absolutely right answer that will contain no shades of gray. The myth continues when you believe that by being indecisive and holding out long enough, some indisputably certain and absolute answer will come to you. And when it does -- you fantasize -- it will come with the ironclad guarantee that you will never have any regrets, nor will you ever second guess yourself. Since this standard is so incredibly high (not to mention cartoonishly black and white), it then follows that you will resist making tough decisions at all that you are the least bit ambivalent about.

Some people actually have a fear of making decisions altogether. If that's you, it is likely you have many regrets about things that may have passed you by, simply because you didn't act decisively when you had the opportunity to do so. If you think my statement that "ambivalence can ruin your life" is a little too strong, perhaps you may even take comfort in the ambivalence. But my stand on ambivalence is rather unambivalent; to the extent that ambivalence exceeds prudent caution it will generally serve to hold you back, and that can be in any area of your life. Here are a few ways to attack this problem that I have offered for people who have ambivalence about love relationships in my book Can Your Relationship Be Saved, but these simple tips can be applied to absolutely any area in your life.

Remember that just about all of your important decisions are, to one extent or another, educated guesses. And most of them have factors that would pull you in the opposite direction. After all, a decision without conflicting factors -- to one degree or another -- is simply a no-brainer.

Forget about certainty. The concept of certainty itself is a myth. Instead believe in yourself. Hindsight -- as we all know at least intellectually by the cliché -- is 20/20. There are many things every one of us would do differently "if only we knew then what we know now." But that's never an option. So stop pretending it is! Where do you have unlimited power (even if at times you are not in touch with it) is in making changes that will affect you from today on, and for the rest of your life -- beginning right now. By focusing on your power you can start looking upon decisions not as burdens, but as empowering challenges.

Think of some significant important life choices you have made in the past -- recently or even a long time ago -- of which you are most proud. Make a list of them and continue to expand the list. Make sure to include those choices that may have led to major life changes. Keep this list as a frame of reference that you can refer to for a shot of empowerment, anytime you find yourself thinking that you're incapable of bypassing that ambivalence.

Regardless of which area of your life where you find yourself most ambivalent, you won't move forward until you allow yourself to take charge and make the best decision you can with the information you have available to you. So resolve not to waste another moment with the decision to not decide.


  1. Interesting article..hmm well Im generally quite an indecisive person so i probably am quite an ambivalent person. And it's true that you can literally be afraid to get up out of bed because a car could hit you, but then you'd never get out of bed. I'm not borderline but it's still interesting. I found it interesting what you said about it being very 'black and white' thinking. Haha because I've come to realise lately that I am very like that. Not in a borderline 'love/hate' way, but in a perfectionist 'all or nothing' way. I need to things to be concrete and certain....

    It's a bit strange that you would write an article about ambivalence, which seems the exact opposite of impulsivity. Can Borderlines be impulsive AND overly ambivalent? Or would it be one or the other.
    I would never have associated ambivalence as being a typically borderline trait before.

    Also ** is there anyway you could add a search bar to your website. Your website is so amazing and has so many articles, it would be great if you could type in a word and articles associated with that word came up. I dunno if you have the ability to do that with your website/blog. But I dunno, just a suggestion.

    1. Hello,

      It's been my experience that Ambivalence and Impuslivity go hand in hand. I know at first glance it does seem to be quite the contradiction.

      Here's the thing about being impulsive. It takes no thought at all. You don't have to go back and forth worrying about one direction or another - instead - you just act. It's only the things that we're not acting impulsively about that ambivalence has the chance to take hold.

      I'l try to put a search bar in. There is a list of Label terms if you scroll down and will bring you to articles that match those descriptions.

    2. I was able to add a Search feature at the top Left Corner. Hope that helps!

    3. Thanks so much for the search feature! The connection about ambivalence and impulsivity makes sense, thanks for explaining :)


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