Do you often — too often — feel uncertain or second guess yourself?

01.21.2014 -

When something is right, we know it. When something is wrong we know that too. Uncertainty is a normal experience, but when it becomes a way of life it is not an easy life to live. Attachment theorists talk about ambivalent attachment styles –living ambivalently can also become a lifestyle. The good news is lifestyles can change. No choice is ever a life sentence unless you make it one. And the best way out of ambivalence is to start making choices.

Ambivalence is created in the vacuum of trying to make right what is wrong. It is often generated by real events in our past where our needs were not met but we had to cope anyway. We did not have or did not perceive any other option. We were too young to know what we needed or to say no or leave. We had committed ourselves already. Right and wrong represent either ends of a spectrum, and ambivalence is a grey area.

Right and wrong represent definite edges and clear boundaries, as do yes and no. It is important to know where our edges are, to have clear access to our yes and no. When someone does not hear or honor our yes or no, our relationship with them is challenged. When we cannot hear or honor our own yes or no, our relationship with ourselves is challenged.

Where our relationship with ourselves is challenged, we find ambivalence. Ambivalence can express in many ways including uncertainty about someone or something or about whether or not to take the next step in one’s life. Being ambivalent keeps us out of contact with ourselves and others in essential ways. When ambivalent we exist in a familiar but unwelcome place where we cannot access or act out own impulses. Without this access we rely on the impulses and motivations of others for direction. When we are relying on others to make choices for us we cannot live an engaged and meaningful life.

When we live ambivalently we can spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to feel certain or make something perfect. Our need to be perfect sits atop a history that is rife with imperfections. Our need for certainty is real and valid; our lack of certainty keeps us ambivalent.

Paradoxically, if you are living an ambivalent life, it feels safer not to choose. Choices have consequences, and consequences are imagined as negative. If you want to stop living a life of ambivalence, you only have to make one choice: to stop. You can start stepping towards your convictions by not committing to anything or anyone without a clear yes to do so. There are many ways to find your yes and your no and once you do, your ambivalence will become a tool by which you can tell that you are not clear yet; a guide to find the right path of action rather than an excuse not to act.

If you choose to stop living ambivalently, your life will change. I know this to be true from my own experience. Once I chose to follow a different path, to go towards certainty rather than confusion, to pause when I met my confusion and wait for certainty to arise, I found love, happiness, capacity and meaning beyond anything I could have imagined. Now it is part of my life work to help others with their ambivalence. If you’re looking for the support to change your life, check out the services at my company Courageous Heart Therapies.  I offer sessions in Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, Somatic Experiencing, Polarity Therapy and Pre and Perinatal Therapy. I seek to facilitate profound and lasting transformation through deep and authentic connection to oneself.


Tagged: attachment styles, Differentiation, fear, trauma, trauma resolution - 2 Comments »

1. Elizabeth - January 22, 2014

Not sure if this is going to make sense Margaret. Choice is an action. I often say that I don’t want my decision to do or not do something to be made by default, that is, by simply not deciding (which is in itself a decision actually.) I want my choices to be made with intention. Your post has me thinking that when I remind myself about that default mechanism I just described, I am likely feeling ambivalent and may be letting uncertainty or fear keep me paralyzed. In that moment of understanding when one is standing in ambivalence (not necessarily a bad place to be) is the power to choose (even if nothing is the choice). Actively recognizing ambivalence and choosing rather than letting a choice be made for me can be a stronger action that is easier to accept the consequences of. I also often say, “We cannot always make the right decision, but we can make our decisions right.”

2. Margaret Rosenau - January 23, 2014

Thanks Elizabeth! This totally makes sense. I completely agree that not deciding is a decision, that nothing can be a choice, though I didn’t say that clearly in the post so I’m glad we are discussing it here. I also agree that standing in ambivalence is not a bad place to be. What’s important I think is knowing where we are standing, wherever that is and actively choosing to stand there or move. When ambivalence becomes a lifestyle, people become passive choosers by not choosing and can lose their access to their own capacity to change. And you are right, recognizing ambivalence and choosing from that recognition can facilitate clear and strong action. The feeling of no longer being ambivalent in a place or with a relationship where one has been so in the past is immensely strengthening. It just happened to me today in fact. I may write about that soon. I like your saying about making our decisions right. Would love to hear more about how that has played out for you. It makes me think about making our decisions right by making more decisions, by responding to the situation that is presenting itself in response to our initial decision in ways that make that initial choice one that either helps us get where we want to go or makes it easier to get there next time. Thanks so much for reading and responding to my post!