Inspiring Thoughts from EAC

Ambivalence – We Have All Been There and May Be There Now

tug of war

By: Steve Gainey, MA, LLP, ADS, CAADC, EAC Clinical Specialist – According to, the definition of ambivalence is – the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something.

As a therapist and a person, I have dealt with ambivalence with myself and with many clients. Most of us deal with thoughts of wanting or needing to change something, but don’t. The ambivalence circle continues over and over again. Ambivalence does not mean you don’t care, but you are torn in what direction to go.

Specific examples that I have seen and heard include:

  • I do not want to be so impatient.
  • I want to eat healthy and exercise more.
  • I would like to make new or more friends.
  • I’d like to stop smoking.
  • I want to listen to my partner or co-worker without being so defensive.
  • I’d like to learn something new.
  • I want to be less hard on myself.
  • I want out of an unhealthy relationship.

The list could go on and on.

Sometimes, we want to avoid looking at why we don’t want to make the change. We feel we may convince ourselves not to change.

As a therapist, I am trained in Gestalt Therapy. This therapeutic technique “helps a person focus on the present and understand what is really happening in their lives right now, rather than what they may perceive to be happening based on past experience. Instead of simply talking about past situations, clients are encouraged to experience them, perhaps through re-enactment.” ( )

In this type of therapy, I was trained to go with the resistance, full measure. Feel all the energy that does not want to make the change and stay there for a moment.

For example, at times, I have had clients sit in a chair or on the floor with their arms and legs crossed.  I then ask them to, in strong voice, state why they are not going to change what they like about the issue. In less than a few minutes, most clients will say, “well that’s too hard to stay in” or “that’s ridiculous,” and laugh at themselves saying, “oh my, I sound like a child or one of my kids.”

It is a good practice and tool to use if you feel you are in a place of ambivalence. To help you get started and bring some clarity about the ambivalence you may have about an issue, I’d encourage you to use this handout, as a guide.

Additionally, reach out to EAC to set up a time to talk with one of our counselors. We’re here to help!

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