Ambivalence-To Be or Not To Be by Herb Tannenbaum, Ph.D.

Today’s society offers more choices and information than ever before. Given all the data and information that is available to help make “informed” decisions people often become paralyzed by their own inner struggles regardless of the various actions that they want to take in their lives. This syndrome, known as ambivalence can be the origin of a paralyzing process that saps energy and decrease the quality of life. We are unable to take action. In extreme cases, all forward movement is suspended – life is put on hold. This syndrome seems to be increasing, especially among millennials.

Often people suffer from an approach-avoidance syndrome. This means they want certain things, but because of a fear or other feelings about making a choice, they become frozen and cannot move to action. Because of our ambivalence about something, we make excuses for our behavior. Our excuse is often a resistance to self-responsibility. It is clear that that as people become more self-responsible and are able to feel grounded and safe in a situation they are better able to minimize their excuses and act effectively, This is a key factor that effects all aspects of a person’s life including doing an assignment in a timely manner, making a commitment and staying the course in life. The resistance to accomplish a goal because of the ramifications of what it might mean inhibits people from making decisions and moving to action, Thus, they become paralyzed and ambivalent. They can think about it and desire it, but they feel paralyzed in terms of their behavior. In others words they cannot act on their wishes.

The most frustrating aspect of this psychological phenomenon is that rational interventions do not often work. For example, people make decision trees to help make decisions. This tool can be helpful in business or management, but when it comes to personal decisions all rational is usually thrown out the window as emotional factors take over and supersede our ability to be rational. Because the parallel of our emotions is universal, it is often advisable for people who find themselves in a recurring theme of ambivalence to enter psychotherapy in order to get a perspective on the phenomenon that they are experiencing in the deeper unconscious roots of their behavior patterns. Often, it is not the material itself that is a challenge, but a fear of rejection, a sense of guilt, a lack of entitlemen, low self esteem or perhaps a need to be perfect all the time. These are the kernels of a person’s inability to act and thus fertilize an ambivalent state.

Dr, Herb Tannenbaum is a psychologist in private practice in River Edge, New Jersey.



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