Ambivalence and Ambivalent Definition, Meaning: What is Ambivalence?

Ambivalent Definition

Adj. 1. ambivalent - uncertain or unable to decide about what course to follow; "was ambivalent about having children"

incertain, uncertain, unsure - lacking or indicating lack of confidence or assurance; "uncertain of his convictions"; "unsure of himself and his future"; "moving with uncertain (or unsure) steps"; "an uncertain smile"; "touched the ornaments with uncertain fingers"

Ambivalence Meaning



uncertainty or fluctuation, especially when caused by inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite or conflicting things.


Psychology . the coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings toward the same person, object, or action, simultaneously drawing him or her in opposite directions.

: simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action <ambivalence which is expressed in behavior by alternating obedience and rebellion—G. S. Blum>

feeling two different things about someone or something at the same time, for example that you like them and dislike them

What is Ambivalence?



Definition: 1. mixed feelings or emotions; 2. uncertainty as to which course of action to take

Synonyms: uncertainty, indecisiveness

Antonyms: certainty

Tips: Ambivalence occurs when you have mixed feelings about something. The related adjective ambivalent is used to characterize someone who has mixed feelings or uncertainty about something. Use ambivalent to denote conflicting feelings. If you want to go to two different restaurants, you are ambivalent, as you have conflicting desires. Ambivalence and ambivalent denote inner conflict and uncertainty. Note: do not confuse ambivalent with ambiguous. Ambiguous means "unclear" and "not defined."

Usage Examples

She had no ambivalence about accepting the promotion and looked forward to her challenging new responsibilities. (uncertainty, mixed feelings)

Mike was ambivalent about going on vacation and leaving the project in someone else’s hands. (uncertain) adjective

Tara's career was full of ambivalence, because she jumped from one job to another without any focus or clear goals. (uncertainty)

Her ambivalence about buying the house kept her up with worries all night. (uncertainty, indecisiveness, mixed feelings)

Ambivalence is a state in which you lack certainty or the ability to make decisions. (noun)

An example of when someone may be in a state of ambivalence is when someone is sick.

In psychology, ambivalence is the mental disharmony or disconnect a person may feel when having both positive and negative feelings regarding the same individual. (noun)

An example of ambivalence is struggling with whether to invite someone to an event because she has a positive relationship with you but not with the other attendees.

I felt very ambivalent about leaving home.

He has fairly ambivalent feelings towards his father.

an ambivalent attitude to exercise



Etymology: L, ambo, both, valentia, strength

1 a state in which a person concomitantly experiences conflicting feelings, attitudes, drives, desires, or emotions, such as love and hate, tenderness and cruelty, pleasure and pain toward the same person, place, object, or situation. To some degree, ambivalence is normal. Treatment in severe, debilitating cases consists of spiritual and psychological therapy appropriate to the underlying cause.

2 uncertainty and fluctuation caused by an inability to make a choice between opposites.

3 a continuous oscillation or fluctuation. ambivalent, adj.

Definition: The experience of feeling two or more conflicting emotions at the same time. This common experience makes decision-making difficult, and once a decision is made, makes it difficult to stay committed to the decision.

Pronunciation: amm-biv-a-lunce

Also Known As: "in two minds," undecided

Common Misspellings: ambivelance


Joanne was experiencing ambivalence about quitting gambling, because she felt she was just about to have a big win.

What is ambivalence in psychology?

Ambivalence in psychology is the state of feeling as though you have no inclination in either direction about an issue involving emotions. You are unaffected by the issue due to this stalled state. In my life it has applied itself like this: I have always had a gut feeling that this present life isn't worth the effort it takes to make it in this world. (At root a wise copout but a feeling nonetheless) therefore I choose to make many of the choices which would lead me on the safer road toward eternity. I choose not to fall apart completely in the world, but I fail to truly thrive as well.

On a more psychoanalytic note, ambivalence can be interpreted as a sort of defense mechanism, in that denying having a deeply-rooted feeling about something lessens the pain of making choices. This is similar to a failure to commit: some do it for fear of success, some do it for fear of failure.

Some people meet, fall in love and get married right away. Others can spend hours in the sock aisle at the department store, weighing the pros and cons of buying a pair of wool argyles instead of cotton striped.

Seeing the world as black and white, in which choices seem clear, or shades of gray can affect people's path in life, from jobs and relationships to which political candidate they vote for, researchers say. People who often have conflicting feelings about situations—the shades-of-gray thinkers—have more of what psychologists call ambivalence, while those who tend toward unequivocal views have less ambivalence.

High ambivalence may be useful in some situations, and low ambivalence in others, researchers say. And although people don't fall neatly into one camp or the other, in general, individuals who tend toward ambivalence do so fairly consistently across different areas of their lives.

For decades psychologists largely ignored ambivalence because they didn't think it was meaningful. The way researchers studied attitudes—by asking participants where they fell on a scale ranging from positive to negative—also made it difficult to tease apart who held conflicting opinions from those who were neutral, according to Mark Zanna, a University of Waterloo professor who studies ambivalence. (Similarly, psychologists long believed it wasn't necessary to examine men and women separately when studying the way people think.)

Now, researchers have been investigating how ambivalence, or lack of it, affects people's lives, and how they might be able to make better decisions. Overall, thinking in shades of gray is a sign of maturity, enabling people to see the world as it really is. It's a "coming to grips with the complexity of the world," says Jeff Larsen, a psychology professor who studies ambivalence at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

In a recent study, college students were asked to write an essay coming down on one side or another of a contentious issue, regarding a new labor law affecting young adults, while other groups of students were allowed to write about both sides of the issue. The students forced to choose a side reported feeling more uncomfortable, even physically sweating more, says Frenk van Harreveld , a social psychologist at the University of Amsterdam who studies how people deal with ambivalence.

If there isn't an easy answer, ambivalent people, more than black-and-white thinkers, are likely to procrastinate and avoid making a choice, for instance about whether to take a new job, says Dr. Harreveld. But if after careful consideration an individual still can't decide, one's gut reaction may be the way to go. Dr. van Harreveld says in these situations he flips a coin, and if his immediate reaction when the coin lands on heads is negative, then he knows what he should do.

Researchers can't say for sure why some people tend towards greater ambivalence. Certain personality traits play a role—people with a strong need to reach a conclusion in a given situation tend to black-and-white thinking, while ambivalent people tend to be more comfortable with uncertainty. Individuals who are raised in environments where their parents are ambivalent or unstable may grow to experience anxiety and ambivalence in future relationships, according to some developmental psychologists.

Culture may also play a role. In western cultures, simultaneously seeing both good and bad "violates our world view, our need to put things in boxes," says Dr. Larsen. But in eastern philosophies, it may be less problematic because there is a recognition of dualism, that something can be one thing as well as another.

One of the most widely studied aspects of ambivalence is how it affects thinking. Because of their strongly positive or strongly negative views, black-and-white thinkers tend to be quicker at making decisions than highly ambivalent people. But if they get mired in one point of view and can't see others, black-and-white thinking may prompt conflict with others or unhealthy thoughts or behaviors.

People with clinical depression, for instance, often get mired in a negative view of the world. They may interpret a neutral action like a friend not waving to them as meaning that their friend is mad at them, and have trouble thinking about alternative explanations.

Ambivalent people, on the other hand, tend to systematically evaluate all sides of an argument before coming to a decision. They scrutinize carefully the evidence that is presented to them, making lists of pros and cons, and rejecting overly simplified information.

Ambivalent individuals' ability to see all sides of an argument and feel mixed emotions appears to have some benefits. They may be better able to empathize with others' points of view, for one thing. And when people are able to feel mixed emotions, such as hope and sadness, they tend to have healthier coping strategies, such as when a spouse passes away, according to Dr. Larsen. They may also be more creative because the different emotions lead them to consider different ideas that they might otherwise have dismissed.

People waffling over a decision may benefit from paring down the number of details they are weighing and instead selecting one or a few important values to use in basing their decision, says Richard Boyatzis , a professor in organizational behavior, psychology and cognitive science at Case Western Reserve University.

For example, in making a decision about whether to buy a costly piece of new medical equipment, a hospital executive may weigh the expense, expertise needed to operate it and space requirements against its effectiveness. But ultimately, Dr. Boyatzis says, in order to avoid getting mired in a prolonged debate, the executive may decide on a core value—say, how well the equipment works for taking care of patients—that can be used to help make the decision.

In the workplace, employees who are highly ambivalent about their jobs are more erratic in job performance; they may perform particularly well some days and poorly other times, says René Ziegler, a professor of social and organizational psychology at the University of Tübingen in Germany whose study of the subject is scheduled for publication in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Positive feedback for a highly ambivalent person, such as a pay raise, will boost their job performance more than for someone who isn't ambivalent about the job, he says.

Every job has good and bad elements. But people who aren't ambivalent about their job perform well if they like their work and poorly if they don't. Dr. Ziegler suggests that black-and-white thinkers tend to focus on key aspects of their job, such as how much they are getting paid or how much they like their boss, and not the total picture in determining whether they are happy at work.

Black-and-white thinkers similarly may recognize that there are positive and negative aspects to a significant relationship. But they generally choose to focus only on some qualities that are particularly important to them.

By contrast, people who are truly ambivalent in a relationship can't put the negative out of their mind. They may worry about being hurt or abandoned even in moments when their partner is doing something nice, says Mario Mikulincer, dean of the New School of Psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.

Such shades-of-gray people tend to have trouble in relationships. They stay in relationships longer, even abusive ones, and experience more fighting. They are also more likely to get “divorced,” says Dr. Mikulincer.

Recognizing that a partner has strengths and weaknesses is normal, says Dr. Mikulincer. "A certain degree of ambivalence is a sign of maturity," he says.

We all suffer from internal conflicts every day; some big, some little. Some conflicts are between ideas, concepts and values, while others are only between feelings. Some are conscious, some unconscious. In all cases, the irresolution of the conflict sponsors indecisiveness. The subjective experience is, “It doesn’t feel good.” It creates a sense of uneasiness. In my trade, it is said, we “compensate” or “defend” against this anxiety; that is, and we try to “deal” with it. Our training and experience determines the style (form and function) of the behaviors that express the conflict, as well as the psychological defenses we employ. These states of affair or subjective experiences of these conflicts are what I call “The Ambivalences.” Ambivalence is very common. It is a subclinical phenomenon; meaning, not a mental illness. I speak of three primary manifestations—procrastination, guilt and forgiveness. We all experience them.

So, I went to Google and typed in, “Ambi.” I found the following:

“…A prefix occurring in loanwords from Latin, meaning “both” (ambiguous) and “around”(ambient); used in the formation of compound words.”

And what is valence?

“…The psychological value of an object, event, person, goal, region, etc. in the life space of an individual…negative and positive for the valence of things avoided and sought after, respectively.”

The term “valence” is actually not very good, because it comes from chemistry, which is a hard science; whereas, psychology is not. In chemistry, valence is said to reflect the tendency, strength and/or capability to bond, as in two elements, chemical or molecules. In psychology, valence reflects the attraction or repulsion of feelings and ideas, which determine behavior. Such attractions and repulsions can be weak or strong, conscious or unconscious.

Put “ambi” and “valence” together to get “ambivalence.” One definition is the following:

The coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings toward the same person, object, or action, simultaneously drawing him or her in opposite directions.”

A more detailed psychology definition of ambivalence includes the following:

A tendency to ‘flip-flop’ one’s feelings or attitudes about a person, object or idea…. A state in which one is pulled in two mutually exclusive directions or towards two opposite goals. This meaning …shows up most clearly in the research on behavioral reactions to various forms of conflict.”

Ambivalence is when we want or do not want two things at once. As with all ambivalences, guilt can pop up when there are conflicts over values, ideas or feelings. However, guilt usually involves something more personal about us, what we did that was wrong vs. what we “should” or “should not” have done. We are aware of some aspects of these; that is, we may have a conscious experience of the conflicts. Or, the conflicts may be between what we are aware of and what is out of awareness. Many a thought has come and gone, yet still resides in our unconscious minds. Here, we find values, preferences, hidden motivations, likes and dislikes. As Freud said, here exists a whole pantheon of buried impulses; some good, some not. This mess in the back of our minds makes us both want something and at the same time not want something.
Free DVDs, Articles and Books