For many people, change is hard. It’s difficult to let go of what you know, even if those circumstances are uncomfortable or even harmful. And it’s not just the beginning steps to change that are difficult but also the process of change itself. Discomfort in current circumstances can prompt a desire to change, but fear of the unknown can prevent a move forward. Some people never get out of this cycle and end up never achieving the changes they want.
Yet, it’s important to remember that a certain degree of ambivalence is healthy and normal. According to Dr. Paula Durlofsky, a clinical psychologist and author of the article “Dealing with Uncertainty: How to Cope with Ambivalence and Decision-Making“, those who are able to hold ambivalence tend to have the ability to recognize and appreciate the world with all its complexities and imperfections. They generally have a higher level of emotional and intellectual maturity. This indicates that a moderate amount of ambivalence can be healthy.
However, most people aren’t at this level. Most people fear change, and when there is a great fear of the unknown or when there is chronic ambivalence and uncertainty, it can be stifling and interfere with one’s ability to move forward. It’s common to see in someone who is frequently ambivalent and indecisive the move from one side of the fence to the other. “Yes, I’m ready to make this change,” to “I don’t want to do it.”
Ambivalence is holding two opposing views or opinions at the same time. For instance, if you’re considering putting an end to your substance use, you might experience plenty of ambivalence about trying to get sober; thus, the role of ambivalence in recovery can play a dangerous one. Yet, with an addiction the opposing forces and inner struggle can be strong. On the one hand, you might recognize the damage that drug use or drinking creates, and for this reason, you may want to stop. Yet, at the same time, the alcohol or drugs might bring an ease to challenging feelings, tumultuous thinking, and or a way to manage anxiety or depression. Knowing the pros and cons to the addiction creates the strong ambivalence. You might say that you want to change, but depression, anxiety, and other fundamental reasons might lead you to continue to use. And so, you might find yourself in that cycle of moving from one side of the fence to the other.
If this sounds familiar, here are some tips to consider. They might help you make the change you’d like to make.
- Process your feelings. Write down your ambivalent feelings and the circumstances in which they occur.
- Let yourself be where you are. If you’re feeling pressured to make a change but you’re also afraid of change, recognize and accept your ambivalent feelings. Don’t try to force yourself into a rash decision. Simply let yourself be where you are and then decide what you’d like to do next.
- Use your imagination. Imagine what your life is going to be like after you go through the change you need to go through. Imagine your life in detail and get a good sense of how you would feel once you’re on the other side of change.
- Get help. Consider seeking professional mental health services to help yourself examine and sort out your ambivalent feelings.
- Remind yourself you are human. Remember that you’re not going to know everything as you progress forward with change. Sometimes what feels like the unknown from a distance, really isn’t once faced with change. In each moment you’ll find the right answer. There will be support from friends, family, and loved ones when you need it.
If you reach a point a making a decision. For instance, let’s say you decide to put an end to drinking. You should know that your ambivalence might still continue despite your decision to stop. However, you can still allow your ambivalence to be there while you continue to make choices towards sobriety. In fact, one of the most important parts of achieving long-term sobriety is your commitment to it.
Making life changes, such as quitting drug use or leaving a relationship or making a career move can be difficult for anyone. However, by taking your time, making a plan, and gathering support, it doesn’t have to be as frightening as you think.
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