Affective Ambivalence: What It Is, Characteristics, And How It Affects Us

Affective ambivalence

Human beings are strange animals. We are that species that can feel opposite emotions at the same time and towards the same thing. We can hate and love someone at the same time, feel affection and disappointment for what our children have done, excitement and sadness in the same moment…

We go from one extreme to the other in a matter of seconds, being receptacles for the coexistence of two emotions so contrary that it surprises us that we can experience them at the same time, and some may even worry: Is this a problem? Could it be what they call bipolar disorder?

We’ve all experienced it, don’t worry. It’s called emotional ambivalence, a psychological phenomenon as normal and human as the experience of any other emotion separately. Let’s find out what it entails and if it can cause any problems.

What is emotional ambivalence?

Affective ambivalence is a complex emotional state, as It is composed of contrary feelings, opinions and ideas Contradiction, tension and indecision are situations that accompany this phenomenon.

A good example of this situation is when we feel great affection towards a very good friend but who, recently, has hurt us even if it was unintentional. We cannot stop loving him because we take into account all the good that he has done for us, but we also do not separate ourselves from the resentment and hatred that his bad gesture has awakened within us. A thorn has hit us.

But… Is it normal to feel this? Does emotional ambivalence bring with it any problems? In principle, we should not worry about feeling conflicting emotions at the same time, but we should pay attention to them. It is part of our nature to live in situations in which we do not know very well how to act, with indecision, tension and uncertainty Life is never linear, monotonous or unipolar, much less a bed of roses.

Every day we face a very complex reality, in which the same element, be it a person, thing or situation, can awaken positive emotions and negative emotions in us.

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Affective ambivalence

Characteristics that define ambivalence in psychology

All human beings present emotional ambivalence at some point in their lives, suffering and enjoying all types of experiences at the same time Since it is a quite complex emotional experience, at first, what we know a little about the subject of emotions, the names of great references in the scientific approach to emotions come to mind, among them Paul Eckman or Daniel Goleman. However, this emotion seems to have been studied for quite some time, at least since the beginning of the 20th century.

But we attribute the first modern description of what we call “affective ambivalence” to someone who also has the merit of having coined terms such as “schizophrenia”, “schizoid” and “autism”: Eugen Bleuler. This Swiss psychiatrist (and eugenicist, by the way) spoke of emotional ambivalence as a state of conflict of emotions, where opposite thoughts and emotions are experienced, such as love and hate.

Leaving aside the controversies about him, Bleuler’s conceptualization of this type of ambivalence has made the field of psychology very interested in how it occurs in our species, since it is a phenomenon that It represents our emotional and cognitive complexity very well It has been of special interest in the field of social psychology, since it frequently occurs in emotional relationships of all kinds, both with family and friends.

We can see an example of emotional ambivalence in some women who have just given birth, who are going through the puerperium They love their newborn baby, but the physical pain they feel, the high demand and dependency that the little one entails, and the uncertainty of not knowing if they will be up to the task even though they love their child, makes them experience a wide range of of emotions, among which we can find exhaustion, tenderness, rejection, love, hate, hope and fear. The first months caring for your child are hard.

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But we can also see it in common, more mundane situations without other people involved. We feel emotional ambivalence when we see a very fashionable outfit in a store window, we see its price and, even though we love it, we know that if we spend that money we will not be able to save.

Another example would be wanting to leave a job that burns us but being afraid to leave because it would mean becoming unemployed and not knowing when we would have a fixed salary again although continuing in the current job causes us a lot of discomfort.

Indecision makes us uncomfortable…

The emotional ambivalence It always brings with it a certain discomfort, the degree of which directly correlates with the importance of the issue that produces love and hate in us and how intense the emotions are during the process. Indecisions and contradictions do not get along very well with our brain, in fact, they exhaust it emotionally and cognitively. Although life is not unilinear, the truth is that we would like it to always be so and of course, when it is not, it makes us uncomfortable.

There are cases in which the dissonances are so immense that our mental health cannot help but be affected, at least in the short term. Let’s think about a person who wants to leave his partner, with whom he has been living for many years. There are many questions that run through your head, making you think about the good and bad that could happen, but also about the good and bad that is already happening: “What if I leave him and never find anyone again? ” “If I break up, will I be a bad person?” “He has done so many things for me… But the other day he didn’t wash the dishes for the umpteenth time and I’m already fed up!

Going from one side to the other generates a lot of wear and tear and consumes a lot of energy. So much so that we can even get stuck in the process of going from one extreme to another. Going from feeling great love and affection towards someone to go in a matter of seconds to hatred, anger and rejection confuses us and can even make us think that something in our mind is not right, which, although we insist that it does not have to be anything. bad, the person who experiences it may see it as a feeling so overwhelming that it scares them.

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But we ended up deciding

The emotional ambivalence It is synonymous with contradiction and that is experienced and perceived as something bad, but we can really find something positive in it This contradiction helps us to clarify, to look for pros and cons in a certain situation and, once we have made something clear about all of this, it prompts us to decide. Other times what happens is that we begin to downplay the bad and see more positive sides to what we are experiencing, as is the case of many mothers who have just given birth who, with the passage of time, can only see with good eyes to his son.

Science seems to support this idea. In a 2013 study, business administration doctor Laura Rees concluded that emotional ambivalence promotes self-awareness and decision making. The discomfort generated by contradiction motivates us to do something, quelling doubt and trying to resolve the situation in which we find ourselves. It has been seen that the contradictions associated with these feelings can enhance creativity making us look for new ways of thinking and opting for more original responses to see if they help us resolve the situation.

Affective ambivalence can be adaptive, helping us face that big question: what do I want? Therefore, at the end of this article, when we find ourselves at a personal crossroads and we don’t know which way to go, It is worth stopping, thinking reflectively about what we want to do and meditating on the advantages and disadvantages of our behavior There are many mistakes that can be made when we are not clear about things and, therefore, before taking the risk, let’s listen to what arguments our angry “I” and our happy “I” give us, to see who is right.