Viewing entries in

What the hell am I going to call this? The nature of Ambivalence.

What the hell am I going to call this? The nature of Ambivalence.

Simon Niblock, Men Couples & Family Therapy

We’ve all experienced that moment where we find ourselves at a crossroads. Which direction do we go? We weigh the options, pros and cons when faced with this choice, struggling to make a decision.

Our normal decision-making process just doesn’t seem to accommodate the situation that we face. We wax and wane, we procrastinate and on occasions, we avoid making a decision altogether. What’s even more confusing and anxiety provoking is when we notice that the way we’re behaving doesn’t align with the way that we think, our values, or our desired intentions.

We know that it’s in our best interest to do something different, but for the life of us, we cannot figure out what it is. Things simply feel discombobulated, and it begins to gnaw at us. This confusion ripples out and affects the way we interact with the world around us, including our relationships. This internal struggle, this confused state is best described as ambivalence, and it is a universal human condition.

Ambivalence is a state of simultaneous, conflicting values, needs, beliefs or feelings towards a particular scenario, person or object. It is a natural human trait to experience ambivalence. Whether it’s buying a new car or trying to determine what to wear to a job interview, a certain amount of ambivalence in our everyday life is healthy. We experience these moments simply because we are creatures of deliberation, critique, and exploration. Ambivalence is the experience that lends to our need to critically evaluate the benefits and consequences of given predicament.

We relate to ambivalence in a wide spectrum of experiences. For some individuals, identifying a source of internal conflict is relatively easy, and are able to articulate the struggles without too much difficulty. Others may simply sense that something feels misaligned, yet it can be troublesome, and right down confusing connecting with an underlying cause. Some experiences of ambivalence can be inherently unconscious. We just feel like something’s misaligned, and we can’t work out how to move forward. The effects of ambivalence can vary widely across individuals and situations.

What is important to distinguish is ambivalence is not the same as indifference. Indifference is described as a lack of sympathy, interest or concern. When it comes to forming a decision or making a choice, indifference can be mistaken as ambivalence. Just because someone is struggling to go to the gym to exercise, doesn’t mean they don’t care about their health. An individual may struggle to reach a meaningful conclusion, yet this suspension does not insinuate an indifference or a lack of desire to do something different.

The challenge with ambivalence is when it becomes chronic. Similar to being bogged down in cement, chronic ambivalence interferes with our ability to move forward, make decisions and implement change, resulting in feelings of fear, confusion, frustration, and anger. It is often experienced as familiar, repeated pattern and cycle of internal conflict, never realizing a true sense of resolution or reaching a natural conclusion. Chronic ambivalence can feel like a very real psychological obstacle.

Ambivalence leads to inconsistency in our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors which causes a disruption of congruence. Internal incongruence is experienced as stress, tension and uncertainty. ‘Psychologically uncomfortable ambivalence, also known as cognitive dissonance, can lead to avoidance, procrastination, or to deliberate attempts to resolve the ambivalence’ (Heregeld, Pligt, de Liver, 2009). This is often represented as thinking or saying one thing and then behaving in a completely conflicting manner.

Ambivalence may present itself within a relationship when opposing values, needs, beliefs or feelings are not effectively expressed or negotiated. While the foundation of most relationships consists of contrasting personal differences, discomfort may be experienced when ambivalence is avoided or unresolved. Couples often describe a lack of communication or conflict are in fact referencing an underlying cause of ambivalence. Furthermore, the discomfort or conflict that ambivalence creates is often exacerbated when an impasse occurs or an ultimatum is presented as a reaction between partners.

Overcoming ambivalence within ourselves or within our relationships is very possible. The challenge however that we often face when exploring our sense of ambivalence is the thought that we may have to, at some stage, make a deliberate conscious choice. Yes, it’s all about weighing the options and making a choice. Making a decision can represent a true dilemma for some individuals, as the act of making a choice implies that we then limit ourselves to the option which we have selected, thereby renouncing all other possibilities.

Often it is the fear of consequence, the unknown or the path least taken, that causes chronic ambivalence. We often reprimand ourselves by attempting to construe an ideal choice. Despite our intellectual debates, logical arguments and practical motives behind our decisions, the fear of making an incorrect decision and the fear of harboring regret, stop us from making any positive forward movement. Yet, by not making a decision, we remain stationary, never appreciate the potential of change or realizing the potential of an opportunity.

Focusing on resolving ambivalence requires deliberate and conscious self-exploration. Acknowledging what conflicting values, needs, beliefs or feelings are present is an ideal starting point. Understanding that no decision will ever be ideal and that every option will have its challenges and benefits. Next is to identify what fear we associate with the consequences of both the conflicting arguments, as well as the choice of maintaining the status quo. Yes, not doing anything is an active choice.

Recognizing and acknowledging our personal traits that can help overcome ambivalence is important. Personal traits or characteristics may include resourcefulness, adaptability, optimism, confidence, risk-taking, tolerance for ambiguity and initiative. ‘Research shows that certain personality traits may impact an individual’s likelihood of experiencing [or managing] ambivalence’ (Heregeld, Pligt, de Liver, 2009). These personality traits form the foundation of readiness for change.

It is often a matter of determining which value, need, belief or feeling that we find ourselves prioritizing above its counterpart, that allows us to make a decision. In decision making, regardless of what compass we adopt (think matters of the heart versus the mind), when we choose according in a manner that is congruent within ourselves, then the effects of our ambivalence are diminished.

Most importantly, take your time in making a decision. Seek counsel if you feel it is necessary, especially if you experience confusion, ongoing procrastination or even risky behavior. Offer yourself some self-compassion by recognizing that your ambivalence serves a valid and important purpose. It serves as a sign. Explore the possibility that fear may be associated with your experiences and recognize that your choices, both perfect or flawed are the most valuable lessons that you can make for yourselves.

Here are some options on how to overcome ambivalence.

1.     Set some time aside for yourself to explore your dilemma. Journal your ambivalent feelings, thoughts or fears and the various scenarios in which they occur.

2.     Remind yourself that no situation is absolutely perfect and that all potential scenarios have strengths and weaknesses. Acknowledge and honor your ambivalent feelings. Be compassionate towards yourself.

3.     Take your time to make a decision. Seek guidance if needed. Remind yourself that no situation is 100% perfect and that all potential scenarios have their strengths and weaknesses.

4.     Determine your readiness for change. Identify and connect with your personal traits that support positive, well-defined change.

5.     Make a choice that is congruent with yourself and stand behind your decision.

6.     Assess your progress. Make changes if your choices no longer serve you, or if ambivalence ensues.

Cheers, Simon


Engle, D.E., Arkowitz, H. (2006). “Ambivalence in psychotherapy. Facilitating readiness to change” Guilford Publications Inc. New York, NY.

Hersh, T.R. (2017) Ambivalence. Retrieved from:

Leslie, I. (2017) Ambivalence is awesome. Retrieved from

Van Heregeld, F., van der Plight, J., de Liver, Y. (2009). "The agony of ambivalence and ways to resolve it: Introducing the MAID model". Personality and Social Psychology Review. 13 (1): 45–61. PMID 19144904. doi:10.1177/10888683083245

My Unconquerable Soul {Invictus}

My Unconquerable Soul {Invictus}

It is a universal law, that irrespective of who we are, we will all experience travesty and triumph.

It is essential to appreciate that no matter the circumstance, we are each charged with the responsibility for our own lives. While this entrustment may seem difficult, albeit impossible at times, the responsibility for our destiny resides entirely with us.

This poem written by William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) an English Poet, is an inspiring description of the importance of remaining the master of our own destiny, regardless of the pains and perils that life can throw at us.

Henley states that we are inevitably responsible for our own happiness, our own path. He wrote this poem at the age of seventeen, while recovering from a leg amputation. Invictus in Latin means unconquered.


Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.


In the fell clutch of circumstances

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeoning of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.


Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.


It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

Simon Niblock is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping men, couples and families find peace, direction and meaning within their relationships.

Image by Ian D. Keating

Call Simon on 512-470-6976 or book an appointment below:

Keep Calm and Have a Cuppa Tea, Love.

Keep Calm and Have a Cuppa Tea, Love.

Image by Mike Nkiec on  Flickr

Image by Mike Nkiec on Flickr

Keep Calm and Have a Cuppa Tea, Love.

English breakfast, Irish breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Assam, Ceylon, Green tea, Oolong, Masala Chai, Rooibos. If you’re a purveyor of tea, you understand that the range of this distinctly unique beverage is endless. You will also appreciate that having a cup of tea, also known as a ‘cuppa’ to those with English heritage, is more than having a hot drink. 

It’s almost magical. Let me explain…

I can recall seeing my grandmother make a pot of tea even as young as five or six years of age. Tea was a staple in our house – more so than coffee. For those who have had the pleasure of drinking tea as part of their daily routine, you can appreciate the relaxing, calming effect that tea produces. We didn’t have the fancy stuff like we do today. This was strong black tea, with plenty of full cream milk and a few good spoonful’s of sugar to sweeten things up. There is something about tea that instantly transports me back to memories of family and friends sitting around the kitchen table.

The other amazing thing about tea is that the moment that the first sip is consumed, the chaos that may have been encircling our world at the time, appears to magically ebb away. Tea for some unknown reason makes things feel better. Many people will describe that during moments of personal or family difficulty, it would not be out of place for someone to put the kettle on, or boil the jug to make a pot of tea. Life’s challenges were a wee bit easier to cope with once a good, strong, hot cuppa tea was shared. If a plate of biscuits (cookies) were offered, you knew that it was a special moment.

I’ve been fascinated about this experience, as I know many other people who describe the similar soothing, grounding, calming effects of drinking tea. I’ve often wondered if this experience is all just my imagination or whether there’s any real medicinal value from drinking this amber liquid? Intriguingly, there’s actually been a fair bit of research behind this phenomenon - yes, someone’s actually done research on this subject.

According to researchers (tea nerds), tea is known to reduce anxiety levels, increase positivity, induce relaxation and encourage interpersonal connections with others. Evidently, tea offers true psychopharmacological benefits due to an amino acid called Theatine. Theatine has an affect on our alpha brain waves which induces a calmer, clearer and relaxed state of mind. Groovy stuff.

On the other hand, I’ve wondered whether the stress reduction effects of tea are simply due to the social nature of sharing a cup? Again, research describes that the act of making and sharing a cup of tea for someone promote real social attachments. Part of this may explain why I think tea made by someone else always tastes better than if I made it myself. This is why I love to make tea for my wife each morning. A bit of love goes in every cup. 

Evidently, sharing a cup of tea with someone can create feelings of companionship and affection. The ritual associated with tea making is deeply rooted in many cultures. It offers immediate comfort and social connection for many. It promotes feelings and behaviors that lead to secure interpersonal connections, particularly the emotions associated with trustworthiness. There’s a feeling of genuine connection when friends and family sit around the table to share a ‘cuppa’.

So, the next time that you feel that the world is about to crumble down on you, call a friend over and put on the kettle. Life will be ok.

Arohanui, Simon

Simon Niblock is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping couples and their families find peace, direction and meaning within their relationships. 

Contact Simon on 512-470-6976 to start a conversation.



Cross, M.C., & M.R. (DATE). The social psychological effects of tea consumption on stress. Retrieved from

Andrew, S., Gibson, E., Vuononvirta, R., Williams, E., Hamer, M., Rycroft, J., Erusalimsky, J., Wardle, J. (2007). The effects of tea on psychophysiological stress responsivity and post-stress recovery: a randomised double-blind trial. Psychopharmacology, Vol.190(1), pp.91-91.

Zen and the Art of Profanity

Zen and the Art of Profanity

The use of profanity in therapy?????

Could this be the future of therapeutic coping? Can incorporating 'expletives' into our mindfulness practices help reduce stress and create a state of calm? I've always quietly relished the used of the occasionally well placed ‘sentence enhancer’ in my vocabulary, but there’s a grassroots movement slowly developing that promotes the use of therapeutic profanity. Now that’s caught my attention!

According to Alison Birrane (2015) in a recent BBC published article 'Can Swearing Make You More Relaxed?' there may be some merit behind dropping the odd swear word into your conversation. "While [traditional] yoga and meditation are associated with peace and Zen, some find that it works better with shouting and expletives". Subsequently, some contemporary mindfulness practitioners are taking yoga and therapy to the next step by creating group programs that allow clients to adopt colorful language in a safe and non threatening environments that allow individuals to blow off steam.

Not surprisingly, these concepts have been supported by a lot of social research conducted into the benefits of incorporating expletives into our vocabulary. One New Zealand research study that Birrane references titled; ‘The Language in the Workplace Project’ (why am I not surprised??), explored the benefits of using expletive language to create workplace bonding and improvement of emotional regulation.

Are the merits of using profanity warranted? It’s bloody hard to say. Will this lead to more colorful displays of expression in session? Possibly!! Maybe we should all tentatively slip in an occasional 'sentence enhancer' into our conversation today and see what happens. Just food for thought.

~ Simon

Image acknowledgement: