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Can't Make Up Your Mind? What To Consider When Feeling Ambivalent

Do you ever find yourself feeling stuck because you know you should change something in your life but you’re not quite sure you should take action? Have you ever considered ending a relationship, quitting a job, or making a lifestyle change but question whether that would be the right choice? Throughout our lives we are faced with situations that motivate us to consider making changes with the hopes of improvement.  However many of us experience some form of worry or fear about the unknown that change can bring, which prevents us from moving away from what we know, even if it is a negative situation.  This experience describes ambivalence, which can be defined as a state of mixed or conflicting thoughts and feelings about a situation, person, or thing. 

Ambivalence is associated with the change process and generally exists within the second stage of change, the contemplation stage.   During this stage, we have recognized that something is a problem for us and that we need to make a change however we are concerned about the potential implications of following through with it.  Usually we find ourselves going back and forth between our desire to make a change and our fear of changing.  We can find ourselves “catastrophizing” or thinking in a worst-case scenario mindset when we allow our fears to take over.  What if we end up regretting our decision to change because we either feel like a failure, it causes problems with others, or the situation does not improve? These are common fears that pop up for us when we are ambivalent. 

We can feel stuck in our ambivalence for long periods of time because time is usually required to achieve some form of resolution.  However there are some questions we can ask ourselves to help us clarify our willingness and intentions of making a change:

  • What do you want to have happen and what potential benefits do you hope to achieve by making a change?
  • Can you identify any potential constraints to being able to make a change?
  • How might your life be different if you make a change?
  • What might your life look like in a year if you don’t make a change?
  • What are the factors that are motivating you to make a change?
  • How do you feel about significant changes you have made in the past?
  • What positive attributes, strengths, or traits do you have that you believe will help support you in making a change?
  • On a scale of 1-10 (1 being not important and 10 being extremely important) how important is making a change to you? What would it take to make it extremely important?
  • What are you willing to do to make a change?

It can be helpful to write out answers to the above questions as well as to organize your thoughts in a way that can help you compare and negotiate with yourself. I always encourage my clients to refrain from making a decision when they are feeling emotional and to instead take some time to evaluate and consider all aspects of their ambivalence before making a choice.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT