Dealing with Uncertainty: How to Cope with Ambivalence and Decision-Making

A certain degree of ambivalence is normal and healthy, but chronic ambivalence can be debilitating. Find out how to cope with these symptoms.


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Some people are able to make decisions with out being bogged down by uncertainty. They make them quickly and with minimal amounts of anxiety and fretting over whether or not they made the wrong choice in the first place. For others, everyday decisions, small or large, can cause angst and worry. Their ability to make any decision is stopped dead in its tracks by what is known as ambivalence. Ambivalence is what we experience when we have two opposing feelings simultaneously toward an individual, situation or object. Although all of us have experienced ambivalent feelings at some time or another, chronic feelings of ambivalence can be emotionally debilitating. Ambivalent thinking leads to avoidance, procrastination, inhibits emotional growth and maturity, and prevents us from reaching our full potential.

So where does ambivalence come from? Many psychologists and social scientists report that certain personality traits tend to be associated with the ambivalent stance, such as obsessive compulsive tendencies, unhealthy psychological defensive styles (such as splitting), and underdeveloped problem solving skills. Ambivalent thinkers systematically over-evaluate all sides of a situation. They carefully consider all potential options and outcomes yet remain unable to make decisions. Ambivalent thinkers also have a great fear of making a “wrong” or “bad” decision. This pattern of thinking contributes to constantly moving from one side of the decision fence to the other.

A certain degree of ambivalence is normal and healthy. In fact, moderate ambivalent thinkers are thought to be emotionally and intellectually mature. Moderate ambivalent thinkers are able to recognize and appreciate the world with all its complexities and imperfections. Chronic ambivalence, however, is what interferes with our ability to move forward. Chronic ambivalence results in a rigid cycling pattern where we find ourselves constantly moving from one side of the decision fence to the other. When this happens, ambivalence becomes an emotional and psychological barrier to achieving genuine happiness.

Psycho-dynamic therapy can help with examining and resolving issues underlying the ambivalent stance. Issues surrounding intimacy, separation, trust and self-confidence are commonly at the root of chronic ambivalence. Treatment that focuses on resolving these internal conflicts should help one to develop the courage to take action, make decisions with less fear, and have a “go for it” attitude.

Here are four tips to help you cope with ambivalence:

1. Write down your ambivalent feelings and the circumstances in which they occur.

2. Remind yourself that no person or situation is perfect and that all people and circumstances have both positive and negative aspects.

3. Recognize and accept your ambivalent feelings. Do not force yourself to make a rash decision.

4. Consider seeking professional help in order to help you examine and sort out your ambivalent feelings.

Do you suffer from ambivalence? How do you make decisions when you are ambivalent? Do you find yourself unable to move forward in life because of your ambivalence? I would like to hear from you.