Ambivalence is a word that is often misused to mean “apathy.” But ambivalence doesn’t mean not caring; quite the opposite, actually.
It means caring about different things that are at odds with each other. It can leave you wavering between alternatives and feeling unhappy no matter what you do.
As in a game of tug of war, everyone playing gets rope burns pulling the little flag in the middle to one side or another, and the game can last quite a while before one side gives out.
At the end, the victorious team celebrates and the losing team is left in a bruised and tangled pile of limbs. No problem if you’re the winning team . . . but your ambivalent self is represented by both teams, so it’s a tough game.
Ambivalence is only at the surface.
If you read my articles consistently, you may have noticed that I am a fan of metaphor. In the case of ambivalence, metaphors abound because it is something everyone experiences at one time or another, in one way or another. We have angels on one shoulder and devils on the other. We are “torn,” “on the fence,” “split.” We are of two minds on a subject.
Ambivalence is really only a conflict in a superficial sense, though. If the devil on your shoulder encourages you to eat cupcakes when you feel sad or stressed out, it is doing the work of an angel: trying to help you feel better.
The angel on your other shoulder may encourage you to get out for some activity in the sunshine instead.
But behind your back they are in cahoots, brainstorming ways to make you happy. The angel tends to think about the long term and gets frustrated while waiting, and the devil steps in with short term, if ill-advised, solutions, but their interests are aligned.
So, you can relax: you aren’t split down to your core. What’s being revealed by your ambivalence is a crack at the surface: the light crust that floats atop the molten core that is you—the whole you, and nothing but you.
At your core is where your unlimited potential, your innate goodness, and your unbound heart live, and it’s in no danger of burning out. Have you ever seen a picture of a fractured sea floor, where two continental plates are pulled apart, and molten rock oozes out from the cracks? That’s you.
It doesn’t make sense to try to patch the cracks up, and negotiate some kind of détente between the opposing sides you feel are at war. What is your prize if you’re successful? That you look like you have your act together even while you’re smothering inside? That you’re locked inside a very pretty shell?
What about allowing this split of yours to fall wide open?
Leonard Cohen wrote “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” I like to think of it another way, though. The cracks are where your light gets out.
Sure, you need to resolve your ambivalence in order to move forward on the path of your choosing and, yes, who you are at your core tends to look a lot more angelic than devilish.
But while you may be of two minds, you are of one burning heart, yearning for freedom and happiness. Spend more time tending to it, and you’ll incinerate your shell and anything else that might otherwise land on the surface and threaten to trap you.