Affective ambivalence: what it is, characteristics, and how it affects us.
Let's see what affective ambivalence is and how contradictory emotions affect us.
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, illusion and sadness at the same moment...
We go from one extreme to the other in a matter of seconds, being receptacles of the coexistence of two emotions so contrary that we are surprised that we can live them at the same time, and some may even worry: Is this a problem? Is it what they call bipolar disorder?
We have all experienced it, don't worry. It is called affective ambivalenceIt is a psychological phenomenon as normal and human as the experience of any other separate emotion. Let's find out what it implies and if it can bring with it any problems.
What is affective ambivalence?
Affective ambivalence is a complex emotional state, as it is composed of conflicting feelings, opinions and ideas. 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 although it was unintentionally. We cannot stop loving him because we take into account all the good things he has done for us, but we do not dissociate ourselves from the resentment and hatred that his bad gesture has awakened within us. It is a thorn in our side.
But... Is it normal to feel this way, and 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 through situations in which we do not quite know 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 in us both positive and negative emotions.
Characteristics defining ambivalence in psychology
All human beings present affective ambivalence at some point in life, suffering and enjoying all kinds of experiences at the same time.. As it is a rather complex emotional experience, at first, those of us who know a little about the subject of emotions think of the names of great referents in the scientific approach to emotions, 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 the first modern description of what we call "affective ambivalence" is attributed 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 affective ambivalence as a state of conflicting emotions, where opposing thoughts and emotions, such as love and hate, are experienced.
Controversies about his person aside, Bleuler's conceptualization of this type of ambivalence has caused the field of psychology to become very interested in how it occurs in our species, since it is a phenomenon that represents our emotional and cognitive complexity very well.. It has been of special interest in the field of social psychology, since it is frequent in affective relationships of all kinds, both with family and friends.
An example of affective ambivalence can be seen 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 dependence on the little one, 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 emotions, among which we can find exhaustion, tenderness, rejection, love, hate, hope and fear. The first months caring for your child are hard.
But we can also see it in ordinary, more mundane situations without other people involved. We feel affective ambivalence when we see a very fashionable outfit in a store window, we see its price and, although we want it, we know that if we spend that money we will not be able to save.
Another example would be wanting to quit a job that burns us but being afraid to leave it because it would mean being unemployed and not knowing when we would have a fixed salary again.even if continuing in the current job means a lot of discomfort.
The indecision produces us discomfort...
The affective ambivalence always brings with it certain discomfort, whose degree correlates directly with the importance of the question that produces us love and hate and how intense the emotions are during the process. Indecision and contradictions do not go 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 be always so, and of course, when it is not, it causes us discomfort.
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 of a person who wants to leave his or her partner, with whom he or she has been living for many years. There are many questions that go through your head, making you think about the good and the bad that could happen, but also about the good and the bad that is already happening: "What if I leave him and never meet 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 do the dishes for the umpteenth time and I've had enough!
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 the other. Going from feeling great love and affection for someone to go in a matter of seconds to hate, anger and rejection confuses us and can even make us think that something in our mind is not right that, although we insist that it does not have to be anything bad, the person who lives it can see it as a feeling so overwhelming that it is scary.
But we end up deciding
Affective ambivalence is synonymous with contradiction and this is experienced and perceived as a bad thing, but we can actually find something positive in it.. This contradiction helps us to clarify, to look for pros and cons in a given situation and, once we have learned something clear from it all, it drives us to decide. Other times what happens is that we begin to downplay the bad and see more positive sides to what we are living, as is the case of many mothers who have just given birth who, with the passage of time, can only look favorably on their child.
Science seems to support this idea. In a 2013 study, Laura Rees, Ph.D., concluded that affective ambivalence promotes self-awareness and decision-making. The discomfort that the contradiction generates in us motivates us to do something, placating the doubt and trying to resolve the situation in which we find ourselves. It has been seen that contradictions associated with these feelings can enhance creativity, making us look for new ways of thinking and opting for new ways of thinking.It has been shown that the contradictions associated with these feelings can enhance creativity, making us look for new ways of thinking and opting for more original answers to see if they help us to resolve the situation.
Affective ambivalence can be adaptive, helping us to face that big question: what do I want? For this reason, and as an end to this article, when we find ourselves at a personal crossroads and we do not know which way to go, it is worthwhile to stop, think, reflect and think about what we want, it is worthwhile to stop, think reflectively about what we want to do and meditate 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 the arguments given by our angry "I" and our happy "I", to see who is right.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)