Definitions

ambivalence

ambivalence

[am-biv-uh-luhns]
ambivalence, coexistence of two opposing drives, desires, feelings, or emotions toward the same person, object, or goal. The ambivalent person may be unaware of either of the opposing wishes. The term was coined in 1911 by Eugen Bleuler, to designate one of the major symptoms of schizophrenia, the others being autism and disturbances of affect (i.e., emotion) and of association (i.e., thought disorders). Bleuler felt that there were normal instances of ambivalence, such as the feeling, after performing an action, that it would have been better to have done the opposite; but the normal person, unlike the schizophrenic, is not prevented by these opposing impulses from deciding and acting. In Freudian psychoanalysis, ambivalence was described as feelings of love and hate toward the same person. This specific meaning has attained common usage by psychiatrists and psychoanalysts.

Ambivalence - a state of having emotions of both positive and negative valence or of having thoughts or actions in contradiction with each other, when they are related to the same object, idea or person (for example, feeling both love and hatred for someone or something). The term is also commonly used to refer to situations where 'mixed feelings' of a more general sort are experienced or where a person experiences uncertainty or indecisiveness concerning something.

Ambivalence in psychoanalysis

In psychoanalytic terminology, however, a more refined definition applies: the term (introduced into the discipline by Bleuler in 1911), refers to an underlying emotional attitude in which the co-existing contradictory impulses (usually love and hate) derive from a common source and are thus held to be interdependent. Moreover, when the term is used in this psychoanalytic sense it would not usually be expected that the person embodying this 'ambivalence' would actually feel both of the two contradictory emotions as such: except in obsessional neurosis, which sees both sides being more or less 'balanced' in consciousness, one or other of the conflicting sides is usually repressed. (Thus, for example, an analysand's 'love' for his father might be quite consciously experienced and openly expressed – while his 'hate' for the same object might be heavily repressed and only indirectly expressed, and thus only revealed in analysis).

Another relevant distinction is that whereas the psychoanalytic notion of 'ambivalence' sees it as engendered by all neurotic conflict, a person's everyday 'mixed feelings' may easily be based on a quite realistic assessment of the imperfect, inconsistent or self-contradictory nature of the thing being considered.

Intellectual ambivalence

Intellectual ambivalence refers to an inability or unwillingness to commit oneself to a definite answer, position, or conclusion in thought ("yes or no"), normally either because a definite stance is deliberately avoided or evaded for some personal motive, or because sufficient grounds (logical or experiential evidence) warranting a definite stance are lacking. To resolve intellectual ambivalence into a definite position is frequently a task for criticism or critique. The main problem with intellectual ambivalence is that it provides no clear guide or orientation for action and leadership. It is difficult to act or lead on the basis that something "might or might not be the case", that something "might or might not be a good idea" etc. In order to act or lead, definite ideas are necessary rather than uncertainty which incapacitates choices and decisions. Thus it often happens that someone in a leadership function pretends to be very "definite" about an issue, because the function requires it, even though he or she is in truth ambivalent about the issue.

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