The word of the day is ambivalence. In his book, Why Do I Do That? Joseph Burgo provides two alternate definitions for the term. Ambivalence is first “the experience of opposing feelings (love and hatred)…part of almost all of our important relationships.” It is next “an inability to make up our minds, or feeling unsure about what we would most like to do.”
Ambivalence ushers discomfort; therefore, we humans are driven to eradicate its presence from our emotional landscape. In effort to resolve the agitation caused by uncertainty, we persuade ourselves to choose a position of certitude, “believing we know something without any doubts, even when we actually don’t and often can’t know.”
Annoyed with the simultaneous experience of contrary emotions, we embrace only one, while repressing or denying the opponent. This is when we enlist the service of black and white (otherwise known as either/or) thinking.
Just this morning, I published a TikTok video explaining how my mother employed this defense in effort to manipulate my behavior. Having recently been exposed to my YouTube content, which critically analyzes my parents’ choices in my upbringing, she sent a lengthy text message, persuading me to cease and desist.
Part of this message queried:
“Does it mean more to you to trash us on social media…than to be thankful that your daddy was part of your life?!”Mom, Angry Text Message
For my mom, she cannot handle the ambiguity my content generates. Because I am scrutinizing my parentage, she cannot reconcile the fact that I simultaneously love and appreciate her and my father. For my mom, it’s impossible to feel both disappointment and forgiveness.
Such is not the case, however. Burgo states the following:
“Tolerating ambivalence means being able to think and truly believe: I may hate you right now, I might want to rip your guts out, but I know this feeling will pass and I’ll eventually feel my love for you again.”Why Do I Do That?
Burgo adds that “bearing this type of ambivalence means learning to experience an emotion without it overwhelming you, and understanding that all feelings are temporary.”
Further, when we embrace ambivalence, we free ourselves up for the intentional act of forgiveness. We free ourselves up to receive and administer grace. After all, when we forgive, we acknowledge our wounds and commit to move forward in love.
The content I produce is replete with ambivalence. As a trauma survivor, I must rest in the conviction that I can move forward, raise awareness for environmental and familial contributions to traumatic experience, and simultaneously forgive my parents for the impact of their behaviors on my experience.
Likewise, I must tolerate the ambivalence I feel regarding my simultaneous excitement over the momentum propelling my growth as an influencer, and the empathy I legitimately feel in the face of my parents’ defensive responses. I am sad my content hurts them. I feel the pain it produces. Regardless, I cannot stop producing this content for the sake of my own comfort–for the sake of my parents’ and my own certainty.