Ambivalence

It is confusing to feel drawn to and simultaneously repulsed by something. It is distressing to experience feelings that donโ€™t belong together – pleasure and pain, assurance and fear, comfort and betrayal. This is the tangled web of ambivalence. It is a concept and a part of the human experience that is often confusing enough in everyday situations. I can feel genuinely happy and proud of a friend when she receives a promotion at work, while also feeling jealous and under appreciated with my own work performance and lack of recognition. Both sets of feelings are entirely reasonable and should be given space for deeper self reflection and understanding. Ambivalence as it relates to childhood trauma, however, is an infinitely more complicated mess.

Ambivalence by definition is a complex feeling involving conflicting and competing emotions. When I learned about ambivalence in the context of childhood sexual abuse, I realized that for me it is tied into some of my most difficult and lasting ordeals with shame. I was both physically injured and experienced my first instances of sexual pleasure at the hands of my abusers. The wake of that statement alone has left me with ongoing therapeutic unpacking over the years. To this day, feelings of warmth, trust, and safety ignite the contradictory feelings that were imposed upon me from long ago. These may be faulty connections formed decades ago, but the wounded parts within me know no other way.

I am currently in the early stages of building trust with a new therapist. Every message that I am receiving from her feels safe and comforting. Yet the slightest softening response I experience within myself immediately feels dangerous and leads to an internal recoil. Each time I hear her speak words that light up certain parts of me that desperately need to hear those words, I feel a tug of war happen inside of me. Those parts lean in for comfort, safety, warmth, and care – and then they immediately scatter and retreat in fear, suspicion, and distrust. Young parts within me want to reach out for her help and yet these other parts scream that it is not safe, that her help should be avoided, and they try to shut me down with judgment and self loathing. Being stuck in a virtual setting makes this work feel even harder. How can the smallest and most vulnerable parts within me feel safe when there is so much space between those parts and the lifeline being tossed to them?

I am quite certain that the path towards building a connection with my therapist is simply a matter of time and patient work together – slowing tip toeing towards feelings of safety while acknowledging, naming, and making space for each ambivalent feeling that arises. The parts of me that struggle to feel safe with my therapist were created out of necessity. I cannot simply bypass them however inconvenient they may be. I need to instead make space for all of these conflicting feelings. I need to feel her comforting support and also question and doubt it. I need to give a voice to all of the parts that both need her and wish to reject her help. It’s not about choosing the right voice. It’s about learning to listen to all of them.



18 thoughts on “Ambivalence

  1. I feel this post. So well written. I lived these emotions, experienced what you so eloquently put into words. The pain is unfathomable for someone that hasn’t experienced it. Thanks for sharing your journey. Sometimes it’s nice to know your not alone.

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  2. Anytime you do healing work it is very much a “tug of war” as you so eloquently describe it, allowing yourself to expose all those emotions to a new therapist no matter how fantastic they are is challenging to put it mildly. Your honesty in sharing your experiences with us and helping others feel less alone is so very much appreciated. Hugs. Elissa

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    1. Thank you! I truly appreciate you reading and sharing these thoughtful comments. It really is challenging work, and feeling less alone in these experiences is such an important part of moving through them. Thank you again! ๐Ÿ’•

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  3. Wow. Such a deeply moving post. This is exactly what Iโ€™m going though with my therapist for the exact same reason (pleasure and pain felt during abuse). You have explained it and captured it so well. I love that you are wanting to be patient with your parts and listen to them all. I will take that tip and try it myself. I will be rereading this lost for sure

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    1. Thank you. It is comforting to not feel alone in these experiences. I think Iโ€™ll be needing to reread my own words as wanting to be patient with my parts comes a lot easier than actually putting it into practice. Thank you for your thoughts. It means a lot. ๐Ÿ’•

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    1. Thank you for these kind and supportive thoughts. Iโ€™m sorry I didnโ€™t respond sooner. I just found this comment in my spam folder. I really appreciate this. Thank you again. ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ’•

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