Wholeness Healing Today

When Ambivalence Occurs . . .

Uncertainty or fluctuation, especially when caused by inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite things.

Many people made resolutions at the start of the new year. Some may have resolved to eat better, to exercise, or to save more money. Some individuals may have chosen just one resolution to invest their time and energy towards while others made several commitments towards change. However, it’s very common about this time of year to hear much less about those resolutions people made in January. Old eating habits may have resumed or maybe the exercise plan tapered after a month. Some may have even forgotten what their resolutions were. So what causes these good intentions to falter?

For change to occur, an individual must be cognizant of the time that the process of change often requires. Most change doesn’t occur overnight and the ‘cold turkey’ concept is not common. Changes in behavior can be better described as a process involving different stages of readiness. Each stage is closely linked with motivation. The process entails individuals who “move from being unaware or unwilling to do anything about the problem to considering the possibility of change, then to becoming determined and prepared to make the change, and finally to taking action and sustaining or maintaining that change over time”. (DiClemente, 1991)

The stages of change have been labeled as precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. In the beginning, ambivalence is very common. Once an individual identifies that there is a problem and a possible reason to change, he or she may fluctuate with the possibility of making the change. Ambivalence is what causes individuals to move back and forth between some awareness of there being a problem and the desire to do something about it.

Change is best viewed as a gradual process with occasional setbacks, like bumps in the road. For instance, an individual could have started to prepare to make some changes, such as eating healthy, by not eating out. But some days the desire to eat healthier is confronted by a busy schedule and the individual may contemplate whether it is really that important when compared to the convenience of driving through the fast food lane to get his/her meal. Identifying this as ambivalence and remembering this is normal may prevent one from destructive self-criticism that could halt his or her process of change.

Lack of motivation can be a manifestation of ambivalence. Some days one’s goals for change can seem unattainable. It may get difficult to remember the reasons for desiring the change in the first place. For instance, someone who has been exercising daily may have a day that getting out of bed early on a Saturday seems completely ridiculous. He or she may ponder when exercising became more important than catching up on some much needed rest. When this ambivalence strikes, it could be critical that this individual identify these competing thoughts and attack them with clarification of the goals, values, and motivators that started him on the road to change. Expecting this ambivalence can be equally important. It can be very helpful to consider what stage of change one is in when making that New Year’s resolution.

It can also be helpful to understand how common ambivalence towards change can be. Knowing that setbacks and difficulties can be used as learning experiences may assist someone in continuing through the process of change. Looking for support to help organize and manage ambivalence can also aid in achieving stable change over time.

Works Cited:

Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, 2010 K Dictionaries LTD. Copyright 2005 by Random House, Inc.

Enhancing motivation for change in substance abuse treatment, Miller, W. Consensus Panel Chair (2008). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration-

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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Jody Johnson, LICSW, LIMHP, began working at Wholeness Healing Center as a therapist in 2007. Jody graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with her Masters in Social Work.  She received her bachelor degree in Social Work from the University of Nebraska at Kearney.


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