Ambivalence is the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone. It can be frustrating to experience conflicting feelings, and sometimes even more frustrating to deal with someone who seems to experience this often. How do people deal with such complex, internal conflict?

“In these times I don’t, in a manner of speaking, know what I want; perhaps I don’t want what I know and want what I don’t know.” –Marsilio Ficino, The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, Vol. 3

“If men are good, you don’t need government; if men are evil or ambivalent, you don’t dare have one. ” –Robert LeFevre

“Some people call it self-confidence, I call it ambivalence to failure.” –L.M. Long

“The good psychologist is ambivalent about people, because he knows well their treacherous nature, their potential for destruction, delusion and deceit.” –Noam Shpancer, The Good Psychologist


In Latin, the word ambivalence is the combination of ambo- (“both sides”) and valeō (“vigorous, powerful”). When you see the root valeō, you might think of the closely-related word valiant.The more modern understanding of this term can be traced back to the early 20th-century use of the German word Ambivalenz (meaning “simultaneous conflicting feelings”). In 1910, it was a Swiss psychologist Eugen Bleuler who coined the term, based on the model meaning of the word equivalence. By the 1930’s the word had gained a much more general application.


ambo- (“in two ways, both sides”)

valeō (“strong, healthy, skillful”)

Today, this word is often used to describe a person’s lack of concern about the outcome of a choice to be made. In this case, the more appropriate word to use might be “indifference.”


ambivalence [am-biv-uh-luhns] noun

  1. Simultaneously or alternately experiencing contradictory feelings, beliefs, or motivations.
  2. Psychology: The coexistence of opposing attitudes or feelings (such as love and hate) towards a person, object or idea. This coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings toward the same person, object, or action, simultaneously drawing him or her in opposite directions.
Synonyms — confliction, uncertainty, indecision, vacillation, fluctuation, doubt, hesitation, changeableness
Antonyms — certainty, sureness
*Note how these antonyms are related to those of the word confidence.


Ambivalence, a word with psychological affiliations, is highly related to the idea of cognitive dissonance, which refers to the discomfort that occurs when a person experiences conflicting thoughts, feelings, or impulses. According to social psychology, the human tendency is to ultimately choose one or the other to relieve the anxiety connected to being “on the fence” about a person or situation. In this case, ambivalence cannot endure.

Another related topic in psychology is the idea of an ambivert personality type. The Latin root ambo again points to a split, balanced, or indecisive nature, and combines traits of both introverts and extroverts.