Ambivalence and Guilt–Part II

This is the second in a two-part series of articles on ambivalence and guilt. Please read the first article before reading this one. Written by a psychologist.

The Dictionary of Psychology defines an “Approach-Avoidance” situation, as …

“A conflict resulting from being both drawn and repelled by the same goal. This type of conflict is particularly difficult to resolve in that with distance the goal appears more desirable than fearful, whereas with proximity its aversive qualities tend to dominate, causing withdrawal, which, of course leads to an increase in the goal’s perceived positive features relative to the negative ones.”

For example, what happens when we are offered a job with a raise in salary but there are drawbacks, like having to work more hours or to move to another city? It gets more complicated.

The “Double Approach-Avoidance” situation is defined as a:

“…variation on the simple Approach-Avoidance conflict, in which each of two goals has both positive and negative aspects.”

An example (conflict) is when a person is on a diet. After the meal the waiter presents a delicious, calorie-rich chocolate cake on one plate, and a plain, unadorned carrot on another plate. The choice is to enjoy the cake (+) but suffer the consequences later (-), or eat the plain carrot (-), but enjoy the benefits later (+). Each has a plus and a minus, hence the double approach-avoidance.
These are the simplest classifications of ambivalence. There are thousands of potential approach-avoidant, approach-approach, and double approach-avoidant situations. Here’s one I recently heard in the office.
You are the parent of an adult child who is beyond old enough to take care of herself. Yet, she berates you when you fail to pay her rent and other expenses. You feel good about taking care of her but you feel bad about encouraging her dependence. She rewards you with approval when you support her but calls you a quitter and accuses you of abandoning her when you threaten to focus more on your needs. What kind of ambivalence is this? Approach-Avoidant? Approach-Approach? Double Approach-Approach? Double Approach-Avoidant? (Hint–choose the last one…)
In sum, ambivalence is a technical way of describing indecision, which is really central to the three conditions of procrastination, guilt and forgiveness. Indecision creates anxiety, which results from having to choose between usually conflicting alternatives. Indecision and conflicts can be conscious or unconscious. A conscious conflict means you are aware of both sides of the “argument”–good vs. good, bad vs. bad, or both good vs. bad, usually for more than one choice. A partially conscious conflict is when you are not aware of at least one side of things, but still feel some form of indecision, hence anxiety about the choice(s). An unconscious conflict is when there is indecision and you feel anxious but don’t have a clue why. Guilt works with ambivalence combining conflict with a sense of right and wrong in relation to THE standard.
-Dr. Griggs
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