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Ambivalence

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In everyday parlance, ambivalence is a state in which someone feels contradictory emotions at the same time in connection with the same object, idea or person (for example, love and hatred for someone or something); the term is also commonly used to refer to situations where 'mixed feelings' of a more general sort are experienced, or where a person feels uncertainty or indecisiveness concerning something.

In psychoanalytic terminology, however, a more refined definition applies: the term (introduced into the discipline by Bleuler in 1911), refers to an underlying emotional attitude in which the co-existing contradictory impulses (usually love and hate) derive from a common source and are thus held to be interdependent. Moreover, when the term is used in this psychoanalytic sense it would not usually be expected that the person embodying this 'ambivalence' would actually feel both of the two contradictory emotions as such: except in obsessional neurosis, which sees both sides being more or less 'balanced' in consciousness, one or other of the conflicting sides is usually repressed. (Thus, for example, an analysand's 'love' for his father might be quite consciously experienced and openly expressed – while his 'hate' for the same object might be heavily repressed and only indirectly expressed, and thus only revealed in analysis).

Another relevant distinction is that whereas the psychoanalytic notion of 'ambivalence' sees it as engendered by all neurotic conflict, a person's everyday 'mixed feelings' may easily be based on a quite realistic assessment of the imperfect nature of the thing being considered.

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