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  • Writer's pictureEric Fisher

ambivalence in recovery

two colors spilling into one another

Ambivalence means having two minds about something. It can be challenging to navigate ambivalence in early recovery from substances or behaviours like gambling, overshopping, or workaholism. We also experience ambivalence when experiencing mental health concerns like depression and anxiety. Life transitions also bring ambivalence. When coming into another job, I may want to act like I did in the old job, which was very laid-back, but I also want to make a positive impression.

In the American Kenpo martial art, the "Hugging Pendulum" technique is a powerful defence against an attacker who strikes with a right knife-edge kick from the front. This technique, which involves a downward block that deflects the incoming kick, is a practical and effective way to defend yourself. By using hugging (checks) close to your opponent’s leverage points, you can disrupt their balance and hinder their subsequent actions. This is how the technique gets its name, as it involves 'hugging' your opponent's leverage points.

The translated term I use for recovery is "Hugging Ambivalence." The idea here is to see that ambivalence is not meant to be resisted but enraptured. I don't draw away when there are two choices I'm equally considering. Ambivalence doesn't vanish in early recovery, regardless of what you've experienced. Depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, or whatever else are not immune.

In active recovery, I may know that a particular location isn't fitting for me to enter, yet I feel I've had a few weeks abstaining from alcohol. With trauma, I feel like the nightmares have stopped after treatment, yet images do pop up from time to time. Self-help literature tells me to do one activity to care for myself, but I'm anxious if it'll work and would rather not be disappointed. Ambivalence is here to stay.

Here are a few ways to deal with the ambivalence.

1) Move through the ambivalence and observe what you feel, think, and sense as objectively as possible. This will take effort, patience, and time. No one is perfect at this task. You're not driving the train, nor are you a passenger. You're an observer. This comes from cognitive defusion of ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy).

2) Check out the pros and cons of each pathway. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

3) Request the supportive feedback of people you can count on for each side of the coin.

4) Speak about the ambivalence with a therapist, counsellor, social worker, coach, or psychologist.

5. Meditation and exercise may help with the decision-making process. These two don't have to be long and vigorous.

6. Sleep on it. A new day may bring new information about what direction to go.

Hugging denotes coming into something with open arms. With ambivalence, we approach the situation with our heads held high, eyes on the issue, and arms open to different possibilities. Addiction, depression, anxiety, or whatever else you experience may push you to think that ambivalence is a bad thing. It's not! It's a part of your process.

Give yourself space with ambivalence—approach with gentleness and alertness. The ambivalence doesn't have to own your trajectory. You can own your trajectory, with ambivalence being a factor along the way. You can do it. I believe in you. It's time to work on any ambivalence in believing in yourself.


Lamkin, E. & Lamkin, K. (1993). Blue Belt Self Defense Techniques Study Manual, Volume 5, 29-36. Phantom Productions, Louisville, KY.

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