The Gift of Ambivalence: Being Grateful & Wanting More.

I was agonizing over an ongoing situation in my life because I was changing on the inside, but it felt like nothing was changing on the outside.

And, I was internally beating myself up because I didn’t want to be ungrateful. I was trying to be grateful for what I had. I was making gratitude lists. I was trying to remind myself of all the things that are right in my life.

But, I also felt guilty about not being grateful. Then, I felt shame for the situation itself. And, add-on top of that the feelings of frustration as I viewed the situation as an obstacle. I felt helpless. And, eventually, I spiraled into a negative funk.

All of this was going on inside of me while I was trying to force my mind to look at all the things I have to be grateful for. I have decided the battle of heaven and hell goes on daily in our mind.

But, here I was in a shame spiral and I attributed it to the situation. But, actually, my ambivalence created the guilt which then created the shame and sent me barreling into a spiral.

Ambivalence is defined as the coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings toward the same person, object, or action, simultaneously drawing him or her in opposite directions.

As I was viewing the situation, I was feeling conflicting negative and positive feelings. I was content with where I was, but longing for things to be different. And, I didn’t know how to let those two things be within myself at the same time. I thought one had to supersede the other.

So, I set all my feelings up Game of Thrones-style and let them fight for the throne.

And, then I read this:

You are entirely capable of entertaining two states of consciousness at once. You can be grateful for what you have now and desire more. You can be content here in the now and simultaneously be scanning the horizons of potential. 

Dr. Danielle DowlingHow To Be Grateful & Want More At The Same Time

As I did more research, I realized that holding multiple and conflicting feelings at the same time is entirely normal.

For example: if you are mad at someone for being a bully, but then you find out that they were bullied. You may feel some empathy towards them because you now understand that they went through something traumatic. You may still not like what they did, but when you connect the rest of the story, you may hold two views of them as victim and predator. 

Ultimately, what I was doing was feeling grateful for where I was, but feeling guilty about my desire for things to be different or for wanting more. But, we all have a conflicting feeling of enjoying comfort while wanting things to change. And, we are supposed to desire. I was gratitude shaming myself. I was telling myself I had no right to feel bad about the circumstances because they could be worse.

Sam Jolman said: You can be grateful for the meal you just ate. But you will get hungry again and need to eat. And it doesn’t mean you weren’t grateful for your breakfast.

When I realized that I am supposed to and capable of feeling two conflicting feelings at the same time, I looked at everything differently. And, I realized that I can be grateful for something and still need it to be more for me. It doesn’t make me ungrateful and there is no need to feel guilty. I can be content while currently unsatisfied.

I gave myself permission to feel without shaming myself for the negative feeling. I gave both feelings the right to exist at the same time. And, I looked back over my life and realized that I can feel that way about the past as well. I can let the events of the past have been somewhat supportive, lead to my growth and nurtured me in many ways yet still not have been everything I needed, at times. It was okay to be unsatisfied.

“Contentment and satisfaction are different. Satisfaction is desire fulfilled. It’s getting the thing you want. That’s pretty easy to understand. Contentment is desire tempered by gratitude. Its wanting something but being able to be okay, to cope, to still have a heart full of joy, even if you don’t get what you want.” – Sam Jolman 

Another thing I learned about ambivalence is it can be related to procrastination which I have always felt I suffered from. I would be paralyzed by the fear of failure and the desire for success so I would procrastinate until I was forced to push myself to complete something. Now, I see that the fear of failure and the desire for success are just feelings and they don’t have to prevent me from doing anything. I can allow for both to be there while I move forward and do the thing that needs to be done no matter the outcome.

The gift of understanding my ambivalence was that I figured out that the feelings are just feelings triggered by the circumstances. I don’t have to resolve the feelings. They are just there to inform me that I can still feel good while waiting for what I want.