A while back, I was listening to a Lewis Howes podcast featuring Vanessa Van Edwards, founder of The Science of People. She spoke of a study being conducted on police officers and their level of happiness based on the relationships they had. Toxic relationships and the effects they have on us have been frequently discussed, but what isn’t often recognized or acknowledged, is the impact of ambivalent relationships. That study was conducted with hopes to compare police officers who had a significant number of ambivalent relationships in contrast to police officers who had a lot of toxic relationships. They found that those who had more ambivalent relationships were significantly unhappier, less efficient, had lower career satisfaction, and skipped more days of work than the latter.
The confusion of where you stand poses questions such as: Do they like me? Do I like them? Are we friendly? What do they think of me?What do I think of them? All of which consume our energy on a level that surpasses one where you know someone is toxic. Levels of safety play a big role here. When you know you don’t like someone, or when you are aware that someone exhibits toxic behaviour, you have the ability to set appropriate boundaries. It becomes clear how to manage their presence in your life. What is more challenging are ambivalent relationships, which I might argue and say toxic relationships can also be when you are unaware of them, or inside their bubble.
Lately, as I walk into this new chapter of my life, I started to wonder how uncertainty and ambivalence intertwine and how they vary. Being a writer and an active participant in therapy for the past eight years, I’ve learned how useful and also, important, language is. From the words we say to ourselves, our speech and vocabulary, to the ways in which we define terms that already exist, all play a role in how we perceive not only the world we see in front of us, but also our participation in it.
Uncertain: not reliable; not having certain knowledge; not known beyond doubt; not constant
whereas ambivalence is defined:
Ambivalence: simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings; continual fluctuation
For those of you who are more visual, I look at ambivalence as a loop or cycle, one of movement but not progression. You’re just circling around something again and again in the hopes that at some point, you may begin to understand it.
Uncertainty, on the other hand, feels much more like a foggy path. I can’t see far ahead, only what is directly in front of me. I know that as I move forward, I will see the next thing, and then the thing after that. Forward motion, but one that often requires a great amount of trust.
Both terms have a level of obscurity to them. There is something that isn’t clear to you and that you wish to find out, or define. I suppose what I am trying to understand for myself, but also relay across is that they can get confused. As I try to live more intentionally, I have to come to terms with uncertain outcomes, learning to carry trust in my own instincts and go on a path that I don’t have a set plan for. An ambivalent path seems a bit different, though it can easily disguise itself as the former. You feel like you’re getting closer to something, but you’re actually just going around in circles.
When you step into an uncertain path, you’re taking a risk on yourself, something that from my experience is one of the most difficult things you can do. I’ve noticed that in the past, what I felt was movement, was actually me spinning around in a circular motion, which only left me dizzy, hazed, and more confused than ever before. Although uncertainty has its own challenges, I think we all need to break out of our habits sometimes and that involves stepping into what is unfamiliar to us. Though the unknown doesn’t exactly feel safe, sometimes it just feels right anyways, as growth typically does when it is time for it.
Whatever circumstances are in your own life, maybe it’s time we all take a look at whether they are actually moving us forward or leading us into further confusing territories. Is there anything you can think of that is present but isn’t serving you?