Ambivalent and Ambivalence Definition



Is one word you want to remember because it has the unique meaning of feeling two opposite emotions at the same time!

Have you ever watched a movie and seen one of your favorite characters do something terrible? How did it make you feel?

We could describe the feeling as being torn in two, split between our attraction for that person but repulsed, disgusted or pushed away by their actions. That is ambivalence.

Synonym and Antonyms

A synonym for ambivalence would be uncertainty for example.

  • The man was uncertain of his relationship with the woman.

Therefore the antonym for ambivalence is, certain or unequivocal.

  • The man was certain of his relationship with the woman.

Examples of Ambivalence and Ambivalent

The feelings of ambivalence can arise from any number of situations, and we can feel it about people, things, and actions. Here are some cases.

  • The girl felt ambivalence toward her manipulative mother.

Explanation: The girl has a natural love or affection for her mother but is saddened and hurt by the way her mother manipulates her.

We would call this an ambivalent attachment because the person is attached in some way to the subject but feels ambivalence towards it.

Ambivalent Attachment is also a medical term that describes the feelings of a child who is insecure because their parent or caregiver is not consistent in the way that they care for them and their needs.

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Ambivalent (adjective)

  • He showed an ambivalent attitude towards his dog when it began to vomit.

Explanation: The man wants to know what is wrong with his dog and to check on him, but feels sickened by the sight of the dog vomiting and keeps his distance.

  • The workers are ambivalent about their new jobs, they enjoy the work, but hate the hours they must work.

Epistemic Ambivalence

Don’t worry if you have problemsΒ pronouncing these words; native speakers also struggle to say them.

Epistemic is an adjective that describes our knowing something, in other words, having knowledge of the matter. It is almost the opposite idea of what ambivalence means because to be epistemic means you know, you are sure.

Epistemic ambivalence is when you may know the truth of a situation but cannot say which truth it is, because there is more than one option.

Here is an example. Imagine you are a child and you have a pet dog. One day after coming home from school you could not find your dog. Your parents then gave you the following explanations for his disappearance.

  • He ran away.
  • He got sick and died.
  • He went to live on a farm
  • He has one on a very long holiday.

One of the answers is the truth, but since you are not sure which one, you find yourself in a state of epistemic ambivalence, knowing but not knowing what happened to your pet dog.

Another way to describe it is that feeling of when you are sure of something within yourself but uncertain of it until it happens or you observe it.

Epistemic Ambivalence is a complex idea and not at all common to speak about unless you are a scientist perhaps, so don’t worry if it is hard to understand, you may even feel ambivalence about this explanation – I get it, but I don’t get it!

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Interesting Fact

Interestingly, ambivalence as a noun is more common than in its adjective form, ambivalent. But don’t let that prevent you from using this exceedingly descriptive and unique word.

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