Ambivalence and Our Wounded Hearts, Part Two

This week on the Allender Center Podcast, Dr. Dan Allender continues wrestling with the category of ambivalence—particularly the ambivalence many of us feel about engaging the messy, hard work of pursuing healing and restoration for our stories of trauma and abuse.

“The basic assumption that I operate with is that most people do not like that level of tension, and they work very hard to find a way to escape the bind of what ambivalence brings.”

Pulling from a fascinating study by a Dutch researcher, Dan argues that we cannot instantly resolve ambivalence by making a decision; instead, even as we begin to act, there will always be a core sense of ambivalence to the major movements in our lives. If we can’t simply get over it, then, another common option is to seek escape, to split it off or hide our ambivalence under a sense of certainty.

“If I can’t resolve ambivalence, other than to pretend or deny, how do I live with the tension?”

This conversation emerged for us because we have heard many stories of ambivalence, particularly since launching the new Healing the Wounded Heart online course. Our mission—to foster healing by inviting people to engage their stories of trauma and abuse with integrity and care—means that we are consistently guiding people into memories, stories, and relational dynamics that may have been buried or ignored for years. This is breathtaking and beautiful work, but it is also difficult and terrifying. Ambivalence about entering that work, then, is a natural human response, just as doubt is a necessary part of the movement toward trust.

Movement is what we need in the midst of ambivalence.

“When you are willing to bless ambivalence, and you’re willing to come to terms with that desire for help, and you’re willing to inch—just inch—toward what you desire most deeply, that you essentially know is out of the richness of your desire for the kingdom of God, for the life of God in your own life and heart, that’s when I begin to believe that even that inch gets multiplied. Movement is what we need in the midst of ambivalence. And when we bless that movement, without the result of resolving ambivalence, I think we begin to hear and see how important doubt and ambivalence is to the movement of integrity.”

Dan looks to the story of Jesus in Gethsemane, sweating blood and feeling the tension of ambivalence, to invite us to name our own ambivalence. Once it is named, we are then free to ask for help—not for resolution or escape, but help that allows us to move an inch at a time toward the deepest desires of our hearts. Much of this is reflected in that familiar and beautiful prayer: I believe, help my unbelief.

“That submission to help creates the context for not choosing just what seems like the most convenient potential or end, but actually what is most consistent with what I believe the Spirit of God is inviting me to.”