Ambivalence Keeps You Safe, But It Also Keeps You Stuck
Why is it so common to avoid therapy, mental health support, and self-care in general? The simple answer is ambivalence. However, there are so many different reasons and nuances as to what keeps people from seeking mental health support. We are all capable of struggling with ambivalence from time to time. Ambivalence can show up in relatively small ways, such as putting off doing the dishes, or it can show up in the form of avoiding confronting an interpersonal issue that negatively affects one’s relationships, work, or well-being. One significant motivation behind ambivalence is the illusion of safety it can create. Sometimes people go through really difficult situations with the relationships in their lives, challenging bad habits, setting boundaries, asking for what they need, and more. For one to push through ambivalence and seek out help in the form of therapy takes vulnerability, self-awareness, and acceptance. It may feel exponentially more comfortable to embrace ambivalence, but the truth is, ambivalence also has the ability to keep individuals stuck in oftentimes self-destructive patterns.
Ambivalence to incorporating therapy into one’s life can show up in many ways, such as:
1. Shame: Shame can be a powerfully lonely feeling and has the ability to convince individuals that they do not deserve help. Some may think, “I never thought this would happen to me.” Some may feel embarrassed about needing to ask for help, especially in a society that sometimes sends discouraging messages about “picking oneself up by their bootstraps.” Everyone, no matter what they are going through, deserves to feel important and heard, and everyone deserves a safe place to voice and process their pain. If one does not have the mental health support they need within their inner circle, it can be very beneficial to incorporate that support in one’s life through a mental health professional.
2. Stigma: As progressive as mental health advocacy has been over the recent years, it’s unfortunately still stigmatized. Some people fear being labeled as “crazy” or “incapable”. Some may have grown up in a household or culture in which mental health was undervalued and deemed only appropriate for extreme traumas. Internalizing these negative messages will likely restrict a person from seeking out therapy and continue a pattern of repressing feelings and remaining stuck.
3. Fear of Vulnerability: It can be extremely scary for some to open up to a complete stranger, so much so that they would rather keep their traumas in than see a therapist. Some, unfortunately, live behind a mask, telling themselves, “everything is fine,” and never sharing their vulnerabilities. We oftentimes avoid being vulnerable out of fear of being judged or perceived at as “less than.” While the fear of sharing one’s vulnerabilities is natural and understandable, not opening up about traumas, emotions, and experiences has the ability for one to feel hindered in life or “stuffed up” emotionally.
4. Gender Stereotypes: Gender stereotypes can play a large role in seeking therapy. How genders are socialized can sometimes determine if a person feels empowered and safe to ask for help. For example, men are commonly socialized through parenting and media to be hyper-masculine. Messaging, such as “boys don’t cry” and school yard name
calling at the slightest hint of femininity, can teach a young boy that a lack of emotions is a facet of manhood. Additionally, these young boys may see girls crying and comforted, demonstrating that girls are “allowed” to show emotion while boys must “toughen up”. Later on in life when that little boy becomes a man and feels unhappy or has had an experience that might warrant therapy, he may subconsciously act on the messaging he was taught about his relationship to his emotions. On the other side of the coin, women may talk themselves out of therapy because they are often socialized to take care of everyone else, leaving little value, time, or energy left for themselves. If a woman is taking care of everyone else’s needs, she may feel as if her own do not hold as much importance. Additionally, women often carry a lot on their plates. It can be hard
for a woman to juggle one more task if she is already feeling overcommitted or spread too thin.
5. The idea that therapy “won’t work: For many people therapy is not a quick fix. As our culture continues to value instant gratification, patients may feel like giving up after not
seeing their desired results after a few sessions. As nice as it would be to attend one therapy session and be “cured” of pain and trauma, that is unfortunately not a realistic depiction of therapy. Many people attend therapy for weeks, months, and years before seeing overt progress with their mental and emotional health. Additionally, therapy is
not a one-sided street. One cannot expect for the therapist to do all the work as vulnerability, patience, and a desire to change must come from the patient as well.
6. Financial Commitment: Unfortunately, therapy and other forms of mental health support can run a high tab for patients. In addition, mental health services are sometimes not covered under certain health insurance benefits. The stark reality is that many Americans do not have health insurance at all. If one has to pay out-of-pocket, they may be limited when it comes to the degree of help they can obtain within their price range. Even when individuals do have the financial means to see a therapist, some may not value their mental health enough to add the cost into their budget.
There are many reasons one may demonstrate resistance or avoidance when it comes to incorporating mental health services into his or her life, but it can be beneficial to look inward and challenge ourselves when we notice an ambivalence to taking care of ourselves. Therapy can be a significant act of self-love, which is something everyone deserves. The more open- mindedness, compassion, and empathy society can place on mental health support, the more individuals will feel empowered to seek help in spite of their ambivalence. The safety we’re capable of feeling when he avoid what challenges us can be easy to lean into, but when we give ourselves permission to confront what keeps us stuck, we have the ability to better our well- being, relationships, and ultimately take the utmost care of ourselves.