The Institute for Spirituality and Health
Exploring the connections between spirituality and health.

Ambivalence, Health, & Spirituality

Ambivalence, Health, & Spirituality


In a society that places high value on certainty, those who wrestle with ambivalence can shake things up with three simple words: I feel torn.  Marriage, politics, career, religion, health, and sexuality, from death to ordering a meal – at some point, most people will find themselves entangled in ambivalence.  And chances are, they will desperately seek a way out.  

In ethnographic research conducted by Susana McCollom, 40 in-depth interviews with Thought Leaders across fields of psychology, spirituality, religion, business, and government, reveal perceptions of American society as one that thrives on being busy, often as an intentional way to avoid intimacy.

As part of this landscape, there is a resounding opinion that American society is not a big fan of ambivalence, a condition that relentlessly calls us into raw corners of anxiety, self-doubt, and confusion.  In fact, several participants believe U.S. society perceives ambivalence as a weakness, and even immoral.

On the other side of the suffering lies a different perspective.  While participants describe U.S. society as intolerant of ambivalence, personally, most prefer to dialogue with individuals who self-identify as ambivalent-leaning than with those who are non-ambivalent.  In fact, most Thought Leaders express admiration for those who have the ability to wrestle with the tension and seek the meaning along this road.  

Leaders, practitioners, and patients within health, religious, and social institutions are in a unique position to compassionately witness and engage the intricate narratives of individuals at key points of ambivalence.  Findings indicate that as individuals, we can make a collective impact by simply staying with another person as they share ambivalence; to listen with compassion and curiosity.  

To learn more about this research and published findings, please contact Susana McCollom at or directly at 202.257.2311.