views updated Jun 27 2018


Ambivalence is the simultaneous presence of conflicting feelings and tendencies with respect to an object. During the winter meeting of Swiss psychiatrists in Berne on November 26-27, 1910, Paul Eugen Bleuler described, with respect to schizophrenia, the simultaneous existence of contradictory feelings toward an object or person and, with respect to actions, the insoluble concurrence of two tendencies, such as eating and not eating. In "The Rat Man" (1909d) Freud had already indicated that the opposition between love and hate for the object could explain the particular features of obsessive thought (doubt, compulsion). In Totem and Taboo (1912-13a) he adopted the term "ambivalence" proposed by Bleuler in the text of his conference published in 1911 in the Zentralblatt.

For Freud the term, in its most general sense, designated the presence in a subject of a pair of opposed impulses of the same intensity; most frequently this involved the opposition between love and hate, which was often expressed in obsessional neuroses and melancholy. In 1915, in his metapsychological writings, he added that it was the loss of the love object that, through regression, caused the conflict of ambivalence to appear. In 1920 Karl Abraham emphasized the intensity of the sadistic fantasy associated with urinary and digestive functions. In 1924 he extended and transformed the Freudian schema of the evolution of the libido into a complete picture of the development of the relation to the object along two lines: the partial or total nature of the investment in the object, and ambivalence. The precocious oral stage of sucking is preambivalent, neither love nor hate are felt toward the object. There follow four ambivalent phases: the late oral stage, which is cannibalistic and seeks the total incorporation of the object, the precocious anal-sadistic stage, which seeks the expulsion and destruction of the object, the late anal-sadistic stage, which seeks its conservation and domination, and finally the precocious-phallic genital stage. The final genital phase of love towards a complete object is postambivalent.

Freud integrated Abraham's contributions in the thirty-second of his New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis (1933a). Within the oedipal conflict ambivalence is resolved as a neurotic symptom, either through a reaction formation or through displacement (1926d). Reformulated in the second theory of instincts, ambivalence becomes part of the fundamental instinctual dualism: life instinct/death instinct.

For Melanie Klein ambivalence was key in formulating a theory of depression. The interplay of introjection and projection, the dialectic of good and bad objects, and depressive anxiety, signaling the fear of destroying the maternal object, are the apparent manifestations of the conflict of ambivalence. Together they constitute the ego and work toward resolving the oedipal conflict.

For Paul-Claude Racamier (1976), while melancholy is hyperambivalent in that it results from an intense struggle between love and hate, schizophrenia must be considered as a fundamentally antiambivalent process, where "contrary impulses . . . radically split, fuse separately in a nearly pure state, presenting themselves alternately to the same object or simultaneously to partial objects that are always distinct and divided."

Victor Souffir

See also: Bleuler, Paul Eugen; Contradiction; Essential depression; Doubt; Fusion/defusion; "Instincts and their Vicissitudes;" Melancholia; "Mourning and Melancholy;" Parricide Phobias in children; Phobia of committing impulsive acts; Object; Obsessional neurosis; Orality; Oral-sadistic stage; Reaction formation; Schizophrenia; Taboo; Totem/totemism.


Abraham, Karl. (1927). A short history of the development of the libido. In Selected papers of Karl Abraham (Douglas Bryan and Alix Strachey, Trans.). London: Hogarth Press. (Original work published 1924)

Bleuler, Eugen. (1952), Dementia praecox (Joseph Zinkin, Trans). New York: International Universities Press. (Original work published 1911)

Freud, Sigmund. (1909d). Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis. SE, 10: 151-318.

. (1912-13a). Totem and taboo. SE, 13: 1-161.

. (1926d [1925]). Inhibitions, symptoms, and anxiety. SE, 20: 75-172.

. (1933a [1932]). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 22: 1-182.

Klein, Melanie. (1975). A contribution to the psychogenesis of manic-depressive states. In The writings of Melanie Klein. London: Hogarth Press, 1975. (Reprinted from International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 16 (1975), 145-174.)

. (1975). The Oedipus complex in the light of early anxieties. In The writings of Melanie Klein. London: Hogarth Press, 1975. (Reprinted from International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 26 (1945), 11-33.)

Racamier, Paul-Claude. (1976). L'interprétation psychanalytique des schizophrénies. In Encyclopédie médico-chirurgicale. Paris: EMC.

Further Reading

Benedek, Therese. (1977). Ambivalence, passion and love. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 25, 53-80.

Eissler, Kurt R. (1971). Death drive, ambivalence, and narcissism. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 26, 25-78.

Parens, Henri. (1979). Ambivalence: drives, symbiosisseparation-individuation process. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 34, 385-420.

Schwartz, Charlotte (1989). Ambivalence: relation to narcissism and superego development. Psychoanalytic Review, 76, 511-527.


views updated May 23 2018

ambivalence The coexistence, in one person, of opposing emotions or attitudes. Sigmund Freud often refers to the individual oscillating between love and hate for the same object or person. In sociology, the dual consciousness thesis posits a subordinate class which holds apparently inconsistent beliefs or values, resulting in an ambivalent attitude to some of the central institutions in society.


views updated May 23 2018

ambivalence (am-biv-ălĕns) n. (in psychology) the condition of holding opposite feelings (such as love and hate) for the same person or object.