For M. Klein, being able to feel ambivalent towards someone – or something – was an incredible accomplishment and sign of psychological maturity.
The child starts learning about ambivalence during what she calls the ‘depressive position’. Very simply explained, it’s the moment where the child starts peaking into the complexity of human nature. This fills him/her with melancholy and impotence. Before then, the infantile world was pervaded by ‘good’ and ‘bad’ things. The good breast that feeds me, and the bad breast that doesn’t.
There is a moral ambiguity the child has to come to terms with: almost nothing is utterly good or bad. The same breast – parent – that feeds me, loves me, protects me, is also the one that can turn away, be absent, punish me.
O. Kernberg drew upon this theory when he defined a borderline personality: someone who has not overcome the stage of differentiation, and perceives extreme, irreconcilable emotions towards the same person.
‘Healing’ from this black and white view, bringing opposites to integration and coexistence is something that takes time, and is often the goal of therapy itself. But we can still do something small, everyday, to practice ambivalence.
Let’s try to substitute BUT with AND.
“I can be tough, and I am lovable”.