What is Attachment Ambivalence?

Written By Jessica Lamar, Psy.D, LMHC, LPC, CPTT

As discussed in previous blogs, Betrayal Trauma is one of the most painful and devastating experiences that an individual can go through; occurring when someone you trust, such as a spouse, family member, or close friend, violates your trust by engaging in behaviors that are harmful or hurtful to you. We also know, the impact of betrayal trauma can be long-lasting and interfere with a person’s ability to form healthy relationships in the future.

Michelle Mays, a licensed therapist, has developed a term called Attachment Ambivalence, which helps describe the complex emotions, thoughts, and behaviors experienced after betrayal trauma. Attachment ambivalence is when a person has conflicting feelings towards their partner or caregiver, and they struggle to reconcile those feelings.

For instance, a person who has experienced betrayal trauma may feel intense anger and resentment towards their partner for betraying their trust. However, at the same time, they may also feel a strong attachment to that person and struggle to let go of the relationship. This ambivalence can cause significant emotional distress and make it challenging to understand the emotional experience and move through the trauma.

Here are some ways that someone might be experiencing Attachment Ambivalence:

  • Love/Hate Emotions: You may still have intense love and positive feelings towards the person who betrayed them, while also feeling angry, hurt, and betrayed. For example: You may feel like they still want to be close to the person, while also feeling like they should stay away.
  • Difficulty Trusting: You may struggle with trusting others or yourself, feeling like you can’t risk vulnerability again.
  • Conflicting Behaviors: You may act in ways that contradictory to your feelings. For example, you may continue to engage in caring for the person who you were betrayed by even it hurts you. Or you may act cold and distant towards the person, even though they still have feelings for them.
  • Mixed Messages: You may send mixed messages to the person who betrayed you. For example, You may say they want to work things out, but then act distant or avoidant.

All of these things makes it challenging to cope with betrayal trauma or even make sense of all of the emotions and move forward in a healthy way. Attachment Ambivalence is a natural and normal response to betrayal trauma, and it can be challenging to manage on your own. Seeking professional help from a therapist who specializes in treating betrayal trauma can be incredibly beneficial. They can help you explore your emotions, process your experience, and teach you coping strategies.


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