Procrastination and Anxiety—Part II
So far I’ve talked about simple examples and everyday choices. Ambivalence also occurs with values, principles, feelings and ideas. It also interacts with self-esteem. For example, I’m short but I want to play basketball. My sense of self is invested in playing a sport where tallness is valued (but not always…think Johnny Stockton…), so I want to feel good about myself and therefore I want to play basketball. But, I also know that if I’m not really good, I’m going to get smushed on the court, which will crush my self-esteem (unless I am good at rationalizing). Another example; I may value truth, but have to vote for a politician who has been caught lying. Even though he is the “lesser of two evils” this candidate still best represents my overall values. Or, I may value public demonstrations about certain “hot” issues, like health care. But if my demonstrating might land me in jail because some of my fellow protesters plan to throw rocks at police, then I have conflict. I may be very angry at the dog for eating my homework, but I am in conflict over punishing the dog, because the dog doesn’t deserve that and does not know the import of chewing on my notebook. I may espouse democracy, but excuse me if I don’t say anything out loud about this form of government when visiting North Korea (currently ruled by a Dictator).
As said before, the ambivalences are subclinical phenomena. They are not clinical entities, like panic attacks, phobias, OCD, or depression. The latter are considered to be mental illnesses and are severe enough to be classified as illnesses; whereas, the ambivalences are not. As a clinician, I would argue that these more serious mental illnesses are also founded on ambivalence, because they frequently involve unresolved conflicts, approach-avoidance situations and anxiety. But because mental illnesses are noticeably more incapacitating, they are not usually discussed in conjunction with ambivalence, and are not considered here. The three most common forms of subclinical ambivalence are procrastination, guilt and forgiveness. This ebook focuses on procrastination. Future articles and ebooks will separately cover guilt and forgiveness.
Procrastination becomes dynamically significant; it serves a purpose, i.e., to accomplish lesser-important tasks over more important tasks when we need justification. It serves to avoid conflict, at least consciously, usually between something approached and something to be avoided (“approach-avoidance” dilemna, in the literature). If I don’t want to write that dissertation, I can justify putting it off by mowing the lawn. After all, who wants to look at grass that is one foot high? What will the neighbors think? I avoid the difficult or stressful experience of writing a lengthy paper (procrastiante), while approaching the shorter-term, physical and easier task of cutting the grass, which will sooner be rewarded by the neighbors’ approving glances at my lawn.
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