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Kris, A.O. (1984). The Conflicts of Ambivalence. Psychoanal. St. Child, 39:213-234.

(1984). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 39:213-234

The Conflicts of Ambivalence

Anton O. Kris, M.D.


The concept of conflicts of ambivalence is presented as a second paradigm of conflict, alongside the repression-defense paradigm of conflict. Three features of conflicts of ambivalence distinguish them from conflicts of defense: (1) divergent opposites (not limited to love and hate) rather than convergent ones; (2) reluctance to proceed with free association because of the anticipated loss of the paired opposite; (3) the requirement for a process akin to mourning in their resolution.

A historical review of Freud's contributions to concepts of bipolarity and mourning is presented that demonstrates the importance he attached to bipolar influences. The contributions of Heinz Hartmann and Anna Freud are emphasized.

After the presentation of some basic formulations that place the concept of conflicts of ambivalence in an operational framework based on the method of free association, the characteristics of the two paradigms of conflict are compared. The special importance of conflicts of ambivalence in adolescence and the corresponding value of the study of adolescence for appreciating the nature of the conflicts of ambivalence are noted. The distinction between the resolution of conflicts of defense through increasing tension and lifting of repression and the resolution of conflicts of ambivalence by pendular alternations in free association, with a process akin to mourning, is stressed. The interaction of the two kinds of conflict is described.

The scope of the conflicts of ambivalence, that is, their field of explanatory value, is indicated by five areas of application.

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