The term denotes the simultaneous existence of opposite feelings, attitudes, aspirations, manifested in relation to other persons, objects, situations. With this broad understanding, ambivalence is a universal and not very significant phenomenon, since attachment is often complicated by hostile feelings, and many hostile relationships are softened by attachment. However, when the strength of these conflicting feelings reaches a level at which this or that action seems inevitable and at the same time unacceptable, a certain defensive maneuver is undertaken, often leading directly to mental illness (for example, to psychosis or obsessive-compulsive disorder). Under such circumstances, ambivalence is repressed. This means that only one of the competing senses is allowed into consciousness. Hostility is often repressed, but sometimes attachment. Successful identification of the repressed component and its successful demonstration to the patient usually enhance the therapeutic effect.

When discussing the active and passive tendencies of the anal-sadistic organization of partial drives, Freud (1905), pointing to Bleuler as the author of the concept and concept of ambivalence, expressed the opinion that ambivalence is characterized by approximately the same level of opposing drives. He also used this concept when considering the simultaneous positive and negative transfer (1912). Abraham (1924), justifying the distinction between pre-ambivalent and post-ambivalent object relations, used the notion of the coexistence of love and hostility. The early oral stage was regarded by him as pre-ambivalent, while the later biting stage was regarded as ambivalent. Ambivalence also characterizes the anal-sadistic stage. The genital stage manifests itself when the child becomes able to psychologically spare the object, protecting it from destruction. This stage is referred to as postambivalent. Ambivalence is one of the important elements of Klein's theory, which expressed the idea that an ambivalently perceived object is split into “bad” and “good”.