Thought Mine #15: Ambivalent Beliefs

Each Thought Mine is followed by a definition and a list of examples. Please note that the following examples are representative statements. The same sentence may represent numerous Thought Mines. I list examples mainly to give you a starting point. Often individuals blend two or three “favorite” Thought Mines together into their own type of social misreading.


Thought Mine #15: Ambivalent Beliefs

Also called:

Moral ambivalence


Holding moral beliefs that are important to you, but carrying out behaviors that are less moral. This leads to guilt.

Negative self-talk example:

“People who steal go to hell, but this really isn’t stealing.”

Couple example:

“I liked what we did in bed last night, but girls that do that kind of stuff are sluts.”

Teen example:

“I only drank a little. Not like everyone else at the party. It’s not that big a deal…”

Work/school example:

“I know that sleeping around is bad, but I don’t sleep with coworkers.”

“Cheaters are slime, but I don’t have time to read all the chapters.”


Ambivalent beliefs tend to lead to feelings of guilt. Over time, unresolved guilt lowers self-esteem.

I would like to point out that “, but” (comma but) is an important sentence structure to notice. When you hear a sentence that goes, “Word word word, but…” the speaker is telling you that she does not really believe the words before the “, but”.

 “I really like that dress, but…” probably means, “I don’t really like that dress.”

Sometimes the “, but” is implied, such as in the sentence, “I believe that pre-marital sex is wrong just enough to feel guilty after I have pre-marital sex.”

I once worked with a parochial school teacher who was having after school carnal activities with the school’s principal—a married man. When I pointed out that she didn’t seem to be living by her own moral beliefs, she replied, “I know it is wrong, but I keep telling myself that as long as his wife doesn’t find out, I’m not really hurting anyone.”

“You’re hurting yourself.” I suggest.

“Yeah, but I love him,” she said, while bursting into tears.

Notice how the “, but” was used by this intelligent teacher to mitigate her own moral beliefs. Let’s look at what she is really saying:

  • “I know it is wrong, but I keep telling myself that as long as his wife doesn’t find out, I’m not really hurting anyone.”
    • [Really means] “I don’t want to believe this is wrong.” And “I don’t care about his wife’s feelings.”
  • “Yeah, but I love him.”
    • [Really means] “I’m not really hurting myself.


More: Understanding Thought Mines

Thought Mines are social misreadings that get in the way of communicating clearly. They are thought stumbling blocks that allow us to misread, and often misjudge, the intention of others. By misreading others intentions, we can often get sidetracked from getting our needs met.


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