Double Binds

A double bind is when you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t and damned if you say anything about it.

Double BindDouble Binds are conflicting messages that create “can’t win” situations that are also “Not a topic of discussion”. Someone caught in a double bind wants to say, “No matter what, I just can’t win.” or “There’s just no pleasing you, is there?”

We learn to behave in ways that make sense within given contexts. Since many behavioral contexts involve interaction with others, the interactions can have a powerful effect on behavior. The following types of double binds create internal conflicts. Left unresolved, these conflicts can lead to protest and confusion, followed by hopelessness and finally, detachment and resentment.

“According to some experts, like Gregory Bateson who first described double binds in 1972, manifestations of either schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder may occur in extreme cases.”

  • Chastised for correct perceptions. The right perceptions are the wrong ones.
    • E.g. Violent household but is expected to see parents as loving and peaceful. “I love you and you better believe it or I’ll smack you!”
    • E.g. “Stop questioning what I tell you, (here comes the index finger) I’ve been around a lot longer than you have you know.” – Chastised for questioning conflicting messages. Lack of correct perceptions is reinforced and rewarded, clarification is punished.
  • Fulfillment requires someone else doing something without being asked. Asking someone to do something that requires them doing it without being asked, is a self-defeating paradox.
    • E.g. “Surprise me by doing something right for a change, I’d like that!”
    • E.g. “If only he would spontaneously say he loves me once in a while, then I would really feel loved.”
  • Expected to feel a different way than what is actually felt. Can’t feel that way and what is felt, is wrong.
    • E.g. “The proper way to feel about this is ____.”
    • E.g. “You should be ashamed of yourself.” – If the “proper” feelings aren’t achieved, guilt is sometimes felt. If feeling guilty is not “proper”, the result is feeling bad about feeling bad.
  • Demand and prohibit at the same time. Placed in a position of having to disobey to obey.
    • E.g. “Follow my instructions on how to be independent.” E.g. “Listen to me, you’ve got to take control over your life.”
    • E.g. “Tell me the truth, don’t you lie to me.” – Admit the truth and be severely punished or receive lesser punishment for lying.
  • Using the opposite of the desired type of relationship. Relationship paradox: To get the desired relationship the opposite one has to be used, so the desired relationship is never achieved.
    • E.g. “You want my help! I never got into this kind of trouble when I was a kid.” – Competitive where co-operative is needed (I did a better job of being young than you do).
      • Symmetrical relationship = competitive, emphasis on how they are alike.
      • Complementary relationship = co-operative, emphasis on how they complement each other.

Double binds are reinforced by patterns that disqualify one person’s experience.

Making something that was said “unimportant”, can be done the following ways.

  • The subject is changed or evaded.
  • The meaning of what was said is changed.
  • The context of what was said is changed.
  • What was said is over-ridden by status.
  • Cast doubt about validity of what was said.

Double binds are often stacked together.

This compounds the task of dealing with the situation.

  • E.g. “You want my help! I never got into this kind of trouble when I was a kid. Surprise me by doing something right for a change, I’d like that! You should be ashamed of yourself. Listen to me, you’ve got to take control over your life. Stop questioning what I tell you, (here comes the index finger) I’ve been around a lot longer than you have you know.”
  • E.g. “You must accept that you are (identity label)  before we can help you. We are only doing this for your own good, out of love and compassion for you, even though you are (identity label) . When you say that we have the problem, that we are doing this to suit ourselves because we don’t like the way you are, it only proves that you are indeed (identity label) .

Dealing with double binds.

One option is to complete the pattern, go directly to detachment and do your own thing, trust in your own ability to make choices that best serve your needs (the 3rd choice).

If detachment is not an option, then break the pattern by commenting on, and/or questioning, the nature of the communication. Sleight of Mouth patterns are useful for this.

  • E.g. “You’re only thinking that because you’re not considering the impact of what you are thinking.”
  • E.g. “Have you noticed that what you are thinking creates a no-win situation?”
  • E.g. “Thinking in no-win terms, creates no-win results.”
  • E.g. “How do you figure out the difference between those ideas?”
  • E.g. “If those ideas belong together, do they apply to everyone else?”
  • E.g. “What do you intend by that, what do you really want?”

Learn more about double binds.

See Next  >>  Self Perfection
Previous  <<  Goal Setting Resolutions

Related Pages