Double Binds by Shrink Talks with Elizabeth Daniels, M.A., LMHC


The proverbial double bind is a form of control without open coercion.  In other words, it is using a manipulation tactic without looking like you are manipulating.  It is being put in a damned if we do, damned if we don't situation, and damned if you say anything about it.   Double bind dilemmas leave us feeling trapped, confused and often exhausted. This article looks at five types of double binds, as well providing effective solutions.
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The proverbial double bind is a form of control without open coercion.  In other words, it is using a manipulation tactic without looking  like you are manipulating.  It is being put in a damned if we do, damned if we don't situation, and damned if you say anything about it. 

Double bind dilemmas leave us feeling trapped, confused and often exhausted. This article looks at five types of double binds, as well providing effective solutions. 



1.  The Ultimatum Double Bind

  • A dilemma requiring a decision between one thing and another thing, but choosing either one of them will bring a consequence you do not want to experience.
  • Then, if you comment or confront the person bringing you this dilemma, that will bring you a consequence you do not want.
  • All three responses will bring you consequences you do not want.
  • So you decide you are not going to participate in this, but making no decision at all will also bring you a consequence.
  • Trapped on all sides
  • No winning
  • You are in a catch-22
This is being in a double bind, which is a form of control without open coercion.  You are not directly being told what to do.  The part that is coercion is the confusion.  We are so confused that we can not really respond to what is going on.

So we end up either trying to defend ourselves, trying to explain our way out of it or saying it is unfair.  So we end up choosing the one we think is the least repulsive.  However, we are still choosing something we do not want to choose.

How to Handle Double Binds

  1. Do not introvert.  Pull back and look at the bigger picture of what is going on.
  2. Don't defend yourself.
  3. Detach. This is not your game.  This is their game.  Whether used intentionally or inadvertently, double binds are a way of controlling someone's behavior without looking like you are trying to coerce.  This is not about you, it is about the other person.
  4. Look for additional options.
  • Examine the situation and the relationship to avoid future double binds.
  • Turn the double bind back on the person who put you in it.  Example:  The double bind is the husband says stay married to him or finish school.  Respond that you are going to go to school and it is up to him whether he wants to say married to you.

 

 

 

2.  The Contradicting Directive Double Bind

The contradicting directive is when two instructions conflict one another.  

  • For example, a mother telling a child to show her father how she plays spontaneously.  You can not play spontaneously on purpose because if it is on purpose it is not spontaneous.  So it is mind bending.  The opposing instructions are confusing and can cause anxiety.
  • Another example is a wife wants her husband to go to the opera.  He does not like the opera.  She tells him not to go unless he wants to go.  However, he knows from previous experience if he does not go she will punish him.  So he goes, hating it the whole time, but he is having to act as if he likes it.  So he is trapped.  He is going to get punished or have to pretend he is having fun.


    3.  The Double Bind Question

    A question assuming a decision you have not yet made.
    • For example, you are looking at a sofa that will match your decorum, it is the right size and you like it.  However, you have not decided to buy it.  Yet, the salesperson asks you whether you are going to pay cash or use credit?  You have not said you are going to buy the sofa.  The question assumes a decision you have not yet made.
    • Solutions:  State you have not decided to buy it or pretend you did not even hear them ask that question.


      4.  Two Conflicting Messages Double Bind

      • For example, your Grandmother gives you two t-shirts.  One is a long-sleeve yellow t-shirt and the other is a short sleeve blue t-shirt.  Monday morning you come down to breakfast wearing the yellow t-shirt.  She looks at you and says, "You don't like the blue t-shirt?"  The next day you come down wearing the blue t-shirt.  She says, "You don't like the yellow t-shirt?"  The message is confusing because when you wear one she implies you do not like the other one.  So Wednesday you come down and you are wearing both t-shirts, the yellow and the blue.  She says, "You're wearing both of those t-shirts?  That's just weird."  
      • Ideally, if you can communicate with her about it and resolve it that is the best solution.  Here is how to handle it if that conversation is fruitless. 
      • Solution:  Do not introvert or try to figure it out.  Don't defend yourself.  Do not attack her.  Step back and detach.  Tell yourself this is her thing, not yours.  This is her issue and not about you.


      5.  Double Bind When Words and Actions Do Not Match 

      • For example, when someone is telling you you they love your or you are important to them.  However, their actions are telling a different story.   
      • Solution:  Again, look at the big picture.  Double binds cause a lot of confusion.  So, the goal is to get out of the confusion.  This is about them, not about you.  Then look for a third solution, instead of trying to figure this out.


        Double Bind Life Survey Exercise

        • Survey your life and look for double binds.  
        • When you feel trapped and confused, it is often because you are in a double bind.
        • When you realize you are in a double bind, look to see who is putting you there. 
        • Look for where you are putting other people in double binds.

        Note: This article was just moved from Narcissistic Abuse: Echo Recovery this morning (August 1, 2017) and has already been hacked. It has been restored. If you notice anything else, and the comments actually work, please let us know. Thanks.  

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