Double Bind : Notes

Recently I learned about this amazing concept called Double Bind. I won’t explain what it is over this post as you can read about it on wikipedia. This article only adds to the concept.

Binding magnitude:

Siblings encounter same or similar double binds coming from parents however their response to them can be remarkably different, not from a coping perspective, but in the magnitude of binding they feel. This difference may be easy to understand when we see how is it that the parents are punishing. If the parents are punishing by not allowing the children to socialize with peers, an introverted child will obviously be less affected than the extroverted siblings. More commonly, however, the punishment comes in form of withdrawal of love, or expression of hatred or anger. The personality traits among the children that correlate with these latter punishments would be: desire for love, emotional sensitivity, and perfectionism. The more the children differ in these traits, the more different their sense of binding would be.

Why double binds?

I haven’t found much information on the etiology of double binds, so I’m pressed to fill the gap myself.

i) Double binds arise when the issuer’s mental confusion gets translated into his implicit and explicit orders.

ii) The directives issued by the issuer may not actually be paradoxical, and there may only be a misunderstanding by the victim… However, the victim cannot clear up the confusion because of the issuer’s repulse to meta-communication.

iii) Since moderation is good, the issuer may have goodwill in issuing the conflicting orders, and the intent of the issuer might just be keeping the “victim” in a presumed-as-correct “gray” zone. e.g a parent asking a child not to pay video games too much, or at all, may at the same time ask the child to not study obsessively. His or her intent is keeping the child’s behavior moderated, but unfortunately it turns into a troubling double bind because the children has been given subjective directives, such that a child will have difficulty realizing what amount of playing, or study, is good enough. The issuer may exploit this situation to their advantage, by blaming the child upon wish since the subjectivity of their orders means that they can always argue that they orders were never met.

iv) The issuer’s preferences have changed over time, but the victim has internalized both the old and new preferences of the issuer. This internalization is so strong that even though the issuer’s preferences have changed, the victim can not get rid of his or her older directives.

v) Defense. The issuer hasn’t really issued contradicting orders, but the victim has extrapolated a contradiction out of them, either intentionally or subconsciously, only to justify either their hatred for the issuer or their own laziness in carrying out the orders.

vi) Sometimes the directives given by the parents are free from any threats of punishment, explicit or implicit. However, the pseudo-binded persons (children) continue to have this pressing want to fulfill those directives, not because they’ll be punished if they don’t, but because they may be rewarded if they do. Classically double binds are studied in light of punishment only, whereas I see we’ve been missing the other half: Getting binded for rewards. Such behavior may be secondary to tendencies in the children themselves, such as primary perfectionism, or result of parents chronic lack of expression of love such that the children end up craving for it so much that they end up in such awkward situations as double binds.

vii) In classical double binds, children actually get punished. If this happens over and over, children grow up with learned helplessness, such that even when parents have stopped punishing their children, any paradox in their benign suggestions get enforced as a double bind. This is different from (iv) in that the set of directives are new and not temporally spread.


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