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.

Kill the flight, own your child

Dad can I fly?


Why dad?

Because man cannot fly.

But I can.  See? (demonstrating a short flight from his chair to the ceiling)

(surprised) No.

Why not?

It is dangerous.

But Dad I’ll take care of the dangers, don’t you think I should fight them and not be afraid of them?

No. Since I love you, you are more important to me than your wild ambitions.

But Dad, I’ll be safe, I promise.

While you’re on your flight, who will take care of your life? Who will go to the job and earn bread? Who will take care of your wife, your family, once you’re married?

Dad. I’ll manage.

You cannot. I’m your Dad. I know your limitations better than you.

But Dad, didn’t you say I cannot fly and I flew right in front of your eyes. Maybe I can do more than what you think Dad.

Don’t argue. I know life more than you. You’ll know one day that I was right. You cannot understand yet.


Go to sleep or you’ll be sleepy at school. Goodnight.

The child wasn’t particularly obedient, but he’d never risk losing his family’s love for his dreams. He never thought of flying anymore, and in fact forgot that he had this supernatural ability to fly without wings.

… all in the name of love, or what he perceived to be love, or what his Dad claimed to be love.

Project 13

“I expect the least from you. You never accomplished a thing in life. I paid for your medical education, you wouldn’t even be doctor if I didn’t pay for you”, says father.

I am only 24. I graduated from medical school only last year and am doing my internship. Such statements, at best, are senseless, and at worst enough to break an otherwise harmonious self into an irreparable mess, irreparable enough to receive a diagnosis from the psychiatrist.

I was diagnosed with OCPD last year. When I was diagnosed, I tried my best to outline the key events in my life that could have messed me up. I found nothing because I couldn’t recall much from my early life. I ended up concluding that my OCPD was purely genetic, and that I could fix it if I wanted to.

Before the diagnosis, I had already worked on at least 12 major projects, all left uncompleted, for my uncompromising perfectionism and my stubbornness to continue committing to projects that I was not well qualified for. Committing to challenging tasks was my obligation. If I wouldn’t do that, I’d be very anxious, feeling that I was wasting life, a one-time privilege. After getting diagnosed, I realized that rather than abandoning my habit of targeting at extraordinary projects, I could train myself in the skills required to bring such projects to completion. I did that. I spent 4 months in learning Ruby on Rails, a web development framework. As soon as I had finished, I started working over my 13th project. Things were indeed different this time. Not only that I was now well versed in what I was doing, I now somehow knew how to keep a check over my perfectionism.

While I was still working over my 13th project, I had to travel to my family in Saudi Arabia for some reasons. That wouldn’t hurt my project as my laptop was almost my entire workstation and I could carry that workstation back home.

I knew pretty well that with OCPD ruling my behaviors, I’d have a hard time keeping balance between socializing with family and working on my project. In anticipation, I had crafted out a sophisticated task management framework to take care of just that, months before traveling back to my family and had been practicing it ever since. I started writing a dedicated journal just to keep track of this balance.

Everything was well planned with one major exception: I had overlooked the other half of the problem: My father’s OCPD.

He couldn’t endure my obsession with my project. “Are you busier than me? Can you accomplish more than me? Do you care for the family more than me? You suck”, said dear father. He made me miss important appointments at least twice. He would force me to accompany him in his usual business long drives. I was cursed badly the one time I refused to go with him because of a critical appointment. I felt so low, so worthless. I realized I had to choose between my ambitions and my family’s harmony and that I couldn’t go forward without absolute compromise in either. As someone with OCPD, I could understand my father like no one else. So I decided to keep my father smiling.

I was met with a drastic challenge: To give up my longing for engagement in any of my projects. I worked so hard to accomplish this near-impossible task. I was successful. Life came back to normal.

But today, for the third day in a row, my father cursed me for “Not having ambitions”, and because I “talk big but are practically useless” and “keep wasting time doing nothing”.  He keeps convincing me how my life is a mess, how the world is miles ahead of me and I’m wasting my life. Normally, this paradoxical behavior was bad enough to fly me into introverted rage. But fortunately, thanks to my high defenses that I had erected in anticipation, I was able to keep my temperament in check. Nevertheless, I couldn’t stop myself from obsessing over my 13th project all over again. I strongly felt as if I needed to prove myself to my father, and to the world, and the project was the best way because it involved doing what I loved.

All of a sudden…

I realized I had reached to the etiology of my pathological longing for perfectionism-tainted engagement in my projects: My father.