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The Double Bind

An inescapable mind knot that can lead to schizophrenia.

On the surface the double bind seems a simple idea. It's a bit like a reef knot.  Two twists and when you pull on one it tightens on itself ensuring a strong bind.

The term "Double Bind" was first coined in the field of psychology by Gregory Bateson in the mid 1950's.  It is an important concept and Gregory proposed that it was the cause of schizophrenia.  The double bind involves two contradictory demands in a context where questioning the contradiction is impossible or implicitly prohibited. An example of a double bind might be where a child is in a situation where they must obey their parents or they risk severe consequences.  Granny comes to tea and Daddy says to Johnny "Show Granny how you play spontaneously."  As soon as Johnny begins to think about playing he realises he is not being spontaneous because he is doing what he has been told.  So he stops and realises he is not doing what he has been told to do.  Johnny is stuck!  He cannot get his head around the situation because he is not allowed to question his parents instructions so he fluctuates between the two contradictory aspects of the instruction. The above example is very simple and easy to see.  But the double bind is a severe problem when it is deep in the culture and communicated to very young children by the people they depend on for survival.  When the parents have learned to survive in a world of double binds they will transmit these complex paradoxes even in their body language. What makes this situation serious is that the child learns how to survive by satisfying the demands and expectations of the parents.  It becomes a mechanism of perception.  That is to say that the child grows up actually seeing the world in terms of these contradictions.  So they actually see a child contradicting a teacher as "rude" (See Uncle Adolf Syndrome).  They are ensnared by the contradictions and, unless they are fortunate enough to have managed to resolve this dilemma themselves they will behave in a way to support and perpetrate this problem. These people who perpetrate the double bind are usually what might be called the conformists.   They are the teachers, the police, the judges, the managers in factories and the clerk in the social services department imposing all sorts of interpretations and judgements on other people.  Always on people in a lesser position of power than themselves. Some people who have been soaked in a soup of double binds have lived with the pain and the confusion rather than giving in to it and conforming to the evidently impossible situation.  For some of these people life simply gets more and more difficult and confusing.  Until they resolve the environment in which the contradictions exist they see the world as a collection of catch 22 situations.  What they do not realise is that they are perceiving the world with the unconscious assumption that the values attached to the judgements are valid.  Using the example above they "feel" that the child is being rude but they still know that there is something wrong and that the teacher is being unfair.  But they can't understand it because they see the child as rude. Somewhere along the line this condition can become pathological.  That means the victim feels their life is dependent on it.  They are well and truly stuck in a double bind.  More often than not it is a whole collection of double binds.  Constant arguments are going on inside the victims mind.  Every thing they do seems to be wrong or they simply fail.  They anticipate criticism and eventually they start even hearing the relentless voices as if they were someone else.  It is exhausting and debilitating.  At some point they might be diagnosed as schizophrenic.  And, predictably, they might also be diagnosed as paranoid.  The diagnosis "paranoid schizophrenic" is not an uncommon one.

There is a brilliant page on the Successful Schizophrenia web site all about the double binds in the mental health system at http://www.successfulschizophrenia.org/articles/dblbinds.html

There are many organisations that support mental illness including schizophrenia.  If you have concerns, interest or questions around schizophrenia here are some links that might be useful:
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See also: • Pyramid Ecomomy • Is God An Abuser • I Blame the Parents • Ichthys Fish • UAS

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