Posts tagged double bind

The Double Bind – Damned if you do, Damned if you don't

One of my favorite jokes starts out with a guy on his first day in prison, who upon meeting his new cell-mate is confronted with the question, “would you like to be the ‘husband’ or ‘the wife’?” Neither of those is a particularly favorable answer. Back in the days of the Salem witch trials, defendants were tossed into a pond. Those who sank and drowned were found innocent of being a witch, and those who floated were found guilty and executed. Given the choice of being tried as witch, or confronted with the two options that were given to the new prisoner, I’m not sure which one I would want to take.

The two examples above are known as double binds. A double bind is one of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of dilemmas. The term was created by Gregory Bateson, a British linguist who studied schizophrenia, where he used the term “double bind” to describe as a symptom the stress that schizophrenics feel when perceiving two conflicting messages. A double bind as used by Bateson is a communication dilemma, and can be conveyed both verbally and non-verbally. Double binds are used by abusers of all sorts, particularly among authority figures. I recently read about a priest who had molested a number of kids over the years, always telling him that he loved them, God loved them, and they should not tell anyone about the abuse because nobody else would understand, so they should leave it between the child, the priest and God. The double bind for the children were:

If they did tell anyone: They would be breaking a covenant with God.
If the didn’t tell anyone: The abuse would continue. Continue reading The Double Bind – Damned if you do, Damned if you don't