Don't Be Blind to the Double Bind!

Consider the following interpersonal verbal and/or nonverbal scenarios between two individuals:

  • You confront a friend about his or her eating disorder, drug addiction, covert hostility (or whatever). He or she responds, "You must have an eating disorder (or whatever) yourself--otherwise you wouldn't be accusing me of this." (In other words, "It takes one to know one.")

  • Your friend (or spouse, boy/girlfriend) sends you a verbal (or nonverbal) message: "Your feelings don't matter. If you don't stay in this relationship (or friendship) with me, then consider yourself an unforgiving, selfish, ungrateful person who has no compassion."

  • Your spouse slams cupboard doors, throws things, or gives you the "silent treatment."  When you ask him or her what's wrong. Your spouse says, "Nothing's wrong."

  • Your friend says, "Now, tell me the truth! Do these jeans make me look fat?" (In other words, lie, but don't you dare lie... And yes, I do this all the time!)

"Gossiping at the Well" by Eugene de Blaas

Now consider the following scenarios within a group (for example, among ward members). Again, these can be verbal or nonverbal messages:

  • "Put your family first, but if you don't attend this church meeting tonight, you aren't being a good Church member."

  • "Christ forgives, but if you're a sinner that means you're not a very good person."

  • "Forgive and forget." (In other words, if you commit the "sin" of remembering any injustice done to you, that means you haven't fully forgiven.)

  • "We all sin, but we better be perfect--or at least look perfect to others."

  • "I want to talk to my bishop (or any Church leader), but I'm afraid I'll look bad or weak (or whatever). So, I suffer in silence."

In my last post, I discussed the Double Bind theory, and how we consciously or unconsciously engage in it. Sometimes we play the role of hostage, and other times we imprison others with this attitude and/or behavior. Again, double binds are conflicting messages that create "Can't Win" and "Can't Talk" rules. (See my previous post for specific definitions.) When we confront a person or group who is using the double bind to control or influence, we are often labeled "the problem." Thus, double binds rely on unwritten rules and expectations to get compliance. These types of interactions are extremely powerful in shaping behavior and create terrible internal emotional and spiritual conflicts within ourselves and/or within a group. Left unresolved, these internal conflicts lead to resentment, confusion, hopelessness, protest or rebellion, and finally detachment from the person or group creating the double bind.

"Ladies Gossiping at the Opera" by Frederick Barnard

Sociologists Richard Bandler and John Grinder developed The Neuro-Linguistic Programming model to help us sort through various communication messages. NLP is defined as a practical communication model "of the processes we experience to experience reality." Their mission is to teach people how to recognize, use and change mental programming. Here's how they break down any verbal or nonverbal communicative message we receive:

  • Neuro: Reality is processed by our five senses and nervous system into experience.

  • Linguistic: Our experience is coded, organized and given meaning by language and nonverbal communication systems.

  • Programming: Discovering, using and changing our behavior, language and nonverbal communication systems to achieve desired outcomes or directions.

We all learn to process these messages (and thus shape our reality) and behaviors from parents, teachers, religious leaders, and cultural norms. Here are a few common double bind methods taken from the NLP website. The examples used are my own:

  • You are chastised for correct perceptions. The right perceptions are the wrong ones. Example: "We're both standing here looking at this beautiful green tree. However, in order for me to feel good and to be right, you need to pretend with me that the tree is purple." If you claim that the tree is green, the other person will punish you in some manner--so you either convince yourself that the tree, is, indeed purple or you stay silent to keep the peace.

  • Your personal fulfillment requires someone else doing something for you without being asked. When asking someone to do something that requires them doing it without being asked--this is a self-defeating paradox. Example: "If you really loved me, you would already know what I want or need. Something's wrong with you if I need to ask you or tell you."

  • You are expected to feel a different way than what you actually feel. You can't feel that way and what you feel is wrong. A person also denies your right to your own feelings. Example: This is a typical double bind unwritten rule: "You should be grateful for all I do for you."

  • Demand and prohibit at the same time. You are placed in a position of having to disobey to obey. Example: These are also unwritten rules: A mother says to her kids, "We're an honest and open family. You children should talk to me about anything. Just don't tell me anything that might hurt my feelings."

  • Using the opposite of the desired type of relationship. Relationship paradox: To get the desired relationship the opposite one has to be used, so the desired relationship is never achieved. Example: "Why can't you be independent like me? Why can't you act like an adult? You never do what I tell you to do!" Or, "Look howChrist like I am, you idiot!"

Another name for all of this: "crazy-making!" Each of the scenarios at the beginning of my post are also applicable to the above double bind methods. In terms of religion, we see how damaging (no matter how well-meaning) these double binds can be to our spiritual and emotional progress. Of course, the original double bind came from God, Himself, as a commandment to Adan and Eve. He told them not to partake of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil," but He also told them to "multiply and replenish the Earth" (See Genesis and the Pearl of Great Price). I'm certainly not here to condemn or challenge God in any way! As a loving perfect God, He's entitled to create double binds! However, we mortals obviously don't have that kind of authority!

Artist Unknown

Interestingly, Christ saved His greatest condemnation for these religious leaders because of this type of spiritual and emotional sickness they inflicted upon others. Jeff Van Vonderen is a wonderful therapist who regularly appears on the television show Intervention. In his book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, he discusses how Christ confronted and tried to cleanse the early Church of double binds. In reading the New Testament, we can clearly see the involvement of these cause-effects as Jesus Christ labels and expose double binds. Dr. Von Vonderen writes:

So how can we avoid blindness to double binds? First, by becoming aware and recognizing our own and others' attempts to trap and snare. Secondly, we can remove these blinders by nurturing our relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ. The New Testament describes many situations in which the Pharisees and Sadducees were masters of the double bind. They set up traps to condemn and punish fellow Jews in religious practices, and they also concocted double bind traps to ensnare Christ in His doctrines and in His methods. Little wonder that it was part of Jesus' mission to expose an abusive system. It's important to remember four things about His confrontations 
First, His confrontations landed on those who saw themselves as God's official spokespersons--the most religious the best [outward] performers. [Excuse me, dear readers, I'm obviously not including our LDS Prophet and Apostles in this quote. I'm applying Van Vonderen's ideas to Church members who consider their personal standards of righteousness as THE Church standards for righteousness. I'm sure most, if not all of us are guilty of this at one time or another.] Second, Jesus broke the religious rules by confronting those in authority out loud. [Remember, the "Can't Talk" rule.] Third, He was treated as the problem because He said there was a problem. Fourth, crowds of broken people rushed to Him because His message offered hope and rest" (p. 36).

Let's protect ourselves and each other from these binds that wound! And let's help bind each other's wounds from double binds.

Here's to "He that hath eyes that see and ears that hear,"