General Interest > Thought Reform

DOUBLE BIND: Mind Control in the TTI

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DannyB II:

--- Quote from: "WTF2" ---This is some of the best reading I have seem
Thanks for the insight of how these places and the ppl who run them work.
--- End quote ---

 :shamrock:  :shamrock:

I second that, WTF2. Awake has been a inspiration.


Thanks to all who have enjoyed this. I think you will also like this very relevant and recent bit here that shows the psychological perspective of  the  Double Bind.

PSYCHOSIS, TRAUMA AND DISSOCIATION: Emerging Perspectives on Severe  Psychopathology.

Edited by: Andrew Moskowitz, Department of Mental Health, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK
Ingo Schafer, Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany
Martin J. Dorahy, School of Psychology, Queens University of Belfast, UK
First published 2008, Wiley-Blackwell.

“Chapter 21

 The essence of borderline personality disorder (BPD) has been something of a  conundrum. It has been variously conceptualized as (1) on the border with psychosis, (2) a level of personality organization more pathological than neurosis, (3) a pattern of unstable and intense relationships and (4) a complex traumatic stress disorder….. … Trauma based dissociative processes may underlie most of the symptoms described in the diagnostic criteria for BPD, including the apparently psychotic symptoms. More important, dissociation based in double binds inherent in chronic relational trauma may account for the essential characteristic of BPD, the instability of identity, affect, behavior and relationships. In BPD acute, episodic impairment in reality-testing is based on dissociative symptoms such as illusions, disorientation and flashbacks. A more pervasive and essential form of impairment of reality-testing is seen in BPD is based on polarized, severely distorted perceptions of self and other. These distortions may be patterned on the quality of attachment relationships with dysfunctional caregivers in childhood.

….. Transient, psychotic symptoms may be generated by the triggering of dissociated memories , emotions, and behaviors, leading to disorientation, perceptual distortions and illusions that interfere with reality- testing and the ability to cope with present day events….

Borderline personality may be best understood as a chronic relational trauma disorder, ensuing from contradictory, double-binding, caregiving relationships.  The essential characterisctic of BPD – instability of identity, affect, behavior and relationships – is more characteristic of dissociative spectrum disorders than of personality disorders….

Attachment relationships with caregivers who are dissociative, psychotic or sociopathic involve thousands upon thousands of frightening, double-binding interactions that may impair the development of reality- testing in in a more pervasive and insidious manner than discrete traumatic events.


….. The childs ability to interpret people’s motivation and behavior realistically can be seriously impaired by growing up with double-bind attachment relationships. To cope with caregivers contradictory demands, the child is forced to develop dissociated self-states in order to keep relational strategies for maintaining attachment separate from conflicting tactics to protect the self from frightening caregivers. In order to maintain perceptions of other that are consistent with a particular relational strategy, one aspect of the double-binding message may be routinely denied, discounted or dissociated. This can lead to a failure to perceive entire aspects of relational interchanges, such as body language, facial expression or tone of voice, as well as the inability to interpret their significance. This tendency to only see half the picture, to perceive only the signs indicating that a person is either dangerous or entirely trustworthy, has traditionally been called splitting. The alternations between idealizing and devaluing relationships in BPD is fundamentally the same as the switching between idealizing child states and angry perpetrator states in dissociative identity disorder (DID).

…. In order to maintain attachment to incomprehensible, frightening or abusive parents, the child becomes exquisitely attuned to the caregivers’ thoughts, feelings and perceptions, and incorporates their behavior and relational patterns. Such parents may project their own thoughts, feelings and intentions onto the child, interfering with the childs ability to differentiate her own experience from that of the parent.

…  Sociopathic parents deliberately deceive the child, and are often very practiced at presenting a false version of reality. In all of these cases, the childs experience is that people are not whom they appear to be, that people live in more than one reality and no one’s perception of reality is necessarily to be trusted.”

I highly recommend this book, look over the table of contents on amazon. ... r=8-1#noop

From the back page, “ This is the first book to give a comprehensive overview of the complex relationship between dissociation and psychosis, from a wide range of clinical, research, historical and theoretical perspectives. “

Very informative throughout with some very interesting overlapping history with hypnosis. And it certainly is relevant to double binding in the troubled teen industry.

Anne Bonney:

Matt C. Hoffman:
Hi Awake,

Man oh man the double bind ,you are Damned if you do and you are Damned if you don't .
sorry I don't mean to reduce it to those few words. My pappy was a psychologist with a medical degree. He participated in the sterilazation of many female mental patients , back in the early 60's up until 72, at a well known state mental hospital here in Va . and it wasn't Central State .

You could say that I am very familar with the double bind  from early on in my childhood. I never really understood it ,but from what you have posted I am now able to understand what went on, in my family and it puts elan in a better perspective than I previously held. With knowlede comes power.

I remember ricci telling(in front of his associate Dr. Davidson ) me at my only conference with other parts of my nuclear family that my pappy had himself on a pedestal and every time I succeed it threatened him. If I said that I liked my dads tie he would say that he didn't like it .If I said that the weather was nice dad would say no its too hot. Of course this came out of ricci's mouth .

I could see how some of this stuff was true at the time but I was never really able to understand it in the way that I do now because of your post and I thank you for this.

I now understand more now than ever when people various psychiartrists(shrinks) would tell me when I would be recovering from one of 4 suicide attempts in my life post elan (when ever I would talk about elan I would go into an amazing depressive downward spiral and needless to say I didn't talk about elan a lot ) that "elan was just an extension of my father".

I reckon I am very fortunate that I was a stong enough child to survive my fathers abuse and double bind type lunacy and then to survive (a suicide attempt in elan during my first few months of being in that hell) the extension of my father which was elan. I was there during the very violent times of elan 7/ '74 to 7/'76. It called itself the" bootcamp of life ", and after years (3 years old my peditrician noted in my medical records that there were bruises over my buttocks, pappy was a violent person) and years of my fathers emotional (stories I can tell) and physical abuse , since as far back as I can remember. I did not want to live in this life anymore that elan offered as the "bootcamp of life " Having made that decision I drank a bottle of qwell shampoo in a suicide attempt  to make the pain that I had known my entire life go away. elan was a sick, brutal and twisted place that I have sorta spoken about before in various posts on this board. stuff that I witnessed , heard from the horses mouth , and stuff that happened to me . Yeah I was there. (God how I wish I hadn't been there )

Awake I thank you again for  putting the knowledge out there,as with knowlede comes power. It is ironic how you can look at some of the postings here and see the double bind being played out on this board , some things WILL  never change.

elan didn't  hide the fact that it was playing mind control games for your complete autonomy ( ricci and the hoodlums probably thought they could get your soul also ) by the one phrase that never made any sense until I read this post by Awake (most grateful to you ) , the elan phrase was when you are looking good ,you are really looking bad. What the hell did that mean (retorical please don't answer , its JUST me venting ).

"elan was an extension of my pappy ", yeah I am a survivor of certain pains from hell and you know I have no clue how I made it  except that deep down despite my pappy , despite elan and their desperate attempt to try to progam me to self destruct , I knew deep down in my soul that I was a good person. I also believe that I had  assistance from that Great Spirit that has gone before me,and before all men , women and children.

I don't know Awake , just some thoughts on some knowledge that I am most grateful that you have posted , that has given me the  words that I very badly needed .

I thank you again .



I would like to contribute a very interesting addition below, and to Matt,

I couldn’t be more happy that this information was helpful to you. The Double Bind is a concept that is missing from most peoples’ vocabulary and therefore when it is revealed that it is, in fact, a heavily utilized interpersonal tool, that awareness can cause a total re-evaluation of ambiguous past interactions that were unable to be understood and unable to be incorporated into your conscious understanding of certain contexts. Being that the epistemology of the Double Bind is at the very, VERY heart of every family therapy theory and recent approaches to intervention, I believe many survivors of programs tend to find information that puts their experience into context as it relates to intentional acts of Double Binding. It seems there is a lot of confusion over whether therapy is about revealing inhibitive binds, or installing them. I hope you find your way out.

Here’s more for ya,

The Double Bind

The Intimate Tie Between Behavior and Communication

Patrice Guillaume


Our behaviors -- effective or not -- are learned. We do not develop in a vacuum. Rather, we learn to act and respond within a given context, and within that context our behaviors make sense. If we continue to use those same behaviors in new contexts the behaviors may seem frivolous or ineffectual; they may even be labeled as abnormal. Yet the behaviors did make sense within the context in which they were developed. In this paper I intend to explore schizophrenia and the borderline personality from the perspective of learned behaviors. I wish to explore the kinds of early interactions and influences that shape the individual who earns either of these diagnoses.


The classical approach is to view the schizophrenic in isolation from his environment. It is assumed that the schizophrenic is out of touch with "reality." Those who adhere to this perspective suggest that:

... regression to more primitive levels of thinking is a primary feature of schizophrenia. In essence, more highly differentiated and reality-oriented "secondary" thought processes, which follow the rules of logic and take external reality into consideration, are replaced by "primary" thought processes which involve illogical ideas, fantasy, and magical thinking. (Carson, 330)

In contrast, the interpersonal approach views the schizophrenic in relation to his environment, specifically his family of origin. In Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Gregory Bateson discusses a theory of schizophrenia which was the result of a research project undertaken by Bateson, Don D. Jackson, Jay Haley, and John H. Weakland. The theory looks at the behavior of the schizophrenic within the context of his or her family. They suggest that schizophrenic behaviors "make sense" when viewed from this perspective. In other words, behaviors do not develop in isolation but as a result of our interactions.

Bateson suggests that the schizophrenic has "...trouble in identifying and interpreting those signals which should tell the individual what sort of message a message is, i.e., trouble with the signals of the same logical type as the signal `This is play.'" (1, 194)

For example, I ask my four-year-old stepson to hold his glass of milk with two hands; he does not follow my instructions, and he spills the milk. I call his attention to the fact that he did not follow my instructions. When he responds with, "I didn't follow the rules!" I know he and I are not communicating at the same logical level. My experience was that I wanted to discuss a specific incident in which he didn't follow my instructions and he spilled his milk as a result. His experience was that he seemed to be struggling with an abstract concept of "rules." Ideally, children's experience helps them learn to make those distinctions. During the development of the schizophrenic, however, something happens that interferes with his ability to do the same.

What is it?

Bateson et al. suggest that a person caught in a "double bind" -- a situation in which no matter what a person does, he "can't win" -- may develop schizophrenic symptoms. In the double bind there are two conflicting levels of communication and an injunction against commenting on the conflict. The following is an often-quoted example from their paper, Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia, which demonstrates this bind:

A young man who had fairly well recovered from an acute schizophrenic episode was visited in the hospital by his mother. He was glad to see her and impulsively put his arm around her shoulders, whereupon she stiffened. He withdrew his arm and she asked, "Don't you love me any more?" He then blushed, and she said, "Dear, you must not be so easily embarrassed and afraid of your feelings." The patient was able to stay with her only a few minutes more, and following her departure he assaulted an aide and was put in the tubs. (Watzlawick 12, 36)

In this scenario, the mother is giving her son conflicting verbal and nonverbal messages and he seems unable to respond to the discrepancy. According to Bateson's theory of logical types, the schizophrenic cannot comment about the meaning of his mother's communication.

According to Bateson, "The ability to communicate about communication, to comment upon the meaningful actions of oneself and others, is essential for successful social intercourse." In normal relationships we continually comment about the actions and communications of others, saying such things as, "I feel uncomfortable when you look at me that way," "Are you kidding me?" or "What do you mean by that?" In order for us to accurately discriminate the meaning of our own or another's communication we must be able to comment on the expression -- but the schizophrenic is effectively enjoined from such commentary.

According to Carlos Sluzki the double bind has the following characteristics:

(1) two or more persons; (2) repeated experience; (3) a primary negative injunction; (4) a secondary injunction conflicting with the first at a more abstract level, and like the first enforced by punishments or signals which threaten survival; (5) a tertiary negative injunction prohibiting the victim from escaping from the field; (6) finally, the complete set of ingredients is no longer necessary when the victim has learned to perceive his universe in double bind patterns. (9, 209)

Looking more closely at the double bind, Paul Watzlawick has described four variations on the theme. The first and probably the most frequently used is what he calls the "Be spontaneous" paradox. The wife who wants her husband to surprise her with flowers is experiencing this sort of dilemma. She is asking him to do something which by its nature must be spontaneous. "It is one of the shortcomings of human communication that there is no way in which the spontaneous fulfillment of a need can be elicited from another person without creating this kind of self-defeating paradox," says Watzlawick. (12, 15-26)

A second variation of the double bind involves a situation in which a person is chastised for a correct perception of the outside world. In this situation the child will learn to distrust his own sensory awareness in favor of the parent's assessment of the situation. One example would be the child who is raised in a violent household but is expected to see his parents as loving and peaceful. In later life this person will have a difficult time determining how to behave appropriately in a variety of situations. Indeed, this person will spend an inordinate amount of energy trying to decipher exactly how he "should" interpret the situation.

The third variation on the theme is one in which a person is expected to have feelings other than those he actually experiences. The mother who wants her child to "want" to do his or her homework falls into this category. The child will often end up feeling guilty when he or she cannot achieve the "proper" feelings.

The fourth variation, according to Watzlawick, occurs when we demand and prohibit at the same time. The parent who demands honesty while encouraging winning at any cost is placing the child in this kind of bind. The child is placed in a position of having to disobey in order to obey.

How will a person be affected by growing up in an environment where he or she cannot comment on these perceived discrepancies? Does that person eventually learn to trust only one part of their experience and to deny or distrust the rest?

In 1967 a team of researchers published the results of their further investigation of the double bind. They proposed that the operational component of the double bind is its pattern of disqualification -- the means by which one person's experience is invalidated as a result of the imposed bind. They cited five methods for disqualifying the previous communication. Evasion or a change of subject is the first method of disqualification. If the previous statement (a) does not clearly end a topic of discussion, and the next statement (b) does not acknowledge the switch in topic, then the second statement disqualifies the first statement:

a. Son: Can we go to the park and play soccer?

b. Father: What a beautiful day for working in the garden.

The second method of disqualification is sleight-of-hand. Sleight-of-hand occurs when the second response (b) answers the first (a) but changes the content of the previous statement:

a. Daughter: We have always gotten along well.

b. Mother: Yes, I've always loved you. . .

In the above example, the mother has responded to her daughter but has switched the issue from getting along well to love.

Literalization, the third type of disqualification, occurs when the content of the previous statement (a) is switched to a literal level in the second statement (b) with no acknowledgment of the change of frame:

a. Son: You treat me like a child.

b. Father: But you are my child.

The fourth method, status disqualification, happens when a person uses either personal status or superior knowledge to imply that the previous message is not valid:

a. Mother: I have observed that he doesn't play very well with the other children.

b. Son: But I do, Mama!

a. Mother: He doesn't realize because he is so little . . .

Redundant questions are used to imply doubt or disagreement without openly stating it:

a. Daughter: I get along well with everybody.

b. Mother: With everybody, Cathy?

The authors conclude their paper with the following observation:

We are consistently finding, in families with a schizophrenic member, disqualifications followed by special types of sequences, such as the ones described, which tend to consolidate the bind and hence reinforce idiosyncratic modes of interaction. In this process, which implies a whole style of relation with the world and in which certain stimuli are systematically denied, certain meanings are systematically repressed, lack of recognition is reinforced and rewarded, and clarification is punished -- in this, we concur in believing, might rest the pathogenesis of schizophrenia. (Sluzki 9, 228)

The Zen master holds a stick over his pupil's head and says, "If you tell me this stick is real, I will strike you with it. If you say to me this stick is not real, I will strike you with it. If you don't say anything, I will strike you with it."

Bateson suggests this is exactly the sort of situation a schizophrenic continually experiences. The Zen pupil may achieve enlightenment by taking the stick from his master's hands. The schizophrenic, by contrast, experiences disorientation and confusion, once again finding his way inexplicably blocked. Taking the stick away is not an option for the schizophrenic -- he is helplessly caught in another "can't win" situation. Through repeated experience with the double bind the schizophrenic finds himself limited in the options he has available to him.

Jay Haley takes a further look at schizophrenia from an interpersonal perspective. There is a basic rule of communications theory which maintains that it is virtually impossible for a person to "avoid defining, or taking control of the definition of, his relationship with another." In any relationship, one of the first things that needs to be adressed is what kind of relationship it will be. Relationships are defined as complementary or symmetrical. A symmetrical relationship is one in which the two parties match behaviors. If one person tells about a vacation he has had the second person responds by telling of a vacation he or she has just taken. What is emphasized here is the symmetry, how they are alike. These relationships tend to be competitive.

A complementary relationship is one in which the behaviors complement each other. One person teaches and the other learns; there is a give and take between behaviors. After listening to the first person tell about his vacation the second person would press for further information.

Over time the nature of relationships will shift. As a child matures he evolves from a complementary relationship with his parents to a more symmetrical relationship.

A complementary relationship usually exists between a teacher and the student. But, when the student asks a question which implies that he knows more than the teacher he is maneuvering to shift that relationship. The teacher can choose to re-establish the old relationship or allow the interaction to shift. "Such maneuvers are constantly being interchanged in any relationship and tend to be characteristic of unstable relationships where the two people are groping towards a common definition of their relationship." (4, 11)

It has been suggested that schizophrenics, as children, experienced a great deal of confusion in regards to defining their relationships as complementary or symmetrical. In other words, there was a great deal of mismatch between child and caretaker regarding the definition of their relationship. An example is the child who perceives the relationship as complementary and responds accordingly -- only to have the caretaker switch to a symmetrical relationship.

Is it any wonder then, that schizophrenic interactions, as described by Haley, are an attempt to avoid defining the nature of those relationships:

A person can avoid defining his relationship by negating any or all of these four elements. He can (a) deny that he communicated something, (b) deny that something was communicated, (c) deny that it was communicated to the other person, or (d) deny the context in which it was communicated. (4, 89)

People communicate at a multitude of levels. We can communicate with much more than just words. For example, our physical posture and gestures provide another level of communication as well as the pitch, tone and tempo of our speech. There are myriad possibilities for simultaneously relating to and denying relationship with another person. Schizophrenics are decidedly the masters at this craft, but examples abound in everyday life to demonstrate how this is done.

We are all familiar with mixed messages. The dog who simultaneously wags his tail and growls is one example. The man who responds to his wife's request that he help her in the kitchen by saying "Sure, I'll be happy to help you," as he settles deeper into his easy chair, is at once accepting her request for assistance and simultaneously communicating that he will not help her. The woman who says "I would love to help you but I have a headache," is defining her relationship as cooperative, while using her headache to negate the relationship.

Contrast these behaviors with that of the man who congruently says, "No, I won't help you," as he sits down in the chair. He has clearly defined his relationship as one in which he will not be told what to do. Similarly, how is a person to make sense of my communication if I say "I love you" in a flat voice while gazing in the other direction? The man says, "This subject is fascinating," while checking his watch. The woman asks her child if he wants to give her a hug as she pulls him toward her for a hug. These sorts of interactions are common in every day life. Much of our ability to make sense out of the world depends on our being able to recognize and comment upon the conflicting messages we receive.

The schizophrenic, on the other hand, is faced with the dilemma of deciphering to which part of the message he can safely respond, since commenting upon the discrepancy is not in the repertoire of behaviors available to him. I would imagine it is much like living in a battle zone where every communication is a threat to my personal safety. Faced with the task of discovering the meaning of another's communication while being prohibited from commenting on or acknowledging my own confusion seems like a terrifying proposition. Is it any wonder that schizophrenic communications are structured to avoid defining that a relationship exists?

It appears that, because of the early influence of repeatedly being caught in double binds, schizophrenics develop a defensive approach to communication which is tenacious in its ability to say something and say nothing at the same time. Their goal in life is not to be pinned down on any front. Unfortunately, they are as hopelessly trapped in their web of confusion as the people who come in contact with them.

Borderline Personality

According to James Masterson (The Search for the Real Self: Unmasking the Personality Disorders of Our Age), the borderline personality is also a learned response to the childhood environment. Masterson contends that as a result of childhood influences a person can develop what he has termed a "false self" in order to protect the "real self" from further trauma. He suggests that the real self is oriented toward mastering reality; but once those efforts have been thwarted the false self shifts the orientation from that of mastering the environment to one of avoiding bad feelings.

In their book, I Hate You -- Don't Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality, Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D., and Hal Straus identify five dilemmas which plague the borderline personality. They call the first "Damned if you do and damned if you don't." This refers to the kinds of communications borderlines give other people. The title of this book is a good example of this predicament. Another example is a woman I know who asked her boyfriend about his impressions of her amateur public performance about which she had misgivings. He replied "do you really want my honest opinion?" She insisted that she did. But when he told her his assessment of the performance -- which was not particularly encouraging -- she responded by telling him how wrong his perceptions actually were. Her communication was typical of the kind of confusing message that plagues the borderline's relationships.

A second tendency which they cite as typical of the borderline is "feeling bad about feeling bad." Rather than attempt to understand or cope with feelings, the borderline tries to get rid of unwanted feelings. The person who "should" be happy adds additional layers of guilt and other difficult emotions to an already depressed or angry persona -- contributing to a seemingly endless spiral of feeling bad about feeling bad.

The perennial victim is the third pattern they have observed. The borderline perceives herself at the mercy of the events and people around her. The woman whose happiness depends on her husband's financial success is one example of victim. The person who organizes his life such that the solutions to his problems lie in other people's hands is exhibiting a borderline tendency. "If only she understood me better ..." is one way that the victim puts the responsibility for his or her happiness on another person.

Fourth is the quest for meaning in life. Borderlines continually search for that which will fill the emptiness they experience. Relationships and drugs are two common solutions for filling this void.

The borderline's perennial search for constancy is the fifth behavior observed. The borderline exists in a world that is untrustworthy and inconsistent. Friendships, jobs, and skills are always in question. The borderline lacks the ability to experience consistency and predictability. It is as if all their experience is for naught. A woman I know has taken dance lessons for almost fifteen years and still she cannot see herself as a dancer; she seems to lack an ability to trust and rely on her skills.

The sixth and last element of the borderline personality is what the authors characterize as the "rage of innocence." Borderline rage is unpredictable and intense when it surfaces. Sparked by seemingly insignificant events, it can appear without warning and often carries the threat of real violence.

In considering the roots of the borderline personality, Masterson suggests that John Bowlby's research into the infant-caretaker attachment is significant. Bowlby studied the mourning process that children aged 13-32 months experienced when they were separated from their mothers as a result of hospitalization for physical illness.

Bowlby noted three stages of mourning that these children went through as a result of the separation from their caretaker. The first stage is protest and can last a few hours up to several weeks.

In the second stage, hopelessness, the child: sinks into despair and may even stop moving. He tends to cry monotonously or intermittently, and becomes withdrawn and more inactive, making no demands on the environment as the mourning state deepens. (6, 58)

In the third stage, detachment, the child no longer rejects nurses, but when the mother returns to visit, the strong attachment to the mother typical of children this age is strikingly absent. Instead of greeting her, he may act as if he hardly knows her; instead of clinging to her he may remain remote and apathetic; instead of dissolving in tears when she leaves, he will most likely turn listlessly away. He seems to have lost all interest in her.

Masterson realized that these same three stages of mourning and the defenses they produced were evident in his own adolescent and adult borderline patients:

I came to recognize that when my patients go through a separation experience that they have been defending themselves against all their lives, they seem to react just like Bowlby's infants in the second stage of despair. The separation brings on a catastrophic set of feelings, which I have called an abandonment depression. To defend against this mental state, they retreat into the defensive patterns encouraged by the false self, which they have learned over the years will ward off this abandonment depression.

In adults without a sense of their real self, the abandonment depression symbolizes a replaying of an infantile drama: The child returned for support and encouragement, but the mother was unavailable or unable to provide it. The acknowledgment and approval, so crucial to developing the capacities of expression, assertiveness, and commitment, were simply not there. (6, 59)

Masterson suggests that what characterizes the borderline personality is an over-reliance on primitive defense mechanisms learned in early childhood: denial and clinging, avoidance and distancing, projection and acting out.

"In order to establish a coherent sense of self, the child in the first three years of life must learn that she is not a fused, symbiotic unit with the mother" says Masterson (6, 51). How is this to be accomplished? In his book, A Secure Base, Bowlby discusses the elements he considers most necessary to allow this process to take place in children:

. . . the ordinary sensitive mother is quickly attuned to her infant's natural rhythms and, by attending to the details of his behaviour, discovers what suits him and behaves accordingly. By so doing she not only makes him contented but also enlists his cooperation. . . .

This brings me to a central feature of my concept of parenting -- the provision by both parents of a secure base from which a child or an adolescent can make sorties into the outside world and to which he can return knowing for sure that he will be welcomed when he gets there, nourished physically and emotionally, comforted if distressed, reassured if frightened. In essence this role is one of being available, ready to respond when called upon to encourage and perhaps assist, but to intervene actively only when clearly necessary. (2, 9-11)

What happens in early development to interfere with the child's efforts to develop a sense of self -- an identity which is separate and distinct from that of the caretaker? Kreisman and Straus contend that a large amount of anecdotal and statistical evidence exists to demonstrate that children who have been abused or neglected can be linked to borderline tendencies as adults.

Masterson suggests that many of his borderline clients had mothers who themselves had an impaired sense of self. Consequently the mothers are not able to provide the secure base from which the child can venture out and explore the world. He cited one example of a mother with low self esteem and a fear of separation who tended to foster this fear of separation in her child. She encouraged him to remain dependent on her in order to maintain her own emotional equilibrium:

She seemed to be overwhelmingly threatened by her child's emerging individuality, which sounded as a warning that he was destined to leave her eventually forever. Not being able to handle what she perceived as abandonment, she was unable to support the child's efforts to separate from her and express his own self through play and exploration of the world. Her defensive maneuvers to avoid her own separation anxieties entailed clinging to the child to prevent separation and discouraging his moves toward individuation by withdrawing her support. (6, 54-55)

Consider what Masterson has suggested about the possible roots of the borderline personality: it looks like the ultimate double bind -- a world that expects one to grow up and become self sufficient while the caretaker is rewarding that same person for remaining dependent and helpless.

Twenty years after the double bind theory of schizophrenia was published, one of the authors, John Weakland, published a paper in which he suggested that perhaps they had focused too closely on schizophrenia. He suggests that the real significance of the theory was its viewpoint that behavior and communication are closely tied. This theory was diametrically opposed to the established paradigm that emotional problems are a response to intrapsychic conflicts. Perhaps, he suggested, the double bind has far reaching effects in many kinds of emotional disturbance, and its explorations should not be limited to cases with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Carlos Sluzki seems to have come to the same conclusion in his paper with the provocative title The Double Bind as a Universal Pathogenic Situation.

Sluzki notes that a child passes through three evolutionary stages:

(1) infantile dependence, marked by a relative lack of differentiation between the self and the non-self and a preponderance of the incorporation or the "taking" of objects; (2) transition; and (3) mature dependency, characterized by "relations between two independent beings who are completely differentiated; and by a predominance of giving" in object relations. (10, 231)

The transitional stage ushers in the core dilemma of all mental development: Dependence versus independence.

The child's developmental task is to balance the need for security and dependence with his or her need to move toward independence. If the parents are to facilitate the child's emergence from dependence to independence they will need "to stimulate the impulse towards independence and to neutralize the needs for dependency." (10, 231) Without the parents' encouragement, it is difficult for the child to face the uncertainty and risks along the road to independence.

Sluzki describes three modes of relationship between parent and child; this includes those areas of a child's life where he is dependent, independent or moving from dependence to independence with parents' help and supervision. For example, dependence is when a child cannot get to school without his parents' assistance.

Independence is when the child can get himself to school without assistance. The third area entails that point in time where perhaps the child, with parents' assistance and encouragement, is learning the route to and from school but is not ready to do it for himself.

As a child proceeds through life he and his parents must constantly redefine where those boundaries are. At best this is a very complex task; if parents are unclear themselves about these boundaries, then their children will have to contend with a great deal of confusion about what they can and cannot do.

One example of a double bind that inhibits the child's growth toward independence is a parent who is in conflict about the desire for the child to be independent and the desire for the child to "be perfect." A child's ability to think and behave creatively will become increasingly limited if, for example, he is told to think for himself and then second-guessed as to his choice of actions. I know an otherwise responsible young man who spilled paint thinner and just walked away from it because he didn't know what he should use to clean it up. He seemed to be caught in a "damned if I do, damned if I don't" kind of experience. He seemed to think it would be better to walk away from the mess then to be criticized for using the wrong implement to clean it up. He has found it safer to retreat into helplessness and dependence rather than risk making a mistake on his road to independence.

Exploring these kinds of common binds may give us useful insights into the behavior of the borderline personalities and schizophrenics. Could it be that the behavior which we see exhibited by each diagnosis is a different manifestation of the same communications knot -- the double bind? If so, then it may be that a major role of therapy is to unravel the conscious and unconscious double binds so that the individual can reorient himself toward more useful goals and motivations. ... tween.html ref:


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