Double Bind and Paradoxical Communication: A Hazard to Mental Health
The world of electronic communications exponentially opens the door to some very interesting comments. For example, I recently read a statement that exhorted its readers to focus their attention upon the need to ensure that something had to be “squashed.” “Squashed?” I thought to myself. I don’t hear that word too often in everyday life. It seems like an attitude that opposing elected political figures might develop, or what one nation would attempt to do to its enemy (declare) in a state of war.“Squashed”—crush, suppress, stifle, subdue, forcibly squeeze something into a tiny space. The conclusion of the entreaty was somewhat of a shock: “With warm regards.”
Squash, crush, stifle, subdue—with warm regards?
I thought, “What is this kind of statement?” Then, I realized, it’s the form of communication known as the double bind. Like a road sign that you’re looking at that says: “Do not read this sign.” You cannot do both what it asks and implies simultaneously. The double bind or paradox gives the illusion of space between the opposites, but the space isn’t really there. The effects of such paradoxical communication can be devastating, especially to those already experiencing disturbed emotions.
Unless the more vulnerable are helped to be able to untangle or unravel themselves from being trapped within the double bind or paradoxical communication to which they are exposed, they will become consumed by doubt, which will in turn reinforce enactments of repetition-compulsion. This, I propose, is the real path, simply stated, to the development of repetition-compulsion states, designation of which has been so elusive for many years.
The only way out of such traps is an inter-subjective approach, which is why models based upon behavioral techniques boast of great promise, but never really work. In fact, the latter techniques only make matters worse, since they add feelings of guilt and shame to the already present sense of anguish about being trapped.