Double bind: Gregory Bateson theory

Double bind: Gregory Bateson theory

The double bind theory was coined and developed by anthropologist Gregory Bateson and his research group in Palo Alto, California (1956). It falls within the systemic perspective and refers to those communicative situations in which contradictory messages are received.

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This theory was formulated to explain the psychological origin of schizophrenia, excluding brain dysfunctions and organic hypotheses. In fact, schizophrenia remains one of the most disconcerting mental illnesses . Various theories about its origins have been postulated, some of an organic or biological nature and others of a social nature. Let's see in more detail what the double bond theory consists of .

Short review on Gregory Bateson

Gregory Bateson was born in Grantchester, UK, on ​​9 May 1904. He was an anthropologist, social scientist, linguist and cyber whose work had repercussions in many other intellectual fields. Some of his most important writings are reflected in his books Towards an ecology of the mind (1972), Mind and nature, a necessary unity ( 1979) and Where the angels hesitate. Towards an epistemology of the sacred ( 1987).

Bateson and some of his collaborators, such as Jay Haley, Donald Jackson, and John Weakland, were pioneers in the development of the systems perspective. In academic circles he is in fact recognized as a cult figure whose charm includes mystery, eccentricity and diversity of results. However, the growing interest in holism, systems and cybernetic he naturally prompted educators and students to publish his work.

For Bateson, communication makes human relationships possible, it represents their support. From his point of view, this includes all the processes by which one person affects others. From this perspective, the media become a determining component of the social structure, which is worth analyzing.

Bateson stated that the double bind that appears sporadically in the communication it had to be eliminated . He also claimed that this phenomenon can be constantly seen on television. For example, when a moral value is proclaimed in one program and violated in another, which creates conflicts in the viewer's mind, especially if it is children or people with a low critical sense.

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Gregory Bateson double bond theory

What is a double bond?

According to Bateson, a double bind is a communicative dilemma due to the contradiction between two or more messages. This way, in the end, it doesn't matter what is done because every choice is a mistake. A communicative situation that causes suffering and can lead to a psychological disorder.

Let's see it better with an example. A child tries to relate to his mother, who suffers from emotional difficulties. He expresses how much he loves him, but at the gestural level the child receives only signals of I decline . The message that the mother expresses verbally does not therefore correspond to the message that her body sends. In this way, the child finds himself immersed in a contradiction that involves affection and rejection.

Another example could be the famous statement 'to be spontaneous'. A double message of impossible fulfillment: if the person is not spontaneous, he does not respect the mandate, but if he does, he somehow does not satisfy it, because it is not spontaneous as such, since obedience does not imply spontaneity.

Double bond theory

The double bond theory is based on the analysis of communications and in particular on Russell's theory of logical types. From this theory and from the observations on schizophrenic patients, comes the situation called 'double bind'. As we have seen, in this situation a person, whatever he does, cannot win.

Bateson stated that a person subject to the double bind can develop schizophrenic symptoms . The central thesis of the double bind theory is that there is a discontinuity between a class and its members, since the class cannot be a member of itself. None of the members can be the class, since the term used for the class refers to a different level of abstraction.

In the pathology of real communications, this discontinuity is continually and inevitably interrupted . Similarly, a pathology occurs in the human body when certain formal patterns of this failure occur in the communication between mother and child. Hence this pathology is classified as schizophrenia, a severe type mental disorder psychotic which manifests itself with alterations in thought and language.

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Elements necessary for the manifestation of the double bond

The elements necessary for a double bond situation to occur are the following:

  • Two or more people. One of the people is the 'victim'. The double bond is not only inflicted by the mother. It can be associated only with the mother or with a combination of mother, father, siblings.
  • Repeated experience. The double bind is a recurring theme in the victim's story. It is not a unique traumatic experience, but so repeated that the structure of the double bond becomes a habitual expectation.
  • A primary negative order. It can come in one of two forms: 'Don't do it or I will punish you' or 'If you don't, I will punish you'. The learning context is based on avoiding punishment and not seeking reward. The punishment can consist in the deprivation of love or in the expression of hatred or anger. Even more devastating is that it can also consist in the abandonment that results from the expression of the parent's extreme helplessness.
  • A secondary order in conflict with the first on a more abstract level reinforced by punishments or signals announcing a danger to survival. The verbalization of the secondary order can take a variety of forms. For example: 'Do not consider this a punishment' or 'Do not submit to my prohibitions'. It also occurs when the double bond is inflicted by two individuals. For example, a parent can deny the other's order on a more abstract level.
  • A negative tertiary order prohibiting the victim from fleeing the camp. It may not be necessary to classify this order as a separate item. If the double bonds were imposed in childhood, it is naturally impossible to escape.

According to the double bond theory , this set of elements is no longer necessary when the victim has learned to perceive his own universe under the double bind patterns . Almost any part of a double bind sequence can be enough to precipitate panic or anger.

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The effect of the double bond

The effect of the double bind suggests that there will be a collapse in the individual's ability to discriminate between logical types or modes of communication whenever a double bind situation arises. This situation has general characteristics:

  • The individual is involved in an intense relationship. He feels that in the relationship it is very important to correctly discriminate the message that is communicated to him.
  • The individual is trapped in a situation in which the other people who intervene express two orders of messages that deny each other.
  • The person is unable to comment on the messages expressed to correct the discrimination of the order of the messages to which he must respond. In other words, it cannot formulate a metacommunicative statement.

Bateson's double bond theory was not solid as an explanation of the cause of schizophrenia , But highlighted the importance of communication and family models in mental health. Although the double bind hypothesis has become obsolete in this sense, it has been instrumental in the evolution of systemic therapy.

Bibliographical references

Bateson, G., Jackson, DD, Haley, J. & Weakland, J. Toward a theory of schizophrenia . 1956 .

Bateson, Gregory (1972).  Towards an ecology of the mind. Adelphi.

Paranoid schizophrenia: definition, causes and treatment

Paranoid schizophrenia: definition, causes and treatment

The main feature of paranoid schizophrenia is the presence of clear delusional ideas or auditory hallucinations.