The Double-Bind

One of the things I spent a lot of time coming to understand, in grad school, was a psychological theory called the double-bind. More information (of the Wikipedia variety) here. If you’re not familiar with the double-bind, I think of it also as a catch-22, lose-lose, or damned if you do/don’t. It’s a frustrating situation in which you’re put into a position that no matter what you do (including nothing), there’s no way to succeed. The example from the originator of the term (Gregory Bateson, who used it in a  theory of the origins of schizophrenia that hasn’t been empirically proven) was of a child dealing with a withholding parent. The mother commands the child to give the mother a hug. If the child reaches out to the mother, the mother turns away or stiffens, clearly resisting the affection. If the child does not reach out to the mother, the child is disobedient or unloving, and the mother uses the behavior to justify being withholding. I absolutely acknowledge that we, as people, put each other in situations like this all the time, and that it’s crazy-making in a conventional sense of the word. I have always been uncomfortable with the idea that a parent can be a singular cause of a child’s mental illness, and with the idea that his examples revolve so much around problematic mothers. So understand that, in the following, I’m not endorsing his examples or speaking of clinical schizophrenia, just of the ways that we put ourselves and each other in impossible-to-resolve communications tangles.

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Sometimes, you want something so much that it becomes this big, overwhelming thing that you start to dread, on some level.

I’ve wanted to go to Italy ever since I got back from Ireland. I’ve been back from Ireland for 12 years and three weeks, for those of you, playing along at home. I worried, before Ireland, that I’d never get to see it— that I’d spend my whole life putting it off and never manage it. And then it happened. And I felt the relief of that for a hot minute before I started wanting to go to Italy.

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