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  • Writer's pictureTamar Kipnis

The Double Bind and Trauma: Understanding complexities

In the intricate web of human psychology, the concept of double binds stands out as a particularly insidious trap. Double binds are situations where a person is confronted with two or more conflicting demands, leaving them with no viable solution. This psychological conundrum is not merely a theoretical construct but a real-life experience that exacerbates trauma and makes people feel stuck. In this blog post, we delve into the nature of double binds, their relationship with trauma, and the pathways to breaking free from their grip.

Double Binds:


A double bind occurs when a person receives contradictory messages that negate each other, leading to a no-win situation. For example, a parent might tell a child to be self-sufficient but criticize them for not asking for help. This leaves the child in a perpetual state of confusion and anxiety, unable to satisfy either demand without incurring criticism. The essence of a double bind lies in its paradoxical nature, which undermines an individual’s ability to develop coherent coping strategies.


Double Binds and Trauma


Double binds are particularly damaging in the context of trauma. Trauma already places individuals in a state of heightened vulnerability, where their ability to process and respond to stress is compromised. When trauma is compounded by double binds, the resulting psychological strain can be overwhelming. Victims of trauma often find themselves caught in these contradictory scenarios, further intensifying their feelings of helplessness and despair.


For instance, in a romantic relationship where one apartment frequently says “I love you and want to be close but I need my space because you’re too clingy”.in this case the partner’s expression of loveland desire for closeness are negated by accusation of being too needy. The other person is caught in a bind: if they try to be close, they’re criticized for being clingy; if they try to give space they risk being seen as distant or uncaring.                                            This inconsistency and contradiction creates a no-win situation leading to heightened anxiety and self doubt. In their healing process, the anxiety tends to trap them in a cycle of unresolved emotions and stress. Over time, the persistent exposure to such double binds can lead to a part that has chronic stress and even complex PTSD (C-PTSD).


Breaking the Cycle


Breaking  the cycle of double binds and trauma requires a multifaceted approach that addresses both the psychological and physiological aspects of the experience. Here are some strategies:

Therapeutic Intervention: IFS


Therapy can help individuals recognize and unpack the double binds in their lives. Internal Family system (IFS)  and other trauma-informed approaches provide tools to identify and challenge contradictory messages, fostering a sense of clarity and empowerment.

EMDR/ Mindfulness and Self-Compassion:


Practices like mindfulness and self-compassion can assist in mitigating the impact of double binds. By cultivating a non-judgmental awareness of their thoughts and feelings, individuals can reduce the internalized stress and confusion that double binds create.


Double binds are more than just paradoxical situations


They are psychological traps that can exacerbate trauma and hinder healing. Understanding the nature of double binds and their impact on trauma is the first step towards breaking free. Through therapeutic interventions, building support networks, practicing mindfulness, and advocating for trauma-informed approaches, individuals can navigate through the complexities of double binds and move towards a path of healing and resilience.


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