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Section 5
Dilemmas in Communication

Question 5 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed how a mental or physical handicap can result in increased batterer control, authority unresponsiveness, and court leniency.

In this section, we will look at the four characteristics of a double-bind relationship that can prevent a battered woman from maintaining her position of power resulting in her reluctance to leave.

As you may know, in a double-bind relationship, the abuser uses paradox and contradiction to create instability and confusion for the battered woman. As was illustrated in the last section that dealt with mental and physical handicaps the battered woman learns that she is in a paradox, or a double-bind, and that no matter what she does, she cannot win, nor do it right.

4 Characteristics of a Double-Bind Relationship
Let's look at four characteristics that define a double-bind relationship that I discovered with a battered client Jeannie, a 40-year old nurse.

♦ Characteristic #1 - Intense Relationship
Jeannie's relationship with Ben was very intense from the beginning. As you know, if the relationship was more casual, Ben would have no grounds for control and Jeannie would have had ample opportunities to avoid the situation. Jeannie stated in a session, "Ben and I were living together two weeks after we had met. He said he was so happy with me he didn't want to bother with the whole 'dating' part of things. We did everything together, there was no option to be apart." How caught up is your client in relationship intensity? Would it be appropriate to suggest in the next session that she may be being groomed for the double-bind?

♦ Characteristic #2 - Conflicting Messages
I asked Jeannie in a session if Ben ever told her one thing, but acted another way. As you know, a typical conflicting message that is often found in battering relationships is "I want to be close to you" but "I can't be close to you because there is something wrong with you." Just when the battered woman gets one thing right, just the way he wants it, he identifies something else that is wrong with her or with the way she does something.

Jeannie stated, "Ben always told me that if I lost weight, things would be better. He said he wanted to be intimate with me, but had trouble when I was overweight. After I had lost sixty-five pounds, Ben said that I had finally done something that he had always wanted and now things would be better between us. So it's like I'm finally good enough. But then he said there wasn't any money because I had spent it all and he was too mad at me to even look at me. I did everything to try to make Ben happy, but Ben would just find something else. There was always something wrong with me."

Have you also found that a second common conflicting message in battering relationships is "If you withdraw from me in any way I will punish you" but "If you reach out to me in any way I will reject you."

Jeannie stated, "Ben used to get really mad if I wasn't in the mood to have sex with him. I wanted to make up for all the times I told him no, so after I lost all that weight, my friend and I went out and I bought a new negligee. It was red. I worked it out so Stephanie could take care of the kids and everything, and Ben and I had the night to ourselves. I put on the negligee and Ben got really angry. He was so mad. He threw me into the bathroom vanity and yelled, 'Nobody will tell me when I'm going to have sex! I will have it when and how and where I want!' What Ben did that night just crushed me, absolutely crushed me."

Do these constant conflicting, push-pull, message leave your client so confused that she cannot sort thing out clearly enough to even think about leaving? If so, that brings us to inability to clarify.

♦ Characteristic #3 - Inability to Clarify
After hearing that Ben had often given Jeannie conflicting messages, I asked her if she ever commented on his disagreeing messages. As you know, battered women may fear their batterer's aggression if they comment on his contradictory messages. Jeannie stated, "I never stood up to Ben. I just thought, 'I am not going to argue with him.' As long as I never questioned him about anything he said or did, everything was fine, as long as I never rocked the boat."

♦ Characteristic #4 - Prohibition from Escape
Once I realized Jeannie was in a double-bind relationship, I wanted to determine if she also had what I believe to be the most serious characteristic of all, prohibition from escape. As you know, batterers often tells their partner that she can't make it without him and that no one else would have her. As long as the battered woman believes him, she is trapped. Jeannie stated, "Ben convinced me that I wasn't going to be able to get a divorce, that I wasn't going to be able to have a life on my own, and that if I did get a divorce, I couldn't handle anything right."

French psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray sees the therapy goal of leaving as constructing a separate, unique, and powerful position for the battered woman. Irigaray states, "Perhaps helping the battered woman to see a new position of power can help her to escape her previous feelings of being trapped in one-down, powerless, abusive situations. "

Think of a battered woman you are currently treating. Does she experience Double-Bind or an Intense Relationship, Conflicting Messages, Inability to Clarify, and Prohibition from Escape. Would it be beneficial in your next session educate your client regarding the double-bind and these four characteristics? If so, you might consider replaying this section just prior to your session with her. Or perhaps playing this section in the session.

The Double-Bind Control Technique generates much anger in the victim. The next section reviews the Anger Letter for you to compare with a similar technique you may be currently using.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Babcock, J. C., Waltz, J., Jacobson, N. S., & Gottman, J. M. (1993). Power and violence: The relation between communication patterns, power discrepancies, and domestic violence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61(1), 40–50.

Metz, C., Calmet, J., & Thevenot, A. (2019). Women subjected to domestic violence: The impossibility of separation. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 36(1), 36–43. 

Rogge, R. D., & Bradbury, T. N. (1999). Till violence does us part: The differing roles of communication and aggression in predicting adverse marital outcomes. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67(3), 340–351. 

QUESTION 5
What are the four Characteristics of a Double-Bind Relationship that effect the battered women's decision to leave? To select and enter your answer go to Test
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