Sometimes, life is like this...
I’ve felt like that at times. There are no seemingly good options, or rather no options at all, good or bad. It is what it is and you’re trapped without a solution. Anything you do, doesn’t work.
It can be this way with our thoughts and beliefs, too. We can get mentally trapped, which clinically is called a double-bind. Double-binds happen when belief systems or paradigms collide. When individuals with a lot of charisma intentionally use double-binds, you’re likely to get brain-washed by these so-called leaders, and join up with their cult. When charismatic individuals use double-binds unintentionally, you’re likely to get a lot of blind followers that might not be culties, but aren’t exactly aware of why their loyalty to a certain leader is so fervent, either.
And “enlightened” teachers are not immune any more than other leaders. There is one particular spiritual teacher whose methods are classic double-binds right out of a psychology textbook. But she is lauded as one of the great spiritual teachers in the world, and many people and other spiritual leaders I respect are loyal to her and her teachings. Her content might be good—the way she gets people to adhere to them, well, it’s definitely a form of brainwashing. Whether she does so intentionally or unintentionally, I don’t know, but I do warn individuals when I hear them talk about her work, so that if they want to, they can research her methodology for themselves.
However, double-binds get used in lots of other ways in systems of all kinds, from religion to politics to families.
Here’s one I grew up with that combined family and religion: God is unconditional love and God’ll throw you into hell if you don’t follow Jesus the way we say. You see how that’s a double-bind? If you agree with it, you’re agreeing to something that in no way makes sense. You’re agreeing to agree with nonsensicalism. How can unconditional love have a condition? Answer: it can’t, but if you want to not get thrown into hell, you have to agree that x does not equal x. You have to agree on some level to adhere to crazy. If you don’t agree, then you’re going to hell. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
It can happen emotionally in families in not much less insidious ways, where a parent says to a child, “It’ll kill me if you leave home.” So the child is emotionally trapped. If the child grows up and leaves home, then they’re to blame if the parent dies (or gets sick or an accident happens) and if the child doesn’t leave home, the child can’t grow into the person they are meant to be (and thus “dies” to their own life).
The thing is, humans tend to be FULL of double-binding beliefs, either put there by religions, families, societies, or even oneself. Most double-binds are really not all that troublesome. They’re like gnats in our mental and emotional field—no real harm. However, they can become troublesome—imagine if you will, those gnats growing into flying elephants in your fields! And they grew so gradually, you didn’t even know it! And then, of course, there are the double-binding beliefs that are mighty troublesome right at the outset. The challenge is finding where in the world those double-binds are inside of ourselves, and then finding how to get out of them. THERE IS ALWAYS a way out of them, even if it looks like there are none. To do this you have to go a little (or a lot) Zen.
But first, let’s deal with finding them. Then we’ll deal with finding a way out of them.
You probably have some troublesome double-binding beliefs…
If you are stuck in your life.
If you are unable to accomplish a goal.
If you are constantly sabotaging yourself.
If you are continually attracting relationships and situations that sabotage yourself.
If you can say yes to anyone of these, then try to bring to mind two conflicting beliefs that are colliding and preventing forward progress. Here are some examples:
1) It would be good for me to lose weight v. It would be bad for me to lose weight because then I’d attract more attention from men and I’m not comfortable with that
Result: No weight loss or yo-yoing on weight loss
2) It would be great to have some more income v. It would be bad for me to have some more income because then I have to pay more taxes, higher insurance rates, be more responsible, etc.
Result: Never finding success or frittering any success away
3) I’d love to go to Hawaii on vacation v. I am afraid of flying in airplanes
Result: Never going to Hawaii
4) God is Love v. Love isn’t completely trustworthy—you’ll be betrayed
Result: Never completely surrendering to Love
So, now try it yourself: Answer this question with the first thing that comes to mind. I want _____ but I don’t want this because ______.
The important thing is to find and then bring both conflicting beliefs into your awareness.
When you see both things, then you can find a way out.
How to find a way out.
1. If you know EFT, do EFT with each conflicting belief, until you feel relief and clarity.
2. If you don’t know EFT, hold both beliefs, no matter how much they conflict, in your awareness.
3. Keep holding them until there is a release of some kind, usually emotional, but sometimes the release comes by way of insight.
4. Once the release comes, it will be quite obvious how to shift into a larger paradigm, and this new paradigm will then resolve the double-bind quite easily and even naturally.
For example, #4 above “God is Love v. Love can betray. The more you hold these two beliefs in your awareness, you come to release emotional pain you’ve held from past betrayals by those who said they loved you or whom you believed loved you. Then you have the insight that Love is unconditional and that if they loved you unconditionally, they would not have betrayed you. You have now shifted into a larger paradigm where unconditional Love never betrays. You can now easily resolve these seemingly conflicting beliefs by realizing that betrayals are not examples of Love in unconditional form and therefore God/Love can be trusted.
When you experience this release and insight from resolving the seeming conflict or even paradox, then you have what some in social action circles call "the 3rd way" and what in Zen is called Satori- which is on the one hand a incredible RELIEF like this:
Jesus, too, was an expert in getting unstuck by finding 3rd ways. Again and again, he slipped out of the religious and political double-binds of his day. The brilliant book, The Powers that Be, by Walter Wink** illustrates this. Take the classic saying of Jesus, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go a second mile.” What Jesus was referring to here, was the ability of a Roman soldier to FORCE a Jew or occupied resident to carry his load for a mile. However, the law was that the soldier could only force a Jew to do so for ONE mile. Jews couldn’t refuse, and they had to drop everything they were doing and obey. Jesus here isn’t saying “be complicitous” or “be generous,” but actually encouraging his listeners into social action outside the two double-binding options: obey and be punished with a soldier's load or disobey and be punished in court. You see, it was illegal for the soldier to conscript a person for more than one mile, so by carrying the soldier’s bag for TWO miles, the two-miler has now upset the apple cart and created a third option, one that could get the soldier in serious trouble. Wink writes, “If [the soldier] has enjoyed feeling superior to the vanquished, he will not enjoy it today. Imagine a Roman infantryman pleading with a Jew to give back his pack! The humor of this scene may have escaped us, but it could scarcely have been lost on Jesus' hearers…”
You see how that breaks the double bind? You are free. You are free. You are free. Nothing can bind you. Nothing. Nothing at all. You are always free. Even in a Nazi concentration camp, Victor Frankl discovered the freedom available in the worst of double-bindedness. Read several of Frankl's insightful short quotes here.
You are so free, in fact, that even this is a possibility for you...
*The man in the photo escaped this incredible crash with only two bandages! How's that for a great metaphor of a "3rd way" out of a double-bind?
**If you want to read more on Jesus' reinterpretation of “turning the other cheek,” “giving your cloak as well,” and “going the extra mile,” here’s an excerpt from Wink's book explaining Jesus’ "3rd ways" out of societal double-binds.
Monica McDowell is a dynamic speaker, author, and practitioner in alternative wellness and spirituality. She is the author of Confessions of a Mystic Soccer Mom, You are Light (internationally published by 6th Books in over 14 countries) and My Karma Ran Over My Dogma, and has the distinction of being the first ordained minister in America granted civil rights by a federal ruling. She lives in Seattle, Washington, USA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.