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Dorothy M Jones

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Binds and Unbinds
by Dorothy M Jones   
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Last edited: Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Posted: Saturday, January 01, 2011

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This article examines the interaction system in families with a schizophrenic child, mainly the operation of the double bind pattern of communication in which one party binds the other and the other responds by binding back.


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Dorothy M. Jones,MSW


Vol.8, No.2, Sdeptember, 1964 

Revolving, spiralling, mushrooming processes cannot be described in  linear fashion,and there lies one of tghe  major problems in explicating the pivotal variables which comprise the field of interaction in the family.  In an attempt to develop a testable hypothesis about interaction systems in families with a schizophrenic child, I conductged a series of pilot interviews to determine the  nature and content of the rules in tghe family. It became apparent,howe ver, that it was not the existence of the rule which caused the disorder, but rather the way in which the rule was implemented and incorporated into a system of interaction.  This paper will presdent an excerpt from a family interview which dramatizes the family's  charactgeristic habisof behavior and interaction.  The theoretical frame of reference derives from social systems concepts(4,10,15) and from recdent studies in the interaction field in families)3,8,9,11,12,13,14). 

The specific system of interacion in this tyhpe of family will be described her as a process of binds and unbinds.  This is  not a reference to simple binds but to the double bind described by Bateson,2,5,6,7).  This is a communication mode  in which contradictory  injunctions are expressed on different levels of abstraction,and wheresomethingis shifted from one level of abstraction to another in order to conceal or disguise its meaning.  When one member of a family places a reciprocal in such a bind, the recip-rocal attempts to remove himself from the bind--to unbind himself.  There are vafrious ways in which this can be accomplished, but in the process being described, tghe reciprocal unbinds himself by placing the binding member in another bind, and in this process of  binding and unbinding, the familymembers placethemselves in a convoluting series of more and  more confused binds, increasingly distant from their sources of origin, and increasingly disguised.  TGhe result  is a process in which meaninglessness is effected in a context of contending to be meaningful; ambigujity and equivocation in a context of professing to be clearcut and explicit; concealment in a context of ostensible openness; and disguise in a  context of revelation.  It is both implicit and explicit, subtle and crude.  The multiple sources of this process include the liffe history of each family membe, the life history of the familyh group, thefamil'network of connections and cultural setting, and the family's particular manner of itneraction and relationship.  Despite the manifold dimensions of this process, its nature is persistent, consistent, and ubiquitoous.

The systematic manner in which a particular familyemracesthis process will  be demonstrated with an except  from a recorded family interview  of the "Crane" family. Themembers include Herman, forty- seven years old father, Betty, forty-three years old mother, and Lily, their one child of eleven.

Lilly was hospitalize in August 1962 at a children's psychiatric unit in a small psychiatric hospital  connected with one of the major West Coast universities.  She was initially referred by her school because of her inability to relate to peers, her use of a private language, social withdrawal and bizarre behavior. She was diagnosed as childhood schizophrenia.  Lilly was discharged as a day patient in August 1963.  This paper does not deal with those aspects of Lilly's treatment administered by resident and other hospital staff, but focuses primarily on those family processes revealed in the course of casework with the parents. 

Although the life history of both parents provides a plethora of relevant material, the striking charactgeristic of each individual is a deeply entrenched fear of conflict and differences, and a total commitment to the illusion of family togetherness.  Herman,himself an only child, perceives his early life as a series of potentially devastating conflicts which he avoided by quiet submission and compliance.  He lived in a series of eight foster homes between the ages of five and thirteen, after his parents divorced and dispersed to other cities.  Throughout the remainder of his adolescent years, he lived with his mother and a contentious and alcoholic stepfather.  When he was thirty two years old he married, anticipating the fulfillment of a lifelong dream of a cloesly-knit family. Never having experienced close interpersonal relations, he aspired to a utopian image which found fruition in the partnership with a woman so specialized in creating iamges that her reality was  barely accessible to her. 

Betty also views her past life as one lurking with potential clashes which she shunned with a honey-mouthed, ingraiating, unctuous attitude.  Fearful lest the expression of a strong feeling might lead to disaster, Betty developed a communication mode intended to disguse and neutralize her expressions. She accomplishes this by over elaboration, over explaining, contradicting, denying what she affirms  and vice versa so  that the listener is lost in a maze of detail. Betty was the baby and the pet of her parents and four siblings, the closest of whom was ten years her senior.  Her father's occupation required frequent moves so that she never lived in one place for more than a year.  She had neither close friends nor relationships during her life, and expended her energies increating the appearance of friendship and closeness. She selected a huskkband who seemed able to play the complementary role in the game of creating illusions.

These parents manifested a semingly  impenerable defense against knowing or being known intimately by others. Father's defenses crumbled somewhat when his daughter was defined as psychotic and he manifested a growing capacity for meditation, examination and revelation. But mother, throughout the major part of casework, and after five years of prior psychotherapy, persistently produced a rich variety of tenacious defenses against interpersonal closeness.

The excerpt which follows was selected from a recorded interview that took place nine months after Lilly's hospitalization. 

Father: For example, yesterday I had to do something I didn't want to.  I wasn't even consulted until the die was cast almost. Betty decided and talked to Lilly about it.

Mother: Well, I talked to Lilly about it before I took my cue.

Father: And then came tome and told me what was up and even though I didn't want to, why I went along with it. I was tired. I had spent several hours working out in the back yard and I thoughtg the way it wa handled, why I certainly had to go along with it whether I wanted to or not.

Caseworker:  How did you feel about that?

Father: Well, I was resentful about it except  I thought it was basically a good idea and under ordinary circumstances I would have been more wholeheartedly in favor it it than I was yesterday.

Caseworker: How did it come about?

Mother: Well, Herman and I had  been seated on the back portch steps.  this was something I had wondered about our talking about today anyway. Because I as wondering if I had handled it wrong and I wa wondering about Herman's reaction to  it when it developed later and he said to me, un, oh, what was it?? I don['t know whether you used the word pressured or what, but anyway, I was wondering if ou felt that way and if therefore I had handled it incorrectly.  AndI had conflicts about it because I thought this advice to me to make decision son my own, and uh, I thought, well, gosh, if hedoesn't want to, he should let us know. It's nothing that's definite. Speak ujp. It started out on the back porch while he was having a cool drink.  We were commenting on the fact that we had, well, we had discussed before3 the possibility of a barbecu depending on the weather and this was early afternoon andwe were just commenting that the weather didn't look too good. We might as well have our ground beef patties indoors, oui know, at dinner, indoors, without the bun, and we sort of let it go at that.  Well, I got to thinking. This  little gal was kinda going back to her younger lay habits and so forth yesterday, weren't you dear, and...So we just sort of mentioned this. The weather wasnt too good and we would just have our plain hamburgers inside. And he said he didn't care to have the buns with them kand so forth. And I got to thinking of Lilly and her day, that she hadn't uh had anything special She wasn't about to have a friend over. She wasn't doinganything particularly constructive that was fun, and uh the sun began to seep through a little bit, and all this put together, I got to thinking, well, uh, why don't Herman and I ask her about this, and then I thought, no, here we go putting a responsibility where it doesn't belong the way we did one Sunday morning with putting the decision to her, so what I did was to say to Lilly, "Well Lilly, daddy and I  have about decided that maybe the weather isn't quite good enough to, uh, ha ve a bar becue outside. maybe we'll just have our ground meat inside."  And, uh, then I got to thinking, well sharp as she is in her feelings, she's going to know  maybe why I'm saying this, so I'll, to be clear cut and unconfused about it, I'll just say it. I said, "Of course you know I'm saying this to get your reaction."  And she said, "Aw, aw, let's have a  bar becue, aw c.mon. I'd want to barbecue outside if it weren't either snowing or raining."  And, uh, so I said, "Do you very much want it or just kinda want it," and she said, "Very much, please."  So I went out and told Herman. I didn't have time to tell him all the details of how this took place, but that I  had felt her out on this and she seemed anxious to have a barbecue and that the weather was a little bit better and maybe could we, after all, and, uh, he said something right at that point spontaneously, that, uh, made me think--oh, did I handle it wrong, because he said--do you remember exactly what you said?

Father: Well,I think I said something to the effect that I was sort of put  in a position where I had to go along with it because I hadn't been consulted and I was  being pressured to go through with it, and uh, by that time I had been working in the back  yard about three or four hours and I was fready to drop. I was in the middle of doing a difficult job of trimming an overgrown hedge and when a bar becue is held, it means that I do quite a bit of ther work and I just wasn't in the mood to go through all that work after having put in a hrad physical afternoon out there, and it seemed to me that two thigs were wrong with this picture; one that she had gone ahead and put this idea in lilly's head and of course Lilly would want to go ahead and do it then, without first having discussed it with me at allo, so that it was sort of a fait accompli as it were. And number two, if she couldn't see how tired I was, well, I thought i was kind of, uh, uh, inconceiable that she couldn't tell I was about ready to drop. And it made me mad that she was kinda blind to my situation,  so I was rather blunt in my remarks and so finally she went off after I had expressed my feeling in no uncertain terms I thought. And then, later on,  it was as though I hadn't told her, as though she hadn't gotten the message, how I felt about it. I sorta felt that she made up her mind to do it and wanted to do it, and ...

Mother: Well, I told you right at that very minute, after your very first response, that if you were too tired, we wouldn't do it, but then  you insisted--no,  that we go on with it.'

Father: Well, because I thouight it was useless to do anything else.

Mother: (Sighing)  We weren't communicating.

Father: Well,  I'm sure that there wasn't full communication, or if there was, it was too late.

Caseworker: (To father)  If  you didn't want to do it, why didn't you make the decision not to?

Father: Well,I didn't wantg to be arbitrary about it and say no, I won't do it because I'm tired, but I wanted her to know I was doing it because the die was castg as i were, and she had sort of committed herself to doing it with Lilly, and Lilly would like to do it, and I thought, well, I'll do it even though I'm doing it under protest.

Mother: Oh, it wasn't a hundred percent sure with Lilly, and I thought I made that clear too. I just came out to tell you she would very much like it and so, cold we?  But you didn't give me a NO answer.

Father: Well, I did everything but come out and say No in so many words. I thought there was no mistaking how I felt about it. How did  you think I felt about it?

 Mother: Well,I got themessage that you didn't like the way I handled it andthenI was a little bit confused because I thought, here I was supposed to be making some decisions more on my own and Imake one and do the wrong thing, darn it (laugh). And, uh, the decision was to broach the subject to lilly. the decision was not to have the barbecue because that was still up to you, but, uh, the decision was to find out how she felt about it, and howstrongly and so forth. And, uh, then I thought that youfelt you'd ben railroaded or something,but when I urged you to say no if  you were verymuch against it, after all (laugh) you have as much say as she does. More.  Well, then you wouldn'tsay, no, I justg really rather we wouldn't today or no...

Father: You got the feeling I was strongly against  it thouogh.

Mother: Uh,  that you would rather not, but that you were going along because she wanted it apparently.  ButI thought if you were very, very strongly against it, that you would say,no, let's not.

Father: Youdidn't feel that I was strongly against it?

Mother: Well, not stronglyenough to say, no.

Father: Inother words, I wold have to say,no, tomake it formal. There'd be no other way for me to change the decision other than to come ot and say, to formally say, to express my feelings, in spite of all the other things I had done to get my message through, I thought.

Mother: Well, just say, well, no, really, I don't want to go along with that this afternoon.  I, uh, the weather is not right, or uh, I don't want us to do it. Cause later one  when I asked ou about itagain, even later, I said, "Well,look, we still don't have to go through with it if you're too tired, it's just that I wasn't particularly in themood thbis afternoon." Remember that.?

Father: Ialso remember when we discussesd it, I said, "Apparently all the hints I dropped didn't get to you.  You didn't get the message."

Caseworker: (To Lilly)  What do you think, are your parents arguing?

Lilly: I  think sort  of they are.

Caseworker: (To parents)  Maybe the two of you don't want to be sure it's an argument either.

Lilly: How much does a tape recorder cost?

The discussion will deal  with some of the major dimensions that comprise this family's interaction system, a system which produces the deeply entrenched, self perpetuating, self enforcing system of binds and unbinds.

Pseudo-mutuality, used in the sense that Lyman Winne(16) intended, appears as the superordinate value  in the family. This central value is safeguarded and defended by a number of methods, some of which involve avoidance of  conflict at  all costs, avoidance of defined differences and differentiations, basing action on assumptions made about one another rather than on actual information, and a communication style  which renders interchanges meaningless or neutralizes them so that their meaning cannot be discerned. Pseudo-mutual families seem to fear that the momentary loss or appearance of close mutuality results in disaster, thus much of the family's  energy store is directed towards maintaining this illusion. In the excerpt, mother's attemp to avoid conflict with father resulted  in a tangle of ambiguous messages, one of which was the explicit statement to Lilly of the vague decision not to have the barbecue, immediately followed  by an implicit adjuration to Lilly to formulate the  decision.

The inability to differntiate the feelings of one from the other in the famly seems interwoven with the entire process. Both parents respond to Lilly on the basisof assumptions they make about her feelings and thoughts and not on information about them. These assumptions usually consist of projections of the parents' thoughts and feelings. This provides them with an escape valve for problems and frustrations threatening to burst into the open, and a safe arena in which to express their unresolved,  albeit disguised, conflicts.  At the same time,it protects their image of the conflict-free family. When Lilly requests impersonal information, mother often assumes that this is a message  intended to disguise feeling unloved. Mother responds to Lill with a reassurance that she isloved. Lilly,confused by the irreleancy of mother'sresponse, will herself respond with  irrelevant and often bizarre behavior.   Mother then assumes tht Lilly is feeling  increasingly insecure and continues to reassure her that she is loved and wanted. By this time, Lilly usually hugs mother so tightly she bruises her. When Father complains, mother effectively denies the meaning of his complaint by countercomplaining about the lack of togetherness in the family.  Thus,in the context of a complaint, mother demands an absence of complaint.

It appears that one of the chief derivative sources for the processof binding and unbinding lies in internl binds of the individual memers, e.g. father's resentment of mother's flagrant ineptitude toperform routine household chores is in conflict with  his need for mother to provide him with the image of the well-functioning, ideally harmonic family. to make an unequjivcal demand for efficiency ffrom mother would be tantamouint to a demand that she growup.  the fear that mother's growing up or away from him will constitute a loss of the relationship, coupled with his need for her to provide him with the image of the stable, well-run home presents him with an internal bind which expresses itself in a contradictory injunction to mother. On one level of abstraction, he encourages her childlike behavioor for fear that growth will lead to destruction of the relationship, and on another level of abstraction he discourages her childlike behavior by refused to play a role complementary to it.

this  is gross oversimplication.  Only a slice of this family's vast network of binds and unbinds has been extracted to indicte the manner in which this self perpetuating proces my lead to the disorganization of one of the family members.

Professional standards of "healthy" functioning appeared to the Cranes throughout the course of casework, as a malignant intruder thratening to desroy the only mode of relationship that existed in their range of experience.  Yet the family actively  participated and resisted in an examination of their habits of behavior. this basic interaction pattern continued, but in a way which included occasional thrusts into new, unfamiliar ways of relating and communicating.


1. Bateson, G.,Jackson, D.D., Haley, J. and Weakland, J., "Towrad a Theory of Schizophrenia," Behav.Sci., 1, 251-264, 1956.

2. Bateson, G., "Minimal Requjirements for a Theory of Schizophrenia," Arch.Gen.  Psychiat., 2, 477-491, 1960.

3.Bowen,M., "Family Psychotherapy," Am.J.Orthopsychiat.,31, 40-60,1961.

4 Brim, O., "The  Parent-Child Rerl;ation as a Social System: Parent-Child Roles," Child Devel., 28, 343-365, 1957.

5.Haley, J., "An Interactional Description of Schizophrenia," Psychiatry, 22, 321-332m 1959.

6.Haley, J., "The Family of the Schizophrenic: A Model System," J.Nerv.Ment.Dis., 129, 357-374, 1959.

7.Jackson, D.D. and Weakland, J.H., "Conjoint Family Therapy: Some Considerations on Theory, Technique and Results," Psychiatry, 24, 30-45, 1961.

8. Lidz, T., Fleck, S., Cornelison, A. and Terry, D., "The Intrafamilial Environment of the Schizophrenic Patient," Am. J. Orthopsychiat., 28, 764-776, 1958.

9. Lidz, T., "Schizophrenia and the Family," Psychiatry, 21, 21-27, 1958.

10. Parsons, T. and Bales, R.F., Family Socialization and Interaction Process, Glencoe, Ill., Free Press, 1954.

11.Rosenbaum,C.P., "Patient-Family Similarities in Schizophrenia," Arch.Gen.Psychiat., 5, 120-126, 1961.

12. Spiegel, J.P. and  Bell, N.W., "Families of the Schizophrenic Patiernt," in Arieti, S. (ed). American Handook of Psychiatry,New York,  Basic Books, 1959.

13. Stringer, J. "Case Studies of the Families of Schizophrenics," Smith College Studies in Social Work, 32, 118-149, 1962.

14. Strodtbeck, F.L. "The Family as a Three Person Group," Am.Soc.Rev., 19, 23-29, 1954.

15. Weiner, N., The Human Use of Human Beings, New York, Doubleday, 1950.

16. Wynne, L.C., Ryckoff, I.M., Day, J., and Hirsch, S.L., "Pseudo Mutuality in the Family Relations of Schizophrenics," Psychiatry, 21, 205-220, 1920. 




















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