Family nexus

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The term family nexus was used by the psychiatrist R D Laing to describe a common viewpoint held and reinforced by the majority of family members regarding events in the family and relationships with the world. Laing was particularly interested in schizophrenia, which he believed could be understood if seen from the viewpoint of the person concerned.

He saw how a powerful family nexus could victimise one member, usually a child, who found themselves in the position of not being able to speak or even think the truth without being chastised by the group, who often had vested interests in perpetuating the family myth and excluding reality.

Often described as part of the 'antipsychiatry' movement, Laing, struggled to see things in terms of existentialism, emphasising the difference between 'being' or 'being in this world' and being alive. Being in the existentialist sense means being an object for others, and having others as objects, in other words carrying a model in our heads of all the significant others in our lives. This model provided the motivation for many of our thoughts and actions, and without it we 'cease to be' in a very real sense.

It is this need for others, in order to 'be', which makes us afraid to contradict a family nexus, risking family exclusion. The distortion involved in not going against the nexus can force wrong thinking - leading to 'not being in reality', which Laing saw as the essence of schizophrenia.

Andrew Collier has commented on Laing's dilemma, which Laing himself seemed never to properly identify. In much of his writing Laing assumed an uncorrupted natural state for the human mind, and tended to condemn society for causing mental illness, in rather (early) Marxist terms. He saw schizophrenia as a possible healing process, a way of working through things, back to normality. Collier suggests that there is no uncorrupted state, no normality; rather that as social animals we all need to incorporate others into a nexus in order to 'be'. We must all perhaps be 'mad' to some extent if we are to function in society, rather than as loners, but we must be uniformly mad. The nature of the madman's 'must', however, remains unestablished.

What we call 'mental illness' is therefore perhaps more the outcome of a problematic configuration of the nexus than it is a necessary result of the nexus itself, which would be but the mirror, and the pillow, of all individuation. The nexus, in this sense, is but a silencer of the bullet of life. At the root of the illness itself, according to Laing and others, is the constellation of a 'Double bind'. This was originally proposed, with reference to schizophrenia, by Gregory Bateson.

Psychotherapy today comes in many forms, following different schools of thought. Psychoanalysis emphasises childhood experience, and left over feelings, though Freud did point to the role of society in his later works like Civilization and its Discontents. Family therapy concentrates on bringing families together and encouraging them to work out their interactions, but it might (depending on its theoretical orientation) offer no support to the victim of family nexus, who is often doomed to be punished for anything he dares to reveal or hint at. The victim of family nexus may therefore tend to submit to silent intimidation in family therapy, rather than risk exclusion and the 'ceasing to be' that follows in the absence of a strong support network.

[edit] See also

Double bind

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A double bind is a dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, with one message negating the other. This creates a situation in which a successful response to one message implicates a failed response to the other, so that the person will be automatically wrong regardless of response. The nature of a double bind is that the person does not realize the inherent dilemma, and therefore can neither comment on the conflict, nor resolve it, nor opt out of the situation.

A double bind generally includes different levels of abstraction in orders of messages, and these messages can be stated or implicit within the context of the situation, or conveyed by tone of voice or body language. Further complications arise when frequent double binds are part of an ongoing relationship to which the person or group is committed.[1][2]



[edit] Explanation

The double bind is often misunderstood to be a simple contradictory situation, where the victim is trapped by two conflicting demands. While it is true that the core of the double bind is two conflicting demands, the differences lie in how they are imposed on the victim, what the victim's understanding of the situation is and finally, who (or what) imposes these demands upon the victim. Unlike the usual no-win situation, the victim is largely unaware of the exact nature of the paradoxical situation in which he or she is. The contradiction may be entirely invisible in its immediate context and therefore invisible to external observers, only becoming evident when some broader context is considered. Typically, a demand is imposed upon the victim by someone who they respect (a parent, teacher or doctor), but the demand itself is inherently impossible to fulfill, because some broader context forbids it. Bateson and colleagues defined the double bind as follows[1] (paraphrased):

  1. The situation involves two or more people, one of whom (for the purpose of definition), is designated as the "victim". The others are people who are considered the victim's superiors: figures of authority (such as parents), whom the victim respects.
  2. Repeated experience: the double bind is a recurrent theme in the experience of the victim, and as such, cannot be resolved as a single traumatic experience.
  3. A "primary injunction" is imposed on the victim by the others in one of two forms:
  • (a) "Do X, or I will punish you";
  • (b) "Do not do X, or I will punish you".
The punishment is assumed to be either the withdrawing of love, the expression of hate and anger, or abandonment resulting from the authority figure's expression of helplessness.
  1. A "secondary injunction" is imposed on the victim, conflicting with the first at a higher and more abstract level. For example: "You must do X, but only do it because you want to". It is unnecessary for this injunction to be expressed verbally.
  2. If necessary, a "tertiary injunction" is imposed on the victim to prevent them from escaping the dilemma.
  3. Finally, Bateson states that the complete list of the previous requirements may be unnecessary, in the event that the victim is already viewing their world in double bind patterns. Bateson goes on to give the general characteristics of such a relationship:
    1. When the victim is involved in an intense relationship; that is, a relationship in which he feels it is vitally important that he discriminate accurately what sort of message is being communicated so that he may respond appropriately;
    2. And, the victim is caught in a situation in which the other person in the relationship is expressing two orders of message and one of these denies the other;
    3. And, the victim is unable to comment on the messages being expressed to correct his discrimination of what order of message to respond to: i.e., he cannot make a metacommunicative statement.

Thus, the essence of a double bind is two conflicting demands, each on a different logical level, neither of which can be ignored or escaped. This leaves the victim torn both ways, so that whichever demand they try to meet, the other demand cannot be met. "I must do it, but I can't do it" is a typical description of the double bind experience.

For a double bind to be effective, the victim must fail to see that the demand placed by the primary injunction conflicts with that of the secondary injunction. In this sense, the double bind differentiates itself from a simple contradiction to a more inexpressible internal conflict, where the victim really wants to meet the demands of the primary injunction, but fails each time through failing to see the situation's incompatibility with the demands of the secondary injunction. Thus, victims may express feelings of extreme anxiety in such a situation, as they attempt to fulfil the demands of the primary injunction albeit with obvious contradictions in their actions.

[edit] History

The term double bind was first used by the anthropologist Gregory Bateson and his colleagues (including Don D. Jackson, Jay Haley and John H. Weakland) in their discussions on complexity of communication in relation to schizophrenia. Bateson made clear that such complexities also exist in normal circumstances, especially in "play, humor, poetry, ritual and fiction" (see Logical Types*** see top of discussion page ). Their findings indicated that the tangles in communication often diagnosed as schizophrenia are not necessarily result of an organic brain dysfunction. Instead, they found that destructive double binds were a frequent pattern of communication among families of patients, and they proposed that growing up amidst perpetual double binds could lead to learned patterns of confusion in thinking and communication.

[edit] Complexity in communication

Human communication is complex; 90% of it is nonverbal (see also Albert Mehrabian) and context is an essential part of it. Communication consists of the words said, tone of voice, and body language. It also includes how these relate to what has been said in the past; what is not said, but is implied; how these are modified by other nonverbal cues, such as the environment in which it is said, and so forth. For example, if someone says "I love you", one takes into account who is saying it, their tone of voice and body language, and the context in which it is said. It may be a declaration of passion or a serene reaffirmation, insincere and/or manipulative, an implied demand for a response, a joke, its public or private context may affect its meaning, and so forth.

Conflicts in communication are common and often we ask "What do you mean?" or seek clarification in other ways. This is called meta-communication: communication about the communication. Sometimes, asking for clarification is impossible. Communication difficulties are common in ordinary life, and often occur when meta-communication and feedback systems are lacking or inadequate or there is not enough time.

Double binds can be stressful and become destructive when one is trapped in a dilemma and punished for finding a way out. But making the effort to find the way out of the trap can lead to emotional growth.

[edit] A Classic Example

The classic example given of a negative double bind is of a mother telling her child that she loves him or her, while at the same time turning her head away in disgust.[3] (The words are socially acceptable; the body language is in conflict with it). The child doesn't know how to respond to the conflict between the words and the body language and, because the child is dependent on the mother for basic needs, he or she is in a quandary. Small children have difficulty articulating contradictions verbally and can neither ignore them nor leave the relationship.

Another example is when one is commanded to "be spontaneous". The very command contradicts spontaneity, but it only becomes a double bind when one can neither ignore the command nor comment on the contradiction. Often, the contradiction in communication isn't apparent to bystanders unfamiliar with previous communications.

Bateson also described positive double binds, both in relation to Zen Buddhism with its paths of spiritual growth, and the use of therapeutic double binding by psychiatrists to confront their patients with the contradictions in their life in such a way that would help them heal. One of Bateson's consultants, Milton H. Erickson (5 volumes, edited by Rossi) eloquently demonstrated the productive possibilities of double binds through his own life, showing the technique in a brighter light.

[edit] Double Bind and Schizophrenia

Because Double Bind Theory was originally presented in the context of schizophrenia it has sometimes mistakenly been assumed that Bateson and his colleagues were proposing that double binds could cause an organic brain disorder if imposed on young children or people with unstable or "weak" personalities. But a careful reading of the papers in Section III of Steps to an Ecology of Mind (Form and Pathology in Relationship) makes clear that such cases would involve a programming dysfunction, i.e. a learned pattern of dysfunctional thinking. And of course creating a situation in which the victim couldn't make a comment or "metacommunicative statement" about their dilemma would (in theory) escalate their mental anxiety and potentially cause a crisis.
Today, DBT is correctly understood as an example of Bateson's approach to the complexities of communication.

One solution to a double bind is to place the problem in an even larger context, a state Bateson identified as Learning III, a step up from Learning II (which requires only learned responses to reward/consequence situations). In Learning III, the double bind is contextualized and understood as an impossible no-win scenario. Bateson maintained that in the case of the schizophrenic, the double bind is presented continually and habitually within the family context. By the time the child is old enough to have identified the double bind situation, it has already been internalized, and the child is unable to confront it. The solution then is to create an escape from the conflicting logical demands of the double bind, in the world of the delusional system.

Bateson's double theory is very complex, and has only been partly tested, as there are gaps in the current psychological and experimental evidence required to establish causation. The current understanding of schizophrenia takes into account a complex interaction of genetic, neurological as well as emotional stressors, including family interaction and it has been argued that if the double bind theory overturns findings indicating a genetic basis for schizophrenia then more comprehensive psychological and experimental studies are needed, with different family types and across various family contexts.[4]

[edit] Phrase examples

The primary injunction here is the command itself: "you must"; the secondary injunction is the unspoken condition that love is spontaneous, that the child love the mother genuinely, of its own accord.
Argued by Watts to be the underlying theme of all Zen koans, the idea here is to present your true self to the roshi (master). The more the student tries, the phonier they are, and even the "act" of not trying is just another version of trying.
Freedom is the ability to be spontaneous and do whatever you want; to be told that you must do this means that you are conforming to a commandment ordering you to express a state of freedom. (An extreme example of this is the New Hampshire state slogan, "Live Free Or Die", which also veers into the realm of Hobson's choice).
Child play is a spontaneous process which the child does of its own accord; to be forced to play is not play. This is similar to the double bind: "You must be free".
Same as the double bind between the mother and child.
The primary injunction is the command, for which he will be punished for breaking. The secondary injunction is the knowledge that his sister will get into conflict with him, but his mother will not know the difference and will default to punishing him. He may be under the impression that if he argues with his mother, he may be punished. One possibility for the son to escape this double bind is to realize that his sister only antagonizes him to make him feel anxious (if indeed it is the reason behind his sister's behavior). If he were not bothered about punishment, his sister might not bother either. He could also leave the situation entirely, avoiding both the mother and the sister. The sister can't claim to be bothered by a non-present brother, and the mother can't punish (nor scapegoat) a non-present son. There are other alternatives as well that are realised through creative application of logic and reasoning.

[edit] Usage in Zen Buddhism

According to philosopher and theologian Alan Watts, the double bind has long been used in Zen Buddhism as a therapeutic tool. The Zen Master purposefully imposes the double bind upon his students (through various "skilful means", called upaya), hoping that they achieve enlightenment (satori). One of the most prominent techniques used by Zen Masters (especially those of the Rinzai school) is called the koan, in which the master gives his or her students a question, and instructs them to pour all their mental energies into finding the answer to it. As an example of a koan, a student can be asked to present to the master their genuine self, "Show me who you really are". According to Watts, the student will eventually realize there is nothing they can do, yet also nothing they cannot do, to present their actual self; thus, they truly learn the Buddhist concept of anatman (non-self) via reductio ad absurdum.

[edit] Neuro-linguistic programming

The field of neuro-linguistic programming also makes use of the expression "double bind". Grinder and Bandler (both of whom had personal contact with Bateson) asserted that a message could be constructed with multiple messages, whereby the recipient of the message is given the impression of choice - although both options have the same outcome at a higher level of intention. This is called a "double bind" in NLP terminology, [5] and has applications in both sales and therapy. In therapy, the practitioner may seek to challenge destructive double binds that limit the client in some way and may also construct double binds in which both options have therapeutic consequences. In a sales context, the speaker may give the respondent the illusion of choice between two possibilities. For example, a salesperson might ask: "Would you like to pay cash or by credit card?", with both outcomes presupposing that the person will make the purchase; whereas the third option (that of not buying) is intentionally excluded from the spoken choices. Strictly speaking, however, "cash or credit card?" is not a double bind, because there is no contradiction involved.

If the salesman was selling a book about the evils of commerce, it could perhaps be a "true" double bind, but only if the buyer happened to believe that commerce was evil, and felt compelled or obliged to buy the book.

[edit] See also


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Drapetomania was a supposed mental illness described by American physician Samuel A. Cartwright in 1851 that caused black slaves to flee captivity.[1] Today, drapetomania is considered an example of pseudoscience,[2] and part of the edifice of scientific racism.[3] The term derives from the Greek δραπετης (drapetes, "a runaway [slave]") + μανια (mania, "madness, frenzy").[4]

The American physician Samuel Cartwright (1793-1863)
An 1860s painting by Eastman Johnson depicts A Ride for Liberty: The Fugitive Slaves

Cartwright described the disorder — which, he said, was "unknown to our medical authorities, although its diagnostic symptom, the absconding from service, is well known to our planters and overseers"[4] — in a paper delivered before the Medical Association of Louisiana[5] that was widely reprinted.

He stated that the malady was a consequence of masters who "made themselves too familiar with [slaves], treating them as equals."[6]

"If any one or more of them, at any time, are inclined to raise their heads to a level with their master or overseer, humanity and their own good requires that they should be punished until they fall into that submissive state which was intended for them to occupy. They have only to be kept in that state, and treated like children to prevent and cure them from running away." [7]

In Diseases and Pecularities of the Negro Race, Cartwright writes that the Bible calls for a slave to be submissive to his master, and by doing so, the slave will have no desire to run away.[8]

In addition to identifying drapetomania, Cartwright prescribed a remedy. His feeling was that with "proper medical advice, strictly followed, this troublesome practice that many Negroes have of running away can be almost entirely prevented."[4] In the case of slaves "sulky and dissatisfied without cause" — a warning sign of imminent flight — Cartwright prescribed "whipping the devil out of them" as a "preventative measure."[9][10][11]

[edit] See also