I’ve just re-read this essay:
Confronting the double-bind,
Growing up in a predicament we get past incredulity or we take refuge in madness.
This has been a difficult time to find the traction with which to continue writing about our predicament. What Drives Me points at an inkling – too amorphous to be called an insight – that continues to rise to the surface: Our social predicament, and all the horsemen it has unleashed, derives its force from the same sources as our private predicaments within dysfunctional families. Our social dysfunction is familial dysfunction writ large. Or, the opposite is true…. Most likely both are true.
In both cases we are confronted with brutality daring us to try to resist its lies. In neither case are the lies particularly clever. Nor is there much of an attempt made to hide their falsehoods behind some reasonable plausibility. The function of the lies is not to hide the truth. Their purpose is to show us again and again that even knowing that they are lies we are powerless to do anything but bend to the will of our abuser. Lies pour out. A cacophony of lies and bald exaggerations and, most pointedly, projected truths: claiming that the scapegoat is thinking, feeling, doing just what the accuser is thinking, feeling, doing. And, that this is why perversely they, and not the abuser, deserve to be punished.
Narcissists must get credit for their destructive acts even as they attempt to hide behind obfuscation. The underlying message is that not only are they powerful enough to do harm; they are powerful enough for us to know they are destructive and still not be able to do anything about it.
To follow this logic, and attempt to resist, merely plays into an underlying pursuit of conquest and self-destruction that is the Narcissist’s end-game. Resistance is the currency the power-mad need to feel their power. It is their mania. It does not have to be ours….
Yet we are beaten down. Every non-pathological feeling and reaction we might bring to the results of their machinations provides them with a further boost; makes them feel powerful. Each time we react as a human being and then collide with our own powerlessness we further exhaust ourselves. We are weakened by the very source of our strength.
This is what defines the double-bind.
A double-bind cannot be solved.
Those of us who have faced this in our own lives will have had ample evidence of this. We will have beaten against this rock until either we succumb to madness or some other way of looking at our predicament begins to show us a way out.
A double, triple, an infinite n bind, holds us only so long as we insist that it is solvable. Growing up in this environment is a natal introduction to paradox, a strange and valuable birth-right….
We begin to see that the madness surrounding us and threatening to engulf us is fed and strengthened by the way everyone involved buys into its premise. The bind loosens only when we begin to see through its internal logic.
Abuser and abused, the abused after all merely an abuser in training, are linked by a belief in the power the abuser wields. They believe, not just in some particular power, but the whole notion of power. They believe the abuser’s fantasy of a growing omnipotence. This belief powers the bind; forges and maintains our chains.
Here we get to a tricky-bit.
A belief in power, any belief, any insistence that an a priori position has more validity than a lived moment, breeds a feeling of certainty. It is this concoction of certainty out of thin air that provides the notion of power with its…, well, its power.
Now once we begin to see through this we begin to forge a different relationship with uncertainty. We begin to see how hollow the entire edifice of power-based-on-certainty is. The power power holds over us is diminished, but at the same time we find that we lack an easy replacement for the certainties we’ve seen through while at the same time we continue to be pummeled by the actions and consequences set in motion by the believers in power. Destruction continues. Madness flourishes. And our uncertainty, however hard-won and true it may be, does not console us.
Why has this pathology persisted for millennia? If it were easy to break away it would not have lasted. It hits us with so many vicious cycles , so many points where it threatens to suck us back in.
We are left contemplating the bankruptcy of power. Convinced by hard experience that power cannot have having anything but a destructive effect. Mired in the resulting and building consequences of the destruction it continues to produce.
All we can know for sure is that grabbing after “countervailing” power is a fool’s errand. We are bombarded with examples as such foolishness abounds! An abundance of fools makes a mockery of the abundance of life and wisdom, assembled over four and a half billion years upon this spinning rock, that our fools work so hard to destroy.
If we survive a life hemmed in by double-binds we find that this source of pain,confusion, and suffering has also been the source of our strength. We have a compelling experience of the way no aspect of existence is merely one thing: good or bad, boon or prison. At this point this sense may show us that, yet again, our discomfort with the bankruptcy of power in the midst of its enormous spread and destructive reach might just lead us to what we need.
In this we may also realize that it is our abusers that show us the way – even if it be, precisely because it is from their view, right where they do not want us to go – They insist that we pay them attention. They insist that we fear them. They insist that we react. Follow or resist. It really does not matter. Either option, two choices out of an infinity of possible responses they insist we join them in believing are the only possible, the only conceivable options.
In this way they point, not towards but away from, a path that removes us from what those imprisoned in its binds consider an endless cycle of pain and destruction. A compass has two points. The one pointing away is just as useful as the one pointing towards a goal or an obstacle. Knowing one we have the other.
Jung admonished us from attempting to foil someone in the grips of an illusion. He did so not as a warning that we might get caught between a fool and his obsession, but more significantly, that in so doing we were blocking their only path to the possibility of any further development or integration. “We should assist them in fulfilling their delusions!” he said, or something to that effect. For it is only when they reach rock-bottom that they may begin to find a way out.
This insight is hard to face. Yet, we each have our own experience of having to have exhausted our delusions before we could begin to climb out from under them.
It also goes against our everyday habits of expectation: That every effect has a cause. That good, or evil, can be isolated. That anything can be separated out from everything without destructive consequences.
These also provide good clues, heuristics we discover, use, and discard along our path.
How do we recognize that so much, if not all of our discomfort at this time, is a result of our shadow desire to continue to believe in power and follow all it entreats us to do?
Isn’t this where our own delusions persist and continue to torment us?
Surviving abuse – in as much as we are able to avoid perpetuating it – gives us little appetite for calls to defer to the will of another. This can even leak across and allow us to see how our own sense of will is no less culpable than any others. We tend to feel a chill, have a moment’s pause when we sense collusion.
Let this inform us here and now. Every attempt to force our hand, whether from the abusers themselves or from all those others still caught in the thrall of a belief in power, is a violence forced upon existence. Our distaste for this has been hard won. Let this pause help us find our way through this further layer of traps and binds.
Let us never forget all that which power sets out to destroy. Never forget that life and wisdom are expressions and fruits of compassion and Joy. And, that compassion and Joy are the faces of Love.