A double bind is a no-win dilemma in which to avoid circumstance A you must take an action resulting in another circumstance B, which is also harmful. There is no route you can take to avoid the initial traumatic circumstance without engendering another.
Double binds are used deliberately in torture situations to break victims psychologically. They are also very common in custody disputes against abusive personalities. The following are based on my personal experiences in a custody dispute with a man with psychopathic traits:
Double Bind 1
You feel guilty, blame yourself for his behaviour, and are easily convinced to give him more chances but he abuses you more and creates more chaos. He confuses you and tells you it is all your fault. You fall further under his control due to his threats and have even more trouble setting strong boundaries. By trying to appease him, this gives him more opportunities to attack. His behaviour gets worse and you are trapped trying to appease him as you see this as the only option that will keep you safe. If you attempt to set a stronger boundary you risk violent retaliation.
Double Bind 2
If you draw attention to his behaviour and try to set stronger boundaries you are accused in court of trying to shut out the father. If you do not set strong boundaries you are accused in court of putting the children at risk.
Double Bind 3
If you are measured and careful when telling the court about his behaviour then you are told that it can’t be that bad. If you are angry about it you are portrayed as vindictive and crazy.
Double Bind 4
You are told to emphasise in court that you understand the relationship of the kids with the father is important. This is used against you to imply that therefore things can’t be as bad as you are making out.
Double Bind 5
The court are slow to recognise abuse and in many cases never acknowledge the abuse you have suffered. If you push for it to be acknowledged you are cast as the vindictive one. Since he tells so many lies to confuse the picture no-one really knows what is going on for sure. He uses this lack of acknowledgement as cover to increase his abuse and further gaslight you about his behaviour.
Double Bind 6
You are pushed into mediation where you may agree to things which put you and the children at further risk. If you don’t agree to mediation this is used to portray you as difficult and unreasonable. He uses any agreements you had to go back on because of his abuse against you later as evidence that you are untrustworthy.
Double Bind 7
Court action costs tens of thousands of pounds. You are nearly out of money and represent yourself. This is used against you to portray you as not caring as much as your abuser about the kids since he has paid for representation and you have not.
Double Bind 8
Court officials, barristers and custody evaluators treat you as if you just need to be a little bit more reasonable and get along with him. This gives him more opportunities to abuse you. If you get angry about this then it will be used to portray you as the problematic parent.
Double Bind 9
You are about to get a “final” court order. You are told detailed court orders are bad for the children because they don’t allow flexibility. If you protest you will be labelled the difficult one. The court officials fail to understand any ambiguity will be used to create chaos by the perpetrator of abuse. You end up back in court.
Double Bind 10
You are encouraged to get evidence from domestic abuse agencies then this is used against you in court to suggest that you are scheming against him. You find it carries no weight.
Double Bind 11
You are blamed for his behaviour by the courts. He does so much to confuse the picture reversing the victim and offender that the court conclude that you are the instigator and present a risk to the children due to attempting to alienate the father. If you get angry about this, then this is evidence that you are the problem.
Double Bind 12
You find the judgements have an arbitrary element. Sometimes it is clear the judge or barrister has not properly understood your case or has not even read the documents. Speaking up too strongly will count against you. You need to maintain a deferential demeanour in the court room but if you do the issue will not get redressed. There is little you can do to correct misinformation. You have very limited opportunities to present your case to decision makers.
Double Bind 13
Incorrect information carries over from previous judgements and adversely affects your case. If you try to bring it up then you are disrespecting the court procedures.
Double Bind 14
You try to present hard evidence of his abuse in the form of recordings or transcripts. This is used against you as evidence that you are scheming against the father. You find it does not carry the weight you expect and may have worked against you.
Double Bind 15
You are told by social services/domestic abuse agencies to withhold contact from the father otherwise the children may be taken away. In court you find “evidence” from domestic abuse agencies or low level social services involvement is treated as nothing more than hearsay. This is used against you in court to say you are scheming against the father to deny him access increasing the risk that the courts award him custody on that basis.
Double Bind 16
You are so traumatised by his behaviour that you exhibit symptoms of psychological disorders e.g., splitting. This results from his Jeckyll and Hyde abusive behaviour but this is invisible to everyone except for you. He tries to label you with a disorder to make it more likely the children get put with him. If you protest that he really is all that bad then this is evidence that you are prone to black-and-white thinking or splitting.
Double Bind 17
You need to draw attention to the fact that you are not dealing with a normal person. If you educate yourself about the personality of the abuser and speak out that you are concerned he may be a traumatising narcissist or psychopath, you are accused of being hostile towards the other parent and viewed with suspicion. These personalities are not well understood within the court system. There is no mechanism via which your assertion could be tested available as part of the decision making process. Your only option is to skirt around the issue and not call it out for what it is but this minimises the severity of the situation.
Double Bind 18
Many custody decision makers are naive to the cruelty and duplicitousness of a psychopath. You sound crazy and paranoid when you describe his behaviour. The psychopath’s false narrative that you are a controlling mother who does not want to share custody with the father sounds more plausible.
Double Bind 19
Being a skilled liar and untroubled by a normal human conscience, the psychopath is able to play the part of the victimised father skilfully. He is charming and unperturbed by the situation. Since you have ordinary human anxiety and are being systematically abused by the psychopath, you are volatile and disjointed. This plays to the psychopath’s false assertion that you are mentally unstable.
The court order is in place. You have to watch while you hand your children over to someone who you know will abuse your children. If you refuse the courts will increase the contact time your child has to have with the abuser because this will be used as evidence that you are trying to alienate the father. This goes on for years because he never stops trying to hurt you using his most effective weapon; the children. There is nothing you can do about it without going back to family court where the outcome may well be worse than the one you have now.
Perhaps if you are a woman who has been through the family court system you have other examples of no-win double bind situations that cause terrible harm to women and children.
Is it any wonder that so many women going through the family courts against abusive men end up with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The same disorder that torture victims and people in long term hostage situations commonly experience?