Communication Breakdown

The mother of one of our patients poured out blame upon her husband for refusing for fifteen years to hand over control of the family finances to her.

The father of the patient said, "I admit that it was a great mistake of me not to let you handle it, I admit that. I have corrected that. My reasons for thinking it was a mistake are entirely different from yours, but I admit that it was a very serious error on my part."

Mother: Now, you're just being facetious.

Father: No, I am not being facetious.

Mother: Well, anyway I don't care because when you come right down to it the debts were incurred, still there is no reason why a person would not be told of them. I think the woman should be told.

Father: It may be the same reason why when Joe (their psychotic son) comes home from school and he has trouble he doesn't tell you.

Mother: Well, that's a good dodge.

The pattern of such a sequence is simply the successive disqualification of each of the father's contributions to the relationship.

He is continuously being told that the messages are not valid. They are received as if they were in some way different from that which he thought he intended.

But, per contra, from her viewpoint, it seems that he is endlessly misinterpreting her, and this is one of the most peculiar characteristics of the dynamic system which surrounds - or is schizophrenia.

The bind becomes mutual. A stage is reached in the relationship in which neither person can afford to receive or emit metacommunicative messages without distortion.

There is, however, usually, an asymmetry in such relationships. This mutual doublebinding is a type of struggle and commonly one or the other has the upper hand. [In cases of families with a psychotic offspring] the asymmetry takes the curious form that the identified patient sacrifices himself to maintain the sacred illusion that what the parent says makes sense.

To be close to that parent, he must sacrifice his right to indicate that he sees any metacommunicative incongruities, even when his perception of these incongruities is correct.

The patient is an accomplice in the parent's unconscious hypocrisy. 

 The result may be very great unhappiness and very gross, but always systematic, distortions of communication [...] these distortions are always precisely those which would seem appropriate when the victims are faced with a trap to avoid which would be to destroy the very nature of the self.

If somebody attacks the habits and immanent states which characterize me at the given moment of dealing with that somebody [...] they are negating me. If I care deeply about that person, the negation of me will be still more painful.

From theory we may predict that every participant member of such an institution must be defensive of his or her own immanent states of action and enduring adaptive habits; protective, that is, of the self.

I believe that this is the essence of the matter, that the schizophrenic family is an organization with great ongoing stability whose dynamics and inner workings are such that each member is continually undergoing the experience of negation of self.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p.236-7, 242-3

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They are playing a game.

They are playing at not playing a game.

If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me.

I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.

[R.D. Laing]
Knots

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