Escaping the Double Bind or Catch 22

By Cathy Eck


Mango and the Double Bind

In the mid-1990’s, Chris Kattan played the flamboyant Mango on Saturday Night Live.  As you can see, Mango verbally tells Garth Brooks to get away; but when Garth Brooks does as requested, he pulls him back with his animal magnetism.

Garth Brooks is clearly confused; he wants to get away from Mango, but can’t.  He obviously can’t come toward him and leave him at the same time.

When I first saw this skit, I thought it was hysterical.  Like most great comedy, it exposes the shadow reality that people usually deny.

Mango demonstrates the double bind, which is a highly emotional and challenging dilemma.  A person (Garth) receives two conflicting messages, and one message negates the other.  A successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other.  The receiver is stuck in lose-lose.

You might know this experience by another name, the Catch 22.  It is the situation that you just can’t win.

Double Bind -- I don't get no respect
Usually, one message is external and the other is internal or unspoken. We don’t see the conflict, but we feel it.



Coping with the Double Bind

In order to cope with double bind messages received from others, most people learn to ignore their feelings.  They train their minds to listen to people’s words and blindly obey.  Others, especially children, find themselves in unexpected trouble because the emotional pull of the unspoken message is stronger than the verbal request.

A symptom that we’ve been caught in the web of another’s double bind message is that we wonder why we behaved or reacted as we did.  We might say something like, “I just wasn’t being myself.”  Sometimes the other blames us for the conflict; and yet, we can’t see how or why we were the cause.

Most of us have our first double bind experience in early childhood.  That sets the stage for many more such experiences throughout life.  These memories feel unresolvable because we just can’t find the cause.


Both People are Confused in a Double Bind

Understanding the cause of the double bind is key.  This can be tricky.  Mango clearly knew what he was doing, and he was the cause.  But he hides his wacky hand motions when Garth turns around; he doesn’t want to be exposed.  It is unlikely that Mango would be willing to admit to his purposeful manipulation; Garth Brooks was right to walk away.

Politicians and slick sales people send out multiple double bind messages in their conversations; they purposefully confuse you so that you will ignore their conflicting data and do what they want.  They have no intention of admitting that they are the cause.


The Innocent Double Bind Message

Most of us send innocent double bind messages.  In the cartoon above, the character probably doesn’t realize that he’s sending out a double bind message of “I get no respect.”  He probably blames the people who don’t respect him for being ignorant, rude, or not honoring his authority.

This double bind can be fixed if the sender takes responsibility for their confusing message.  They have to recognize that they are seeing the mirror image of their message in the other; then they can let go of the causal belief in their own mind.

If we are blaming another for our unhappiness or our lack of fulfillment, we are sending a double bind message.  We want the person to love us, but we don’t believe we are worthy of their love.  We want the job, but we don’t really want to work.  We want our children to get along, but we believe that all children fight.  Our minds are full of internal double binds.  We waste our life trying to manage them, hide them, and leap over them.


Receiving the Double Bind

What if we are on the receiving end of the innocent double bind message?   The sender believes they are being crystal clear when their message is actually double bind.  This is very common.

First, we have to get our own mind clear because the double bind message has probably confused us.  There is a causal belief within us that got us into this situation; letting that belief go is our work.

We find our own causal belief by looking at why we are in the situation, and more important, why do we believe the sender?  Often, they play the role of authority figure in our life.  We might be married to the sender; or we could be their child or their employee.  We have a belief in our mind that we must believe them, please them, or make them happy.  And we can’t succeed.  For the receiver, the cause is rarely about the message; it is nearly always about a win-lose or dominance-submission relationship.

When we are clear, we can sometimes help the other to see their double message.  If they are willing to let go of their beliefs, then a positive outcome can be achieved.  The sender gets rid of their conflicting belief and the receiver can decide to give them what they want (or say no) with clarity.  But if the sender won’t change, it is time to leave our Mango behind.


The Reward is Mental Freedom

Most of us have loads of memories of double bind situations.  They often sit in our mind wrapped in guilt or shame.

We can resolve the double bind memory by re-experiencing it in our mind.  It isn’t easy; and if you are not experienced with this, I recommend you do it with the support of a friend or mentor.

Clarity comes when we can see the message that was sent and the message that was received.  Even if the other person is long gone from our life, we can free our own mind by letting go of our part of the double bind experience.


PS:  I had a best friend years ago that was just like Mango; and I adored her because when I said to her, “Stop being like Mango,”  she laughed.  You see, Mango isn’t bad or even a problem when exposed.  Mango is only a problem when he’s hidden.  


Click here for another article that offers some advice for getting beyond painful memories.  

Cartoon Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane /


Cathy Eck has been researching life's greatest mysteries for over two decades. She knows that everyone deserves to fulfill their dreams and fulfill their destiny. It is only the false beliefs that we hold in our mind that keep us from achieving that end. As we let those beliefs go, life gets much easier and more joyous. In the course of her research, Cathy has learned many tricks to make the journey much easier. She shares what she has learned on and