The necessary ingredients for a double bind situation, as we see it, are:

1. Two or more persons. Of these, we designate one, for purposes of our definition, as the “victim.” We do not assume that the double bind is inflicted by the mother alone, but that it may be done either by mother alone or by some combinations of mother, father, and/or siblings.

2. Repeated experience. We assume that the double bind is a recurrent theme in the experience of the victim. Our hypothesis does not invoke a single traumatic experience, but such repeated experience that the double bind structure comes to be a habitual expectation.

3. A primary negative injunction. This may have either of two forms: (a) Do not do so and so, or I will punish you,” or (b) “If you do not do so and so, I will punish you.” Here we select a context of learning based on avoidance of punishment rather than a context of reward seeking. There is perhaps no formal reason for this selection. We assume that the punishment may be either the withdrawal of love or the expression of hate or anger–or most devastating–the kind of abandonment that results from the parent’s expression of extreme helplessness.

4. A secondary injunction conflicting with the first at a more abstract level, and like the first enforced by punishments or signals which threaten survival. This secondary injunction is more difficult to describe than the primary for two reasons. First, the secondary injunction is commonly communicated to the child by nonverbal means. Posture, gesture, tone of voice, meaningful action, and the implications concealed in verbal comment may all be used to convey this more abstract message. Second, the secondary injunction may impinge upon any element of the primary prohibition. Verbalization of the secondary injunction may, therefore, include a wide variety of forms; for example, “Do not see this as punishment“; “Do not see me as the punishing agent“; “Do not submit to my prohibitions“; “Do not think of what you must not do“; “Do not question my love of which the primary prohibition is (or is not) an example“; and so on. Other examples become possible when the double bind is inflicted not by one individual but by two. For example, one parent may negate at a more abstract level the injunctions of the other.

5. A tertiary negative injunction prohibiting the victim from escaping from the field. In a formal sense it is perhaps unnecessary to list this injunction as a separate item since the reinforcement at the other two levels involves a threat to survival, and if the double binds are imposed during infancy, escape is naturally impossible. However, it seems that in some cases the escape from the field is made impossible by certain devices which are not purely negative, e.g., capricious promises of love, and the like.

6. Finally, the complete set of ingredients is no longer necessary when the victim has learned to perceive his universe in double bind patterns. Almost any part of a double bind sequence may then be sufficient to precipitate panic or rage. The pattern of conflicting injunctions may even be taken over by hallucinatory voices

gregory bateson et. al

Bateson, G., Jackson, D. D., Haley, J., & Weakland, J. (1956). Toward a theory of schizophrenia. Behavioral Science, 1(4), 251–254.