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Double Bind


Techniques General persuasion > More methods > Double Bind

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



A double bind is a situation where a person has a choice (typically between two options), but whichever way they choose, they lose out, often with the same result.

Usually in the double bind there is no alternative, as the person is forced to choose and does not have the luxury of not choosing (this would be a third choice that could well be preferable).

This situation may occur by chance, but in persuasion it is often carefully engineered by the persuader. Any alternative choices are either removed or hidden so only the double bind options appear valid.


An impoverished unemployed person on state benefits is offered a job that pays the same amount as the benefit. In either case, they remain poor.

A person whose car is broken down is offered the choice between towing it away or fixing it -- either option costs about the same.

A child buys their parent a gift and then asks for something. If the parent refuses, they know the child will claim the moral high ground and give them a guilt trip, so they comply with the request.


The principle of the double bind is to offer a person a choice or put them in a position where they are forced to choose, but where the outcomes of the choice either lead to the same result or else have results that are equally desirable to the person who is managing the situation.

The double bind situation is often disadvantageous to the person affected. They may or may not be aware of this, which means they may or may not be happy with the choice.

'Hobson's choice' is a principle of 'no options' that is related to the double bind. The difference is that in Hobson's choice there is only one visible option, whilst the fact of a single option is disguised in the double bind by the appearance of more. By way of history, Thomas Hobson was a 16th century stable owner who offered his Cambridge customers the horse nearer the door or none at all. 

People get stuck in patterns of behaving when they (often unconsciously) give themselves a double bind, typically where getting out of one bind only gets you into the other. For example a person who feels that they have the choice of staying in an abusive relationship or leaving and becoming homeless. In effect, the purpose of the secondary bind (in the example, being homeless) is to keep the person in the primary bind (in the example, an abusive relationship). In practice there may be many other options and a therapist will seek to break the bind by helping the person see these other choices.

Beyond double binds, triple, quadruple and even more complex binds can exist. The general pattern is again that they all act to keep the person within a limited range of options, with many of the alternatives really being more undesirable non-options whose purpose is to direct the person to the primary option.

See also

Double bind (in hypnotism), Double bind questions, Assumptive Close, Assumption principle


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