Gregory Bateson clarified theorganisation of double binds. He noted that a secondary bind prohibitsescape from the primary bind because it "conflicts with the first at amore abstract level" and if opposed or ignored would "threatensurvival" (ref. 4). Thus perfectly good solutions for the primary bindcannot be implemented because they would conflict with, or trigger,another binding pattern. Bateson points out that a common secondarybind involves the client being unable to speak about their predicamentfor fear of triggering the primary bind (e.g. "It would kill my motherif I told her the truth"). In more complex, and thankfully rare cases,the way out of the double bind may itself be constrained by yet anotherbind (forming a triple bind). One way or another, the client is boundby their own binds and the more they struggle, the more hopeless andhelpless it seems.
According to philosopher and theologian , the double bind has long been used in as a therapeutic tool. The purposefully imposes the double bind upon his students (through various "skilful means", called ), hoping that they achieve enlightenment (). One of the most prominent techniques used by Zen Masters (especially those of the school) is called the , in which the master gives his or her students a question, and instructs them to pour all their mental energies into finding the answer to it. As an example of a koan, a student can be asked to present to the master their genuine , "Show me who you really are". According to Watts, the student will eventually realize there is nothing they can do, yet also nothing they do, to present their actual self; thus, they truly learn the Buddhist concept of (non-self) via .
On the surface the double bind seems a simple idea. It's a bit like a reef knot. Two twists and when you pull on one it tightens on itself ensuring a strong bind.