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(276) @*@*-^^^*-**** *** - - |



Family double-bind: my mother will habitually say, “Are you okay?” if someone, for example, walks past the room she’s sitting in. The question is a double-bind because what’s she’s really saying, at the meta-semiotic, is “I’m here – are you there (hi)?”. The reason it’s a double-bind is that it casts doubt on your own ontic status: “Is it ‘okay’ I’m here, is it ‘okay’ that I exist?”. She got it from my grandmother, who was a deputy headmistress—it’s all about control. “I’m here but is it okay that I’m here? Do I exist? Do I have the right to exist?”. I decided to short-circuit this communication structure by replying, “I’m here,” every time it’s said—and I noticed that I felt emotionally clean when I did so, because I’ve broken the double-bind designed to entrap a person. My mother doesn’t even notice I changed the response because it’s an automatic process for her to say, “Are you okay?”.


When my aunt cared for my grandmother when she was ill (both were resentful) neither would respond directly—they would always either say “eh?” (grandmother) or “pardon?” (aunt); in part, my grandmother feigned deafness (a common strategy among the elderly). The purpose is to gain control and compliance from the other person, if you have to repeat yourself once or twice then the other person has dominated you.


The “pardon” has become reflexive for my aunt, so when my mother speaks to her a conversation sometimes goes “Shall I put the kettle on?” “Pardon?” “Sorry?” <counter-move> “Pardon” “Sorry, shall I put the kettle on?”. Sometimes the pardon-sorry routine goes up to three “pardons” and “sorrys” as each party attempts to gain non-verbal dominance. I counter this move by saying “I’m here”—again, this neutralises the game. There is no point shouting at the other person and saying, “You can hear perfectly well what I said you fucking bitch,” because the game is intended to cause that so they can play victim to a third-party.

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