Double bind situations are another common weapon of narcissists. This means they create a situation where nothing you do will be right.
The most frustrating example I can think of from my own life happened when I was 17 years old. I had recently started my first job at the local library, which is where my now ex husband was also working. We struck up a fast friendship, much to my narcissistic mother’s dismay. She absolutely hated him upon first sight.
We often worked the same shift, closing the library. One night after work, we left the building together. My mother had come to pick me up (as I was not allowed to have a license or car), and told me never to leave work with him again because she hated him. The next time we worked together, he volunteered to hang back so I could leave first. Upon getting in the car, my mother said, “So the coward is hiding! He can’t even face me!” The next time, he left first and I hung back. Her response that time was to scream at me for him being so “cocky”, leaving work like that.
We couldn’t do anything else but everything we did was wrong. It was a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation.” And, when trying to talk to her about it, she screamed at me. I should have known what to do, according to her. What was wrong with me for not being able to figure it out?
My mother created the perfect double bind situation. And it was miserable!
Double binds are all about control. Because you did something wrong (at least according to the narcissist), you will try something else in order to please him or her. When that is wrong, you will try something else. These situations may not seem controlling at first, because you are not being openly controlled. My mother never told me what she wanted – she simply expected me to know what she wanted, then screamed at me for not giving it to her. Other times when she has created these situations, she refused to speak to me in order to “punish” me for disobeying her orders that she never gave.
So how does one deal with the double bind situation? It is not easy. There is no way to deal with them completely successfully. With the situation with my ex husband at our work? I told him leave before or after me, or walk out with me. Nothing would please my mother, so why bother trying? Any time we worked together, my mother would either scream at me or more quietly tell me what a horrible person he was, and how stupid I was for spending time with someone so horrible without telling me why he was horrible. I figured since I was going to be screamed at anyway, I might as well do what I was wanted to do.
It also helps to remember that it is a double bind situation. There is nothing wrong with you. There is, however, something very wrong with a person who puts another person in such a situation!
Protect yourself with firm boundaries that you enforce however you need to.
Refuse to engage this person. When you are told what you are doing or have done is wrong in spite of there being no other solution, you can respond with, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” (Admittedly, that is a passive/aggressive sounding response, but it is suitable in this situation.) Change the subject. Do not apologize for your actions if you believe you were right.
Never show emotion. Emotion, good or bad, feeds narcissists their supply. Do not give them supply!!! The more supply you provide, the more they will take from you however they can get it.