Double Binded Communication


Often we send ‘mixed messages’ to people. It can be a source of dis-ease in a relationship when a partner or loved one is giving you two opposing messages at the same time. This creates a double-bind as there is not an effective way to respond correctly to the communication.

Most commonly the opposing messages are coming from two different forms of communication – verbal and non-verbal.

A person can, therefore, say two things at the same time which are in conflict or contradict each other.

Example. If I were to say to you (verbally) “I am so happy to see you – come towards me!” While I started walking away from you with a disinterested facial expression. I am telling you two things at the same time “I am happy to see you and I want to connect (verbally) … and I am indifferent about you and don’t want to be around you (non-verbally).

This dissonance tends to cause anxiety in the receiver.

Often the non-verbal communication is being transmitted emotionally – so we can ‘sense’ a discrepancy in what is being said and what is being emoted (for example, people often will respond to “how are you doing?” with an answer such as “really great” when the person is emotionally far from feeling ‘great’.


It is important for us humans to be able to correctly deduce communication so that we have continual feedback concerning the nature of our relationship – we need reassurance that everything is ‘ok’, that we are effectively understanding the other person, and that we are reading the needs of the other person accurately.

Double binded communication removes the congruent feedback mechanism – we, therefore, do not have an effective means of deducing the state of our relationship with the other person. Additionally, we do not have a way to respond effectively to double binded communication (ex. if some who is emoting ‘sadness’ reports that they are ‘happy’… do you respond to ‘sad’ or to ‘happy’… do we respond as if they are ‘fine’ or ‘in need of assistance’? The resulting emotions range anywhere from annoyance to terror.

Children are exceptionally susceptible to double binded communication as it impedes their ability trust their intuition, to develop an ability to effectively empathize, and to trust that people mean what they say.

Adults use double binded communication frequently as a means of appearing professional, being polite, and avoiding conflict etc.

Much double binded communication is unconscious – Every human on the planet has automatic emotional reactions that flash upon our faces called in response to the environment (micro-expressions). a micro expression cannot be controlled – so if you verbalize an opinion that contradicts your emotional reaction to a stimulus, you will be engaging in a form of double binded communication.

For example – let us pretend you are visiting a different culture that has cuisines that you have been implicitly programmed to have a disgust reaction to… If your host says,” we are so happy to have you – and we have good news – we have a fresh selection of the areas finest insects for us to eat tonight.” likely your micro expression would be a combination of fear and disgust… if you then said, “thank you, I am so happy to enjoy the cuisine of your culture.” you would be sending out double binded communication = you say that you are happy, but you are emoting disgust and fear. The solution is difficult in this example as you likely have the goal of not being offensive or impolite = Saying “wow I am disgusted by insects and am fearful about eating them” would likely no go over too well…

There are many other instances where congruence is the best option (meaning what you say), but this can be difficult in a culture that places less value on vulnerability and honesty … and perhaps more value on professionalism, being polite, and avoiding conflict.

to avoid double binded communication we need to develop self-awareness of our emotional state – and increase our courage to communicate messages which reflect our emotional reality accurately.








William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Attunement Exercise



Attunement Exercise

Quick summary: In building an empathetic ability it is very important that people first advance their ability to attune to another person. I will briefly explain attunement, then I will offer a practical – easy to use – intervention.

Why Attunement is positive: Attunement is an operating strategy in which the participants are trying to be fully absorbed in the experience of the present moment. When we attune to another person we are becoming fully immersed in the emotional world of that person in the present moment. This leads the person who is feeling ‘attuned to’ to feel as though they are being deeply understood and that their present need and emotional reality is being ‘held’ by the listener or receiver.

Where attunement develops in Humans: Human babies cannot talk… so in order for their needs to be met, the primary caregiver(s) must be able to attune to the baby’s emotional reality to a degree that they can arrive at what the baby needs (food, more or less stimulation, a diaper change, a hug etc.) Human adults are not always very good at expressing what they need 😉 … so Attunement allows the listener to arrive at a need that may not be expressed very clearly using verbal communication.

Attunement has intrinsic and instrumental value: When a person feels attuned to they often are able to get a need met (get their diaper changed) – so attunement does have a significant instrumental value. Attunement facilitates a feeling of ‘secure attachment’ – you feel understood, as a ‘we’ (therefor not alone), safe, hopeful and connected. Such feelings are the building blocks for helping an individual to have courage in there authenticity such that they can achieve their fullest potential. So attunement is not simply a tool for getting concrete needs met… this method of operation creates meaningful connection.

What an ‘un-attuned’ experience’ feels like: We are trained and pre-programmed to primarily view our environment (and people) using one of two operating strategies = (1) logic, and (2) unconscious (automatic) labeling of the environment (and people) into three categories: Threat, Pleasure, and Neutral. The result of such operating strategies is somewhat a of ‘distanced’ feeling interaction with other people… this is because we are often not ‘seeing’ or ‘understanding’ other people as they truly are in the present moment; instead we are projecting unconscious and conscious conclusions onto them. The listener will therefor ‘understand’ or be able to parrot back the ‘correct’ information about a story, but they will have no insight into how the speaker felt while conveying the story in the moment, nor will they have insight into what the emotional and existential significance of the story was to the speaker. The result is that the speaker will feel alone and possibly a bit hopeless that the listener will actually be able to meet a need.

Attunement is the Solution: Often times the world presents us with problems that do not really have concrete solutions… in these instances feelings attuned to by another person facilitates a place of safety and connectedness that relieves the burden of the current problem.

Attunement and Empathy – Empathy is when the listener is able to affectively convey an understanding of the speaker’s internal emotional reality back to the speaker. Without attunement one’s empathetic ability is significantly disadvantaged as they would only have access to a very limited amount of information.

Empathy and Compassion – what we typically call empathy is actually empathy with compassion. Empathy is simply the ability to “put yourself into another person’s experience” to “put yourself into another’s shoes” and to be able to communicate this understanding. After doings such it is compassion that would guide you to offer kindness and support to that person’s emotional reality (as opposed to using your empathic ability to manipulate/exploit another person).


Attunement Intervention Exercise

There will be a Listener and a Speaker for this Exercise (and a therapist if applicable)

* Note: the speaker is always directed to speak toward the listener while holding as much eye contact as is comfortable. The speaker and listener should be facing one another.

Direction to the Speaker:

  1. Tell me a story about something that you are really grateful for… OR
  2. Tell me a story which that expresses who you are as a person OR
  3. Tell me a story about a meaningful experience that was emotionally significant to you…

Additional guidance for the speaker: try and tell a story which has emotional significance, and when telling the story try and make sure that you are displaying affect and using emotional adjectives.

(Note 1 for therapists: often times these stories occur organically in a therapy session, if not, you can set it up for this enactment to occur.)

(Note 2: Ideally the story will be about both participants. Ex. A story about why the speaker is grateful for the listener)

Directions for the Listener

  1. Pay close attention to the speaker’s non-verbals and energy.
    1. Energy – how is this person’s emotional energy affecting the climate of the current environment?
    2. Non-verbals – what emotions are being expressed through body language that may be congruent or incongruent with the verbalized narrative?
  2. I want you to listen to the plot, but the most important thing is to focus on how the speaker:
    1. Feels while telling you this story in the current moment (ex. Relieved, nervous, and sad)
    2. How the speaker was feeling about the story that is being told while the story was taking place. (ex. In the story she felt very proud and hopeful and she felt very validated that I was there for her.)
  3. What the listener does not do: no plot corrections, no trying to be right, no adding to the plot, no thinking and waiting to speak instead of listening, no projecting your own emotional experience onto the speaker.


Optional: questions to deepen the experience of the speaker:

  • The therapist or listener asks the speaker a present moment somatic question…
    • “how do you feel in your body right now in this moment?”
    • “Can you point to where you feel more energy?”
    • “Does that energy have a color … a texture?”


The therapist or Speaker will then invite the listener to share:

  1. “What where the emotions that the speaker was sharing in this moment (in this office) while telling his/her story?”
  2. “And what were the most important emotions relevant to the story when it occurred?”

The Listener shares missing parts: The listener than is invited to share any additional emotions that were important.

Time for Reflection: Finally the listener and the speaker are invited to share their emotional reaction to the exercise.

Optional: The therapist or the listener deepens the experience with immediacy. (immediacy is when you point out non-verbal language and either 1 ask a question (ex. what did that mean when you bit your lower lip while talking about your partner?) or 2 make an interpretation (ex.I noticed that you were saying you were happy but your eye lid lowered as if you were sad)


William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Feedback loop in a Couples interaction


Quick summary: In a Couples interaction there tend to be dynamics that are reoccurring which spiral out of control and lead to a vicious cycle in which resolution in highly unlikely. I will offer a tool to be used by a therapist to help a couple in isolating and reflecting upon their cycle. Once the couple is able to externalize and visualize the pattern they are more likely to be able to utilize choice to do something different than the actions which would perpetuate the cycle.

Couples can also use this tool without a therapist… to make the exercise effective it will be very important for each partner to isolate what THEY do to perpetuate the cycle and what THEY can do differently if the goal was to interrupt the cycle. To be clear, do not focus on what your partner can do and does.

Feedback loop

How to use this:


Assessment phase

  1. 1st the therapist explains that there is no blame here… our intention is simply to find the pattern so that we can change the pattern at any number of points in the feedback loop.
  2. The therapist can make the decision to either assess the cycle generally = meaning the therapist asks what normally happens in unsuccessful conversations… or… the therapist can ask the couple to use a specific argument.
  3. Externalize the feedback loop and explain that it is the pattern, and not the people, which needs to be adjusted.
  4. Ask for a volunteer to start and remind them that the feedback loop can start with either partner (or can be caused by the environment = trigger, projection, misinterpretation, emotion related to another stimulus etc.)
  5. Ask partner 1 what they were feeling and thinking…. Then ask him/her what they did or how they behaved towards their partner following the thoughts and feelings. Note: it doesn’t matter if thoughts come before emotions or emotions come before thoughts, but the way they chose to interact with their partner should always be the therapist’s last question.
  6. Next turn to the other (2nd) partner and ask them what they thought and felt related to the way their partner interacted with them. Then you ask how they chose to interact with their partner in response to their thoughts and emotions.
  7. Finally you turn back to the 1ast partner and ask what they thought and felt related to the 2nd partners chosen behavior or chosen means of interaction.
  8. The therapist then continues this circle until it seems to rap back around (within reason, you will rarely create a perfect feedback loop as often the loops escalates to a place that is way worse than the starting point)

Intervention phase: finding the need and finding a means of breaking the feedback loop

  1. For every one of the feelings/thoughts/behaviors sections the therapist asks the relevant partner, “what need did you have at this moment?”
  2. The therapist directs the client to tell their partner what the need was and what they really wanted their partner to do or to understand.
  3. The therapist then asks the partner “How will you interact in the future to get that need met?” or “how will you choose to interact when you will be getting that need met most effectively?” – again have them tell the partner.
  4. Write the answer down for partner 1 on the top part of the arrow.
  5. Next you turn to the 2nd partner and ask, “When you partner feels, thinks, and then interacts this way what will you do differently to stop the cycle from spinning out of control?”
  6. Write the answer down for partner 2 on the bottom part of the arrow.
  7. Continue this method for every thought/emotion/behavior section.

Reinforce the new narrative

  1. Finally the therapist will hold the diagram up in front of the couple and offer empathy and understanding for the thoughts and feelings while reinforcing with genuine hope that the partners will be using an interaction to best get their needs met from now on… and that they will allow space for reflection so that they don’t continue the feedback loop when their partner stumbles and uses an ineffective interaction method.
  2. Allow the couple to engage in a positive conversation about the externalized cycle


William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Relationship Help | “My partner says that I don’t listen” | how to meet the emotional needs of your partner


I am going to talk to you about what you should be paying attention to and what you should not be paying attention to while trying to become a better listener in your relationship.


What you should not be doing if your goal is to be a good empathetic listener


1.) Do not look for ways to fix the problem.

  • This is patronizing and will leave the listener feeling misunderstood; we are generally looking for support and not guidance when we seek out an empathetic ear. If someone wants your opinion they will clearly ask for it… it is best not to assume that they are asking you to fix a hardship they are dealing with. (You are ‘fixing’ things in a way by simply listening empathetically – this is what they want).

2.) Do not think about your response while the person is talking.

  • This leaves the person feeling frustrated, rushed, flustered and as if they are not being listened to (as they aren’t being listened to).

3.) Do not look for inconsistencies in the story line.

  • This will make your partner feel as though they need to edit their words in their head and doing so with impact their ability to authentically express themselves. This also creates a dynamic where the plot is given far more importance than it deserves… it is the expression and not the precision of the storyline which is most important.

4.) Do not respond with explanations as to why they are wrong (and you are right). To not try and rationalize your partners emotional experience.

  • Being an empathetic listener allows your partner to share and to heal by allowing a space for an emotion to be expressed and understood… the speaker receives clarity and feelings of security from your empathy. Being right is irrelevant… your partner feels the way that they do despite your attempt to correct his/her perception. It is irrational and unhelpful to suggest to your partner that they should feel or perceive differently – for one, you are suggesting that perceptions and emotions are objective and consistent (which is not true) and two, you are discounting a perception that was already made and you are discounting an emotional disposition that is already present.

5.) Do not offer them an alternative way to perceive the situation and do not offer forced or contrived optimism.

  • This belittles their subjective experience and is generally both annoying and aggravating. An ability to reflect on their experience so as to come to a place of resolve is the speakers goal… you can help them by listening and reflecting their experience. People do not find it helpful to be forced towards a new perspective, instead they prefer the safety of your nonjudgmental ear… in this safety they will often find the optimism themselves. Forced optimism is different than authentic encouragement… gently saying that you are there for them or that you will support him/her until things are ok, is perfectly fine.

6.) Do not respond with defensiveness. If the narrative is about you it is important that you display an understanding of the person’s position as opposed to quickly defending yourself.

  • When you defend you put the attention on yourself… to be direct, defensiveness is rather selfish and it is horribly detrimental to your own self growth.  You tell the listener that your own emotional reaction to the speaker’s narrative is more important than his/her emotions. As opposed to supporting your partner you are essentially saying, “No, support me now and please enable me to not change by taking back everything that you constructively have said about me that makes me feel the slightest bit uncomfortable.” When you are being defensive you are focusing all your attention and energy on yourself as opposed to offering support and understanding to your partner.

7.) Do not counter critique, use tangents, or otherwise change the subject.

  • Allow the focus to stay on your partner… bringing up other issues will confuse the interaction and will distract you both from getting your needs met. When you counter critique (ex. Please put your dishes away,” is responded with the counter critique, “well you’re not perfect, you are the one wasting all our money on shoes.”) you essentially say that your partners feelings are invalid because you also have feelings (this doesn’t make sense if you spell it out). As the listener your job is to listen… at a later time you can have your space to be the speaker.

8.) Of course do not be contemptuous, slanderous, cuttingly witty, or mean. Do not use verbal aggression to attempt to steal power from the speaker.

  • Even as adults we do find ourselves engaging in rather immature behaviors. Being mean is a poor way of saying, “I am overwhelmed by what you are saying and feel the need to attack you to get you to stop.” Asking for space is perfectly appropriate if you need a bit of time to be fully available for your partner.


What you should be doing to be a good empathetic listener


1.) Clear your mind and focus all you attention on your partner.

2.) Pay attention to your partner’s non- verbal language and keep eye contact to the degree that makes the speaker feel comfortable.

  • Eye contact ensures that you stay present with the conversation and there is a plethora of information that is transmitted while looking into someone’s eyes.  The emotional experience of the speaker is far easier to deduce when you are focusing on their body language. Focusing on non-verbals dramatically reduces misunderstanding and helps the listener to avoid projecting their own emotional experience onto the speaker’s storyline. Quite simply you can see how they feel.

3.) When listening to your partner’s storyline you should primarily be attending to how they felt at the time of the story and how they feel right now as they are retelling the story.

  • Your partner wants your support and for you to be emotionally available, they desire for you to understand their emotional experience. It is rarely important that you understand the specifics of the plot (though you should pay some attention to the details as well.) to heal a person by listening, you must first be able to hear the emotional content even when it is not explicit.

4.) Acknowledge, accept, and validate your partners unique emotional experience.

  • The way that they feel is the way that they feel… it is never your job to try and change their felt emotional experience (though it ironically will change if you listen empathetically). People have a right to their subjective emotions and they do not necessarily choose their emotional reactions… validate their unique experience by allowing them to experience and express their unique truth. Accept that this is how they feel and allow them to feel that way by humbly noticing your judgments and labeling those judgments as objects of your own ego… this is not a time for your ego, so protect your partner (and yourself) from your judgments.

5.) Display your understanding by gently and unassumingly reflecting back the emotions that your partner has expressed.

  • This suggestion requires a bit of practice, so make sure that your partner is aware that you are working on being a better listener at a time of relative placidity – “I am trying to become a better listener so please be easy on me if I sound a bit inauthentic or like a parrot at first.” Example of reflecting – your partner says,” I had the worst day I arrived at our meeting thinking that today we were going to be talking about the turner property… when it was my time to talk I sounded like an idiot and my boss was clearly pissed.” – a reflection could be as simple as, “sorry honey that sounds really uncomfortable.” The goal of a reflection is to quickly show that you understand without distracting the speaker from their narrative.

6.) Be compassionate and offer them the felt sense of security that is the foundation of your relationship.

  • Often time the best things to do is to offer your partner a hug. Allow yourself to feel their pain while holding a firm understanding that this pain is not your pain. Non-verbal actions which display the strength and security of your relationship are often most helpful – your action depends on the tactile needs of your partner – some will like to be hugged, others will like a soft smile, and other will want you to hold their hand etc.

7.) Finally ask them if there is anything that they would like for you.

  • He/she may want your help, your opinion, your time, your arms etc. it is always best to ask as opposed to assuming.


William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Compassionately Assertive – Maintaining Boundaries without Aggression – using empathy and clarity to get your needs met


Quick summary: This post will explain how to use empathy, self-awareness, and assertiveness to ensure that your personal boundaries are respected by others. Often we have a difficult time when an instance calls for decisive action in order to help the environment to respect our individual boundaries. Some react with aggressiveness that protects a person’s own boundaries yet often violates another person’s boundaries in the process. Other people are wary of engaging with conflict and therefore choose to not defend themselves or they choose to use an avoidance strategy. I am going to suggest that it is possible to be both assertive and compassionate when helping another person to stop violating your boundaries.


We all have many boundaries that are in place to help us to feel safe, respected, and happy.


There are certain behaviors that violate our boundaries in an overt or concrete way, such as if some one where to physically assault you or to physically take something that you had defined as being your property.


Other time the violation impacts an abstraction such as a moral, a principle, or an ideal, such as when someone speaks or engages in behaviors that are disrespectful to you or someone who you care about.

  • When this boundary is violated a person generally feels as though an action that he/she deems as subjectively “bad”, “wrong” or “unfair” is being or has been engaged in.


So what do you Do?


You don’t want to let a person walk all over you and you don’t want to enable a person to continue to engage in disrespectful or harmful actions towards you…


You also don’t want to react in a way that violates another person thereby creating a cycle of vengeance. You don’t want to leave an interaction feeling guilty and awkward about your behaviors with worries that this person might actually be even less likely to respect your boundaries in the future.


Empathy and Understanding – If you can be empathetic and understanding of the person in front of you, they will be more likely to be empathetic and understanding of your boundaries.


Empathy and Self-awareness – If you react to a person with empathy they tend to be less defensive. In this less defensive state a person can take some space to reflect upon the situation… often they will find their error themselves. In short, when you ‘put yourselves in their shoes’ to figure out what they are feeling the person in more likely to put them selves in their own shoes so that they can then realize what they really feel about their actions.


Patients, Self-reflection, and Clarity – By taking the space to understand your own emotions and the specifics of your boundaries you can be very clear and controlled when articulating your needs.


In order to handle such a situation in an ideal way there are some questions that are beneficial to ask yourself.


1.) What is the surface level reason for this person to be violating my boundaries?

  • Ex. She cut me off because in doing so they will be getting to her own destination faster.
  • Ex. he is calling me names because he is jealous of my success.


2.) What is the good intention behind this person’s action?”

  • I know this one is difficult, but despite your subjective interpretation of an action, people always have a “good reason” for their “bad behaviors.”
  • Ex. He does not want to assist me with my technical service issue because he lacks the training to so. He is being difficult to hide his lack of skill.
  • Ex. The teacher was short with my child today because she desperately needs space to recover, as she is being dramatically over-worked. She was being short as her emotional boundaries are already being infringed upon.


3.) What emotions seem to be dictating his/her behaviors?”

  • Ex. This employee is fearful that he will lose his job if he acknowledges the mistake he made… fear is encouraging him to blame this error on me.
  • Ex. This person feels confused and inadequate and therefore is feeling very threatened by what I thought was relatively benign constructive criticism.
  • Ex. This person is terrified about his financial situation and therefore was unable to think about how is actions were affecting other people.


4.) What is the boundary that I perceive this person to be violating?

  • Ex. We had a written agreement and this person’s decision violates our business contract which jeopardizes the profitability of my business. I have a boundary surrounding people making decision that jeopardize my livelihood without consulting me.
  • Ex. This person is endangering my bodily safety with their decisions. I have a boundary concerning people making precarious selfish decisions in my presence.
  • Ex. This person is making me feel emotionally unsafe with his racist suggestions. I have a boundary pertaining to what emotionally harmful words can be said in my presence.



5.) What are all emotions that I am experiencing as a result of my boundary being violated?

  • For this question be sure to recognize that your emotion is related to a specific behavior and not to a person. Often when we accuse a person of creating our emotional disposition they get defensive… they are a bit less likely to get defensive if you suggest that it was their behavior instead.
  • The behavior made me feel ___________ (instead of) you made me feel ___________.
  • Ex. On the surface I am feeling simply angry and a bit deeper I am feeling belittled and patronized by the insistence that another person’s error was in fact my error.
  • Ex. I am feeling fear and a need to protect myself do to the treatment of my property.
  • Ex. I am feeling scared, unwanted, lonely and isolated because of these prejudice comments.


6.) What are a few possible solutions? What do you need in order for your boundaries to feel respected?

  • Ex I need my money back so I can go to another business or I need for you to fix the situation and take responsibility for the mistake.
  • Ex. I need for you to respect the business contract or I need you to ensure I do not lose any profits as we break our business agreement.
  • Ex. I need for that language to not be used in my presence or I will have to leave and report you.


Now take some time and make sure that you sit with your anger long enough so that you can use the anger instead of the anger using you.


Anger can bring clarity and right assertiveness when it is acknowledged and understood.


Anger controls us and encourages us to act outside of our best interests when we do not take the time to accept and understand our anger.


I am in not way suggesting that this will always work as some people are not in the right place to be able to appropriately interact with other people…

  • By engaging in this methodology you dramatically increase your chances of resolving the issue with the least resistance and/or repercussions.
  • We are all part of a collective… by being both empathetic and direct you encourage other people to do the same.



How do you compassionately assert your boundaries? Simply tell the person your answers to questions 1 – 6


Perhaps your reason for this action is (1) _____________.

You probably have the good intention of (2) _____________.

It would make sense to me if you were feeling (3) ___________ about the instance.

We are all different and I hope that you might understand that my boundary is (4) _____________.

Perhaps you can understand that I am feeling (5) ___________ about this situation.

the best way that I can imagine resolving this situation is to (6) _____________ .


I would suggest that this protocol has intrinsic value in that you are exemplifying compassion and ration.


Perhaps when you use this method it will not work out the way you wanted it to… but what if your children or a stranger was to see you acting in such a graceful way? Would people around you be more or less likely to be compassionately assertive?


What do you think about this method?


What are your reactions?


Could this be a helpful tool for society even if it did not work for you most of the time that your used the method?


Do acts of compassion increase compassion around the world… is compassion contagious?

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.