No-Win Situations and Lose-Lose Scenarios


No-Win Scenarios - When you are manipulated into choosing between two bad options

Damned if you do and Damned if you don’t

Also known as a Double Bind

Misery loves company, which is why it is so common for a Personality-Disordered individual who is feeling strong negative emotions such as anger, jealousy or contempt to try to act out their feelings and hurt or manipulate another person in an attempt to feel better about themselves. One of the common ways they may do this is creating a “no-win” or “lose-lose” scenario.

What they Look Like

  • A woman accuses her spouse of not wanting to spend time with her but greets him with hostility if he stays home.
  • A man tells his partner he will have an affair unless she engages in sexual activities she finds physically and/or emotionally degrading.
  • A family member complains they need help but refuses to participate when solutions such as therapy etc. are offered.
  • A spouse spends excessively from the family budget and says they will only stop if the spouse gives up one of their main interests or hobbies to ease the situation.
  • A husband is frequently combative and hostile in couple’s therapy sessions but accuses his wife of not wanting to work on the relationship if she refuses to go.
  • A mother is frequently hostile and critical of family members at traditional family gatherings but accuses them of abandoning her if they don’t show up.

How it Feels

No-Win and Lose-Lose scenarios often play on our own sense of FOG - Fear, Obligation and Guilt, keeping us trapped in a situations where we are afraid or reluctant to set boundaries for self-protection. We may feel like we will be breaking some taboos or unwritten laws of decency or morality if we refuse to at least try to give the Personality-Disordered individual what they say they want.

The trouble is we know if we give them what they want, often they may not be satisfied by that and we will have squandered our efforts, our resources, our time and our own dignity. Nons often feel “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”.

How to Cope

If you recognize that you are being presented with a “no-win” or a “lose-lose” type of scenario by a person with a Personality Disorder, it is helpful to understand that the source of the conflict and anguish is their own mental health, not you.

What NOT to do

  • Don’t blame yourself for the conflict you are facing if the source of the conflict is really in the disordered individual.
  • Don’t enable a disorder by giving in to unreasonable demands or pressure. You will only hurt yourself as well as the other person.
  • Don’t avoid the issue altogether to avoid conflict or you may create an “elephant in the room”.
  • Don’t feel obliged to explain yourself or your actions every time you set or maintain a boundary or try to protect yourself from emotional abuse. You may just be being baited into a Circular Conversation. Give your answers once, and then end the conversation.

What TO do

  • Learn about Boundaries and how to use them.
  • Promptly remove yourself and your children from verbally or physically abusive environments.
  • Remember that you are dealing with a person who has a mental health disorder and doesn’t always make good choices for themselves and for others.
  • Recognize that you can’t always make another person like you, be happy with you or appreciate you. Sometimes people just want to fight and may be baiting you to go first.
  • Make choices for yourself that will produce the best long term results for you and your family.
  • Get support from people who understand your situation and are knowledgeable about Personality Disorders. You will feel better when others understand your situation and support your decisions.

For more information on dealing with a Double Bind: