Learned Helplessness

I was like the dogs in the electric dog cage experiment. If your not familiar with that its the theory of learned helplessness. Dogs were put in cages and received a shock after a bell rang, in the first part of the experiment, they were confined so that there was no escape. In the second part of the experiment, they were put in cages that had only a small divider between the electrified and non-electrified sections of floor. This allowed a avenue of relatively easy escape when the floors of their cages were shocked. The researchers thought the dogs would immediately jump out when the shock was administered. What happened was the dogs just laid down and continued to get shocked. They had learned there was nothing they could do so they just tolerated it.


I very much was like these dogs, for almost 27 years there was a long list of things I was not allowed to do because I would "fuck them up" and make things harder for him. At least this is what he told me. He never stopped reminding me how difficult I made his life. If I were to cross a line and OMG ask someone about how to fix this or that, look out! His anger would spill out, he would tell me in that annoyed tone how he knew EXACTLY what was wrong, and I needed to keep my nose out of it. Or "shut my pie hole"

Over time I internalized this, the idea of doing things for myself didn't even cross my mind. It was unthinkable.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325355

https://www.growbeyondwords.com/why-abuse-can-create-learned-helplessness/

I can give some examples, I wasn't allow to fix anything. I definitely could not take the car to a mechanic, or even talk to one. I was not allowed to call a plumber or an electrician. My ex-husband insisted in doing everything himself, with his own hands. (lets not even get into how he rarely completed any of these tasks.) One day, when my ex was busy, he had been working a job and running a business concurrently, I thought I would help out by hiring a local kid to mow the lawn. My ex was furious with me, no one but him could mow the our yard. I have spoken to women that had lived in similar marriages, and our stories all seem to be pretty much the same. When I would tell one of these stories, inevitably you would see the eyes widen and that look of recognition, "OMG! my ex did exactly the same thing" I believe if its part of the control and devaluing pattern. Here is are example of the type of thing that would happen. I had a 2013 Volkswagen Jetta. It actually has since proved to be an amazing car, it still runs beautifully. At one point, I started hearing a clunking noise in the left hand front tire area. I mentioned it to my ex, and he basically completely ignored it. "It's nothing" Gradually, it got worse and worse, growing louder and more frequent. Over the course of a year or so it got to the point, where it actually started grinding, at first occasionally, then eventually non-stop. He did look at it, but never could figure out what the problem was. Of course, I was absolutely NOT allowed to take it to a mechanic. So for two years I drove around with a loud grinding noise announcing my arrival everywhere I went, it was humiliating. As we were separating and he was moving out, he told me, you have to get rid of that car and get a new one. I didn't want to do that, I didn't want car payments. So the first thing I did was take that car to a mechanic.

I was working to finish up my degree in Ottawa. At the time my former husband worked in a remote location 2 weeks on two week off. Once a week, I made the trip back and forth between our home in Peterborough to Ottawa to attend classes. My car had large crack across my windshield right at eye level. When driving on rainy nights, I was completely blinded by any oncoming traffic. When this happened I just held the wheel straight and prayed the road didn't turn before I could see again. If there were a string of cars sometimes I was blinded for a couple minutes. I often had two young children under 5 with me in the car. It was terrifying. This situation continued for more than a year. I told him repeatedly, I couldn't see at night when there was on-coming traffic. I was pretty positive that I would die. He told me it was all in my head. I could see fine. Stop bitching, couldn't I see how much he did for this family and all I did was complain. That is until one time I had to pick him up from the Airport at night while it was raining. I picked him up, and of course he got behind the wheel (because if he was in the car he always drove) We drove about a kilometer and he was hit by a string of on coming car lights. "Holy FUCK!!" He pulled over, and swore and I actually don't even remember how we got home. And wouldn't you know, the next day, that windshield was fixed. He never apologized for not believing me. He acted like it never happened I think it says a lot that I drove a car in which I was certain I would die for more than a year rather than defy him. Being completely blind in the dark driving highway speeds was less terrifying. Sitting here now, that's really hard to imagine, but it was a pattern that would repeat itself many times. I had spent probably most of my life in that state of confusion, pain and desperation. Always unstable, the ground under me was not safe. I didn't know what was going to go wrong next. But I did know, what ever it was I was likely going to have to cope with, they were not just going to get fixed. These types of things were an ongoing pattern of behaviour. The sink in my bathroom taking more than a year to put in, and then, it never had hot water. A toilet than didn't flush properly and if you didn't jiggle it just right it would run non-stop, often flooding our septic. Washing my dishes in a bathtub for 2 months because the pipes under the kitchen sink froze. Not having a proper kitchen in my home for years, dishes constantly breaking because they were falling off the two inches of counter top I had available.


I was never allow to say anything about any of this. If I did, I was berated, yelled at, called a bitch and he would stomp around like a angry caged animal. I was told repeatedly "Fuck off Carolynne! FUCK OFF"


It really affects you when you are attacked for wanting to have what are considered the basics of life in a first world country. I couldn't have people over, due to the state of my home. It was isolating and it was embarrassing.


There was always something wrong, and he would set stuff up so only he could do it. You had to turn the knob exactly like this etc. to get it to work. Then get angry that "he had to do everything"


As for myself, I was frozen. I stood back and did exactly what I was told. I drove the dangerous car. I washed my face in cold water. I carried those dishes to the bathtub.


I was just like those dogs. I believed there was no way out and all I could do was accept and live with the situation.


Even now thinking about this stresses and upsets me. I was dealing with these types of things while I was working, looking after the children, managing the finances.



1 view0 comments

Recent Posts

See All