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Not Used to Freedom

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It's too late. They don't know what life is like outside of a cage.
"Believe what you want. These walls are funny. First, you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them."
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Someone has been held for a long time in a place, or has been a member of an institution where their freedoms have been very much limited, such as a prison or a mental hospital, and has either difficulties in fitting in outside, or wants to remain in or return to their former place of confinement. Some wild animals too much used to being cared for by humans might also become unable to function in nature (which is why rangers put up "Don't Feed Wildlife" signs). Some TV shows centered on families also have stories of the mother getting bored when her children are away and she's no longer obligated to do her household duties.

The Old Soldier and The Old Convict can suffer from it, as can a Slave Race, a Servant Race, or a Cult Defector.

Related to Freedom from Choice, Happiness in Slavery, Hope Is Scary, Manchild, Quicksand Box, There's No Place Like Home, Just Got Out of Jail. Can be a consequence of Stockholm Syndrome. May be a factor in a soldier going From Camouflage to Criminal, if they turn to crime because they couldn't adjust to civilian life.

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Can be Truth in Television, though real life examples are often far more complex than how it's usually shown in fiction. See more on The Other Wiki here.


Examples:

Anime and Manga

  • In Kemono Jihen, Kabane was used by his Evil Aunt as free labor and constantly made to do tasks, rather than do things like go to school or hang out with others his age. By the time he's thirteen (he thinks), he's so unused to the idea of having his own free time that he stares at a wall and waits for instructions when there's nothing to do at Inugami's office.
  • In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Kanao was sold as a slave from a very young age, which turned her into an Emotionless Girl who will not do anything unless told to. Even after she was freed and became a hunter, if she received no orders, she would rely on a coin toss to decide her actions. It took Tanjirou's intervention for her heart to start opening up again.
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  • One Piece invokes the trope via flashbacks. For three years after Koala's liberation back when she was a child, she retained a fake smile at all times, as slaves who cried were immediately killed. Even when Fisher Tiger broke that facade down and Koala spent a genuinely happy couple of days with the Sun Pirates, she'd relapse into her slave behavior every now and then; something Aladine, a former slave himself, could relate to. The story doesn't elaborate further, but it implies that it took Koala some more time to fully recover, though she became a genuine Perpetual Smiler by the time she returns in the present.

Comic Books

  • In the Astro City story "The Tarnished Angel", Steeljack agrees to investigate the deaths of small-time criminals simply because, as a recent parolee, he's got way too much time on his hands and can't think of any other way to fill it.
  • Kingdom Come: Played for Drama. At some point during the other heroes' retirement, Orion finally defeated and killed his monstrous father. However, when he attempted to free the enslaved population of Apokolips, the people long since broken by Darkseid's tyranny couldn't handle the concept. As such, they forced Orion to become their new dictator, and overall nothing has changed. The experience has effectively broken Orion, who refuses to help Superman and wonders if all sons are doomed to become their fathers.
  • Wonder Woman (1942): Hypnota brainwashed the victims she sold to Eviless to be sold as slaves in the Saturnian Empire so that they're docile, obedient and utterly terrified of the idea of escaping slavery. When the Emperor outlaws the abduction and owning of humans as slaves these victims beg to be enslaved again as the Mind Rape Hypnota had subjected them to ensures they do not know how to survive without being subject to the orders of a master.

Comic Strips

  • In Garfield, Garfield himself tried liberating animals from a pet store but they were all too timid to leave their cages, and were relieved when Garfield locked them back in after he saw how unhappy they were.

Fanfic

  • In the Fairy Tail fanfic Singularity, after being locked up in a lab for eight years, Lucy isn't used to the new freedom she now has aboard the ship she has been hidden away on. Only some coaxing from Natsu and Erza gets her to leave her room, even then she is rather timid.
  • In The First Flame Alchemist, after Mustang's time in Ishval is over and after he spent most of his childhood as a tortured lab experiment to create the perfect soldier, he doesn't adjust well to a life with a desk job. One time when Hughes didn't take him home in the evening, Mustang sat on some steps all night, waiting for orders.
  • In Freedom's Limits, the slaves freed from Mordor following the destruction of the One Ring have known nothing but slavery all their lives, sometimes over multiple generations. As a result, they don’t even understand what it means to be 'free' and wonder if Aragorn is supposed to be their new master. The same goes for the orcs, who were also slaves under Sauron. Madavi and several other former slaves end up going to work as farmhands and servants because they have nowhere else to go and know no other life than serving people; Madavi slowly begins to grasp what freedom means but she still can't quite figure out where the boundaries of freedom are drawn and why (hence the title of the fic) and comes off as very submissive to others at times. The orcs aren't so lucky; Men are not willing to forgive them for the atrocities of the War of the Ring, resulting in orcs turning to raiding human settlements to survive because they know nothing else.
  • Traitor's Face: After spending her entire childhood in a small cage, Katara often feels unsafe in new surroundings after being freed. Bloodbending helps her to get over this fear, though.

Film

  • In The Shawshank Redemption, Brooks hangs himself because he can no longer cope with freedom after 50 years in prison.
  • In Back to the Future, Marty's uncle "Jailbird Joey" is more comfortable as a toddler confined in his playpen; Marty tells him, "Better get used to these bars."
  • In Death Race, Coach did not want to leave the prison isle, not because used to be free but he doesn't have any places to go.
  • After Harriet escapes to the free North, her bewilderment and culture shock is clearly portrayed. Luckily, she's able to access a solid support network for refugees from slavery, and quickly finds her feet.
  • In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar is committed to an ape sanctuary (which is just like prison to him) that stores other common chimpanzees in addition to bonobos, orangutans and one gorilla. Caesar desperately wants to break free, but then gets to know the other apes and when Will buys his freedom, Caesar chooses not to go with Will. Following Will's departure, Caesar helps the rest of the apes escape (since he doesn't want to be freed until all apes are free), and the rest of the film follows them battling the San Francisco police to attain their freedom.
  • In War for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar and his tribe of apes are ultimately enslaved by a human militia called Alpha-Omega that uses other apes who aren't used to being free outside of a zoo to enforce and whip the enslaved apes into submission for labor.
  • Greenfingers: Colin has been in prison for 15 years; since he was 17. After Colin is paroled, he pulls a Get into Jail Free in order to get sent back to prison:
    Fergus Wilks: [Waking up and seeing the flower on the nightstand, then seeing Colin] What's that old thing doing back here?
    Colin: It wasn't ready for the outside world.

Literature

  • In East of Eden, Adam Walsh speaks about his experience in the military, saying he grumbled during service but that, when his time came to the end, he reenlisted for a further four years.
  • The final chapter of The Mental State partly deals with the main character's return to society after his stint in prison. As a result of his overuse of underhanded and ruthless tactics to achieve his ambitions results in him feeling bereft upon being released. He no longer has the recognition, respect, challenge or drive he had while behind bars and frequently visits the prison to see how everyone else is coping since his departure. Luckily, he is able to reconnect with his lost love, suggesting that there may still be hope for his future.
  • Mitch Tobin: The 3rd book takes place at a halfway house of sorts, easing recently discharged mental patients back into society. Many of them seem apprehensive, or outright not ready and one has spent years hiding in the attic and just mingling with newcomers who don't know he doesn't belong there due to having nowhere else to go and having developed an attachment to the place.
  • A big part of the Arkady Renko books Red Square and Wolves Eat Dogs is dealing with the relative anarchy and lawlessness of Yeltsin-era Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
  • In the short story "A Model Life", James finds himself bored and maladjusted to everyday life after retiring from being a cop. It reaches the point where he tries to use his gun just to blow off steam.
  • In Time Enough for Love, Lazarus recounts a story of buying a pair of young slaves and immediately freeing them. Trouble was, it didn't make them free in their minds. They knew slaves were sometimes freed by their owners, but it was normally a gesture for old, loyal slaves who just stayed where they were and maybe got paid a little. Lazarus took them along on his trading trip and slowly taught them to be self-sufficient.

Live-Action TV

  • In the Proven Innocent episode "The Struggle for Stonewall", client-of-the-week Cindy initially declines to Madeline's offer to re-open her case, as she has no idea what she would do if she were free.
  • Discussed in an episode of Burn Notice where Michael poses as an ex-con. Part of his act is constantly asking his prospective boss for permission to do things, as ex-cons have gotten used to not having liberties.
  • Comes up in Orange Is the New Black. Taystee gets paroled, but has difficulty on the outside, and quickly gets herself sent back to Litchfield. She remarks that at least in prison, she understands how things work.
  • The Borg of Star Trek expand their collective by "assimilating" people into their hive mind, effectively wiping out their individual identities. While those rescued quickly can usually recover, long-term drones separated from the collective will struggle to adapt.
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "I, Borg", the Enterprise rescues a Borg drone from a crashed ship. His first few interactions with the crew involve telling them that they will be assimilated, and he struggles to understand why people find this so distasteful. Even when he begins to develop an individual identity, it's all based on his life in the moment; he never indicates that he remembers who he was prior to being assimilated.
    • In the Star Trek: Voyager Season 4 premiere, the Voyager crew encounters a Borg drone who had been human. She is not at all happy to be "liberated" from the collective. In subsequent episodes, she begins to accept herself as an individual, but she still retains elements of the Borg, as exemplified by her decision to continue using her Borg designation rather than going back to her human name. The fact that she was assimilated as a young child and literally grew up Borg probably plays a role in this. It's later revealed that at one point, she and three other drones were cut off from the collective and their individuality began to surface, but while the others tried to reclaim their former selves, Seven was frightened by individuality, and assimilated them into a sort of mini-hive mind until they were eventually able to rejoin the collective.

Music

  • In Savage Garden's song "The Lover After Me":
    So this is my new freedom/It's funny, I don't remember being chained
    And nothing seems to make sense anymore/Without you, I'm always twenty minutes late

Video Game

  • Dragon Age: The qunari are a culture that puts heavy emphasis on everything in society fulfilling a purpose to its utmost. People born, trained or converted into this philosophy have absolutely no freedom or say in the matter. People who defect from the Qun are called Tal-Vashoth and are considered dangerous animals. This is mostly because their previous lives were so rigid that they never developed skills in any area other than the one they were assigned; an ex-qunari soldier knows how to fight and nothing else.

Web Video

  • The Cry of Mann: Jouglat preferred the warr, and openly regretted even coming back home; he found it too quiet and hated not having anything to do, and eventually decided to just pack his bags and leave again.

Western Animation

  • In the Dexter's Laboratory episode "Critical Gas", Dexter believes he's going to die, and one of the things he does is tell his robots that they are free. They have no idea what he's talking about, and so just stand in place until Dexter demands that they "be free" and leave. They do slowly start to get the concept right before getting run over by a truck.
  • Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness: Master Yao has been sealed inside a wooden box for over sixty years, and is extremely energetic and excited about the outside world when let out for the first time.
  • In The Loud House episode "Frog Wild", Lincoln and his sister Lana set some frogs free, but then realize that they don't know how to defend themselves against predators because they were bred in captivity.
  • Penguins of Madagascar: Whenever Marlene, who was born in captivity, steps one foot outside the zoo walls she becomes a feral, mindless snarling beast that's incapable of reason.
  • In Rio, Blu the parrot is let out of his cage. He greatly misses the cage and doesn't know how to stay safe.
  • In Rango, Rango the lizard lives in a box but then is forced to live in the desert. He has trouble both fitting in and even staying alive.
  • The Simpsons: One episode has Bart stuck in a giant hamster ball for a while. After he's released from it, he becomes agoraphobic.
    • Another episode has Homer accidentally breaking open an ant farm on a space station. As the ants drift about in zero gravity, pulled away from their ant farm, one of them yells:
    Ant: Freedom! Horrible, horrible freedom!
  • This happen on the series finale of Superman: The Animated Series. After Superman finally defeats Darkseid, he leaves him at the mercy of the slaves he ruled over. Instead, they help Darkseid, showing they were too broken and only knew of being ruled by Darkseid.

Real Life

  • There's plenty of cases of former prisoners committing crimes to return to prison, such as here and here.
  • Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was famously kidnapped and held hostage for eighteen years, wrote in her memoir about her captivity that upon escaping from her captors she had to get used to be able to make her own decisions and work on being more assertive.
  • Despite slavery being abolished in 1865, many slaves chose to stay on the plantations they worked on since they didn't know what life was like elsewhere.
  • This can happen as the result of a Shoo the Dog scenario with an animal that is normally wild. Indeed, this is the reason why forest rangers often ban feeding wild animals.
  • In 1994, Oklahoma prison warden's wife Bobbi Parker was abducted by inmate Randolph Dial. When she was rescued and returned to her husband in 2005, her husband noted how timid she was and how she would ask him permission for everything—using the bathroom, eating or drinking, even leaving the room.
  • In a less depressing case, but affecting more people, players used to Japanese Role Playing Games, which are by nature relatively linear, with a pre-defined order to where you go, preset characters, and a single tightly-written story, often get confused when they play Western Role Playing Games where there is normally a focus on open-world gameplay, customizable characters, and decisions that affect how the story moves forward. In other words, most Japanese RPGs are designed to tell you a story; most Western RPGs are designed for you to make your own story. This is a popular theory as to why the Mass Effect games, which are the genre's epitome of choice-based gameplay, failed to catch on in Japan: The games give a lot of choices from the start, but it's interpreted instead as poorly-written challenges for you to figure out the right decision.


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