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Not Used to Freedom

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The Outside World is overrated, anyway.
"These walls are funny. First, you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them."

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, a Cult Defector, or someone who Desires Prison Life.

Related to Freedom from Choice, Happiness in Slavery, Hope Is Scary, I Choose to Stay, Just Got Out of Jail, Manchild, Quicksand Box, and There's No Place Like Home. 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.

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.


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    Anime & 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 abused by her parents and 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 demon slayer, if she receives no orders, she initially relies on a coin toss to decide her actions. It takes Tanjirou's intervention for her heart to start opening up again and learn to make her own decisions.
  • 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.
  • Violet Evergarden: The titular Violet was a former Wild Child turned Child Soldier. Her first priority when she is able to write is to ask for her commander for orders. The first attempt to rehabilitate her fails due to her rejecting her foster family and desperate pleading for any orders from her beloved Major Gilbert, so she is given a job to help her cope.

    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 begged 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.
  • Batman: No Man's Land: in the early months of the anarchic post-Cataclysm Gotham City, Batman frees a group of civilians from Scarface, only to find that the people need leadership and protection to survive, and don't much care who it comes from. He is forced to become a "warlord" in his own right, even recruiting Scarface's lieutenants to act for him instead;
    • When Superman tries to intervene in No Man's Land, he helps to "liberate" the city's last functioning power plant from a crime lord, but is disappointed to see local residents lining up outside the plant to pay tribute to its foreman as their new "master"; Batman confesses that it took him much longer to absorb the lesson than it did Superman;
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: 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.

  • Animorphs fanworks:
    • It's mentioned in Dæmorphing that some Hork-Bajir are so accustomed to being controlled that being without masters scares them, and they have to be taught freedom.
    • This is a major theme in the Eleutherophobia series, whose title means "the fear of freedom". In The Day the Earth Stood Still, Tom takes a while to get used to moving on his own again, and keeps trying to mentally argue with a Yeerk that's no longer there.
  • 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 imprisoned in a small cage, Katara often feels unsafe in new surroundings after being freed. Bloodbending helps her to get over this fear, though.
  • Jayne Cobb is on the verge of it in the Firefly fic Salvage Mission when Mal buys his freedom after he was tortured by the Alliance and then sold as a slave. He’s way too docile compared to his usual self. He follows Mal’s prompts to come with him and board the shuttle, but has to be told to sit down. He thinks he’s Mal’s slave since Mal bought him and Mal has to remind him that he doesn’t go for that. Jayne is scared the crew sees him as a sellout despite Mal feeling indebted because Jayne’s actions kept everyone else from being captured. He’s also struggling with the lingering torture effects and the fact that he was used as a Breeding Slave for a while. He fears the crew will hate him if they know everything, despite Mal assuring him that they have missed him and want him back. He begs Mal to shoot him, thinking he can’t live in normal society again, but Mal won’t give up on him so easily.
  • In the Supernatural fanfic Maybe Sprout Wings: After being rescued from slavery by Castiel, Dean is confused and terrified when Castiel treats him as a houseguest and equal. Castiel has been warned about this, but he still has a hard time giving Dean the structure he was trained to need as a slave.
  • Discussed in Rise And Fall, in the story "Flicker." After Bo-Katan and the Mandalorians are sent to rescue Obi-Wan and co. from the Zygerrian slave empire... which she does by conquering Zygerria outright. Which leaves Man'dalor Jango Fett with an entire planet he has no idea what to do with, and the unenviable job of dismantling a society literally built on slave labor. While the recently enslaved can be set free with a ride back to their planets, the ones who've been enslaved for years will have much more trouble re-adjusting. The real challenge, however are the ones who were born into slavery and thus lack not only basic skills and knowledge about how to take care of themselves, they're completely unused to making their own decisions, much less surviving in the galaxy as independent beings. Luckily, he has Shmi to help him, who has some... experience in the area.

    Film — Animated 
  • 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.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In The Shawshank Redemption, Brooks hangs himself because he can no longer cope with freedom after 50 years in prison. Red also has a hard time adjusting to the society, but thankfully, Andy's there for him.
  • 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 Jackie Brown, Louis Gara (Robert De Niro) has cumulatively spent more than half his life behind bars, and consequently Quentin Tarantino's screenplay describes him thus:
    While acutely aware of the rhythm of life inside a correction facility, in the real world his timing is thrown. It's like a song he doesn't know the lyrics to but attempt to sing anyway.
  • 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.
  • In Some Guy Who Kills People, Sheriff Fuller asks Ben why he was willing to take the fall for crimes he hadn't committed, and Ben replies that everything on the outside is so confusing that being sent back to the asylum where there is order and routine seemed like a good option.
  • In Henry's Crime, Max is a Con Man who has grown far too comfortable with the familiarity and security of his "idyllic" life behind bars, to the extent that he deliberately screws up his parole hearings so he will not be released.

  • Breakfast of Champions:
    • Kilgore Trout, knowing he will be away from his apartment for a while, grants his pet canary "three wishes". First, he opens its cage. Then, he opens his apartment window. The canary steps out, and then immediately darts back in. Kilgore calls this "the best use of three wishes I've ever seen".
    • The "black jailbird" Wayne Hoobler has lived in prisons and other institutional homes for most of his 26-year-old life and doesn't really know what to do with it after being paroled.
  • 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.
  • The Discworld Thieves' Guild Diary has a section on the Guild of Lags, a group of people who voluntarily serve prison sentences on behalf of guild members because they prefer it to "the big prison outside"
  • In What a Bad Dream featuring Little Critter by Mercer Mayer, he has a dream where he turns into a bat-like monster version of himself and scares everyone away. He then lists off and enjoys all the freedom he has living on his own, but at one point misses being tucked in and read a story at bedtime. He grieves about these losses until he wakes up.
  • The Wheel of Time: Seanchan Damane (enslaved female channelers, e. g. sorceresses) mostly don't know what to do with themselves when freed since their life consists of nothing but being used like war animals. Once freed, they usually beg to be leashed again.
  • In one Doctor Who Expanded Universe story, the Third Doctor worries that he's become this, since his exile is over, but somehow, he's still on Earth hanging around with UNIT.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Barney Miller: Episode "The Prisoner" involves an old con who was paroled two weeks ago after serving thirty years. He deliberately violates his parole, by getting a gun, so he can go back. He explains that prison "changes you, molds you" and that after 30 years he simply can't make decisions for himself anymore.
  • Game of Thrones: Daenerys rendered many former slaves basically jobless by suddenly crucifying a good portion of the slave masters of Meereen, and they have troubles adjusting. It's illustrated by an old man who used to be the slave teacher of his master's children. In order to be better accepted as their new ruler, Daenerys also has to comply with some local traditions the former slaves don't want to see gone such as the Great Games in fighting pits, which she intended to suppress as they were a symbol of the slave masters.
  • 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 Rookie: A recently released felon holds up the lobby of the police station in order to get sent back to prison for life, unable to handle the freedom of the outside world.
  • After being released from The Slammer, Melvin sneaks back into prison because he misses his friends.
  • In Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Spartacus has to continually deal with this within the ranks of his rebellion, as many of the slaves have been so Conditioned to Accept Horror that they have trouble comprehending freedom. Oenomaus becomes outright suicidal and Nasir even tries to kill him. Spartacus is usually able to give them direction by channeling their despair into righteous anger towards the Romans, but this comes with its own set of problems.
  • Star Trek:
    • 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.note 
      • 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, Seven of Nine, rather than going back to her human name, Annika Hansen. 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.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In the episode "Hard Time" after being forced to experience 20 years in an Agrathi prison over the course of a few hours, Chief O'Brien has a very hard time readjusting to life outside and nearly commits suicide before Bashir talks him out of it.
  • In Season 6 of Supernatural, the angels are coming to terms with the fact that Heaven no longer has a strong leader in Michael and many don't know what to do when not given orders. Some, like Balthazar, become hedonists but most simply seek out leadership either from Castiel or Raphael.
  • Played for Laughs in one episode of Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, where Marian frees some prisoners from King John's dungeon, only for them to return, because the outside world is full of pain, misery, and listening to Steven the Wheelwright in the Afternoon.
  • Young Sheldon: In one episode where Sheldon goes to live with Dr. Sturgis, Mary is unable to adjust to her new schedule without having to parent Sheldon as all her family do is watch TV and read comics. Mary becomes so idle that she even warms up to her enemy Brenda Sparks and bakes her a pie.

  • 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 Games 
  • 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 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.

  • Spoofed in The Order of the Stick:
    Thog: thog wonders how thog will cope with life outside jailhouse walls. prison changed thog.
    Elan: We were only in there for 40 minutes.
    Thog: prison changed thog quickly.
  • Joe vs. Elan School: After Joe is finally released after three years at Élan, he spends most of his time hiding in his room, partly because he's afraid of everything outside and partly because he's completely unused to deciding for himself what he wants to do.

    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.
  • The Miraculous Ladybug character Adrien has no idea how to be a kid, because he's spent so long under the thumb of his exploitative father. After the latter is weakened by a terminal disease, Adrien has difficulty motivating himself to do things like clean his room, and stays at home a lot of the time. He gets used to it, however- especially the part where he can go out with girls.
  • The Penguins of Madagascar: Whenever Marlene, who was born in captivity, steps one foot outside the zoo walls she becomes a feral, snarling beast that's incapable of reason.
  • 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 
  • This is very often the case of former soldiers, especially in countries which follow conscription. It may take years for the former soldiers to adjust mentally back to civilian 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 the United States in 1865, many former 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 escaped 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.
  • Paul Geidel went to jail for murder in 1911 at the age of 17. 63 years later, he was offered parole, but he refused, since he had spent his entire adult life in prison. He eventually left prison in 1980 after 68 years and moved to a nursing home where he died seven years later.
  • 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.
  • While they have generally welcomed the freedom to travel abroad, start their own business or study at a school of their choosing (with things such as government-mandated workplace assignment (often to a backwater place) being common practice during the regime), some people from former Commie Land sometimes feel overwhelmed with the amount of choice(s) the younger generation has to make for themselves.