Exiting the cage...

I hear a story about a behavioral experiment that was conducted in a lab:

There is a dog in a cage. Scientists rig one side of the cage so that every time the dog goes to that side of the cage she will get an electrical shock.

Soon enough, the dog learns to stay on the other side of the cage.

Within a few weeks, the scientists re-wire the cage so that she’ll get shocked on the side she was conditioned to stay on pain-free. As predicted, the dog learns to lay down on the opposite, formerly electrified side of the cage.

After a time the scientists rig the entire cage so that no matter where the dog lays down, she will receive an electrical shock. At first, the dog paces around madly. Tries again and again to find a place with no pain. Eventually, the dog learns to put up with the shocks and lays down anyhow. Gives up trying to be comfortable and becomes zombie like. The dog no longer behaves like a dog, but more like a wounded ghost.

The scientists open the cage and get the biggest surprise of all. The dog does not rush toward the door. The dog stays inside the cage. She has been conditioned to the pain of her “home.” She has been shocked into submission.

When I hear this story (in a movie I watch last night), I shudder. I cannot stop thinking about it. It is painfully familiar...

Conditioning. What we learn and try to re-learn. Make adjustments and then re-learn again. If it hurts when we do this, then we do that. It is when it still hurts no matter what we do that we must pay attention.

When I was with the disordered one the rules were constantly changing. I never knew which side of the cage would give me a shock. I was always changing my behavior based on avoiding a shock, but eventually, the entire cage was electrified. There was pain everywhere and I somehow learned to live with it, expect it almost. It was killing me and destroying who I was, so I became a zombie in order to endure. A ghost...

He opened the door time and again through a variety of very clever and subtle D & Ds. Shocked though I was, I did not exit the cage. I had grown accustomed to the environment, believed I “needed to stay” to fix things, to make it comfortable no matter how much it hurt. I could no longer recognize myself, nor anything remotely good. I came to expect more pain, and that’s exactly what I got.

It wasn’t until I absolutely had no choice but to abandon the cage that I somehow found the strength and courage to do so. It was truly a matter of survival.

Exiting the cage has brought me back to life. Exiting the cage restored my true nature, my instincts, my spirit, my joy.

What is the moral here?

Leave the cage when the first shocks begin. There is no safety zone when you’re involved with a mad scientist who comes into your life disguised as your “soul mate.” Love does not equal pain! Walking around and around the cage on tiptoes won’t help. You’ll get shocked over and over and over again.


Conditioning isn’t rocket science and mad scientists count on their abilities to condition us through THEIR BEHAVIOR to put up with the pain. Catching you off guard, keeping you off kilter, hyper-vigilant and always anxious is the goal, for it guarantees the optimal results in their twisted world of confusion.

Conditioning is based on behavior/response. I now know that if I behave in a way that HONORS MYSELF first, I receive the reward of peace of mind, self-esteem, and joy and awe at the wonders of living. Life without pain! Freedom from confusion! Conditioned response, re-learned in the light.

The truth is pretty simple. Love does not equal pain.


November 8, 2013 - 6:55am


What an accurate analogy..

Its funny, because for the past 3 out of the 4 years I was on again/off again with XN the only way i could describe my 'numb' reactions to the numerous D&D to those looking on was like this.

its like Im a Boxing Fighter. At first the punches(Emotional Abuse) in the stomach cripple me with pain because i have no abdominal muscles. But with each punch, the stronger and harder my abs become because i know what is coming. it still hurts but i could feel it coming and braced for the impact.

Rather than getting out of the ring (exiting the cage), i just braced myself for the next blow ( "The dog does not rush toward the door. The dog stays inside the cage. She has been conditioned to the pain of her “home.” She has been shocked into submission.")

This post was so hard to read. It made me want to rescue the poor dog, until i realised.......

i am the dog.


March 21, 2013 - 5:31pm

How your words resonate (not)

How your words resonate (not) spinning.Again.Maybe 4 years ago somebody said to me "you wouldn't treat a dog how he treats you".It didn't sink in.Zombie like.I WAS that trained dog.NOW I can see.Funnily(not)enough he has now got a dog(after despising my dog when we were together).Of course,pedigree,paid more than he does 2 months maintenance for our kids but hey .. it obeys,gives unconditional love,doesn't question,sits waiting gratefully for it's masters return etc... lol.

Thank you(not)spinning.I'm not a dog.I left him to protect my kids,but still didn't really leave the cage. Now I have.

Thank you for the time and effort you put into this.x

August 2, 2012 - 9:57am

I am just now reading this,

I am just now reading this, but crying like crazy. I was so a dog in a cage. That describes the last ten years of my life to a tee. Thank you so much for posting this. It showed me that even though I hurt like a son of a bitch i got out of that cage didnt I? So now I dont have to be shocked anymore.

Thank you so much, you have no idea how much I thank you for this.

May 25, 2012 - 3:27pm

This is remarkable insight,

This is remarkable insight, spinning. I cringe thinking of that poor dog, but conditioning...yes. It makes so much sense. Thank you for taking the time to post this!

April 8, 2012 - 1:32am

This is an amazing way of

This is an amazing way of looking at this entire experience. Very cool Spinning! Very cool! Thanks so much for sharing this story!

April 7, 2012 - 3:33pm


Well said, Spinning! You really help us understand how we become brainwashed and conditioned by the narcissist. We have to get real, wake up and heal in order to get well. We owe it to ourselves!

I especially love this..."I now know that if I behave in a way that HONORS MYSELF first, I receive the reward of peace of mind, self-esteem, and joy and awe at the wonders of living."


April 5, 2012 - 9:57pm

Beautifully written Sparrow

when nothing you do is right it drains the life out of your soul. that is the lesson of my marriage to a Narc. When not one thing is ever about your partner wanting you to be truly happy or safe or secure as opposed to giving them praise/credit/adulation . . .doom is in the air.

April 5, 2012 - 4:21pm

Spinning, this is so

Spinning, this is so incredibly true..and sad when you think about it..

So many of us, were conditioned to this "behaviour/answer" behaviour in our dysfunctional families..we were forced to. We HAD to learn, to "fix", to adapt somehow, to "transform" Pain into something Comfortable!..

How wrong, isn`t it?.. That`s why so many of us here are either codependents or caretakers, or people-pleasers, for so long, like being "programmed" against their will.

We want to change, what we cannot change. We want to fix what cannot be fixed. And, we want to make COMFORT from Pain. Because we were thought, to find comfort in so much pain, in our cage.

Like the dog in your story, even if somebody opens the gate, or even throws us out, we stand there loyal, confused, and "faithful", crying in front of our cage. No matter how much it hurts..

Then we didn`t have a choice. Now we do. We have to get out from the cage, and stay away from it.

We can`t make pain "comfortable". Just as we cannot fix a Narcisist and turn him into something Human. Pain is pain, no matter how we look at it, or try to cover it with something pink.

Love the post, thank you. It helped me.


April 3, 2012 - 10:20pm

The cage

Excellent post Spinning!!!! I read about a similar study wherein the dog was sometimes rewarded with food and sometimes not or alternatively sometimes a shock! "Intermittent Reinforcement" was the term given. What an awful yet powerful way to condition.
I am glad you found the strength to exit the cage as did I. Never again! Love does not equal pain. Uggh what a hard fought lesson we have all received at the hands of these monsters. XX, Rose

March 31, 2012 - 3:18pm

id love to get hold of those

id love to get hold of those scientists and wire their balls to that cage.

yes our survival instinct overrides our desrire to escape the pain. eventually the dog will escape as we have.

March 31, 2012 - 2:45pm
florence (not verified)
Anonymous's picture

Thank you Spinning

Yes it is a cage isn't it? And in the end we are like unwilling helpers, reinforcing the cage in order to retain some kind of 'normality', but that is so far from reality. Here we can share reality. Thank gawd for that, eh? Flummoxed flo xxx

March 31, 2012 - 2:35pm

way with the word...

...definitely have a way with words my friend.

so very true.



March 31, 2012 - 2:25pm

Thanks for writing this

Thanks for writing this blog... it's so true!!!!

March 31, 2012 - 7:02am


Like it!

March 30, 2012 - 2:33am

Thanks for this Spinning,

Thanks for this Spinning, what a great blog post!! xoxo

Journey on...

March 29, 2012 - 6:53pm

This is brilliant.


Thank you for writing this.

I was SO criticized for being "hyper-vigilant". I was criticized for being zombie-like. I was criticized and drugged. I was not literally caged, but caged none the less. He continues to criticize. I am out of the cage. He continues to attack. What has changed is, I've learned to identify Baiting. I've listened to you all, and read enough to know that I should not engage with the monster ever, nor should I engage with his proxies. I see the bait - I do not take it. I do not engage. He's really ramped up with the use of proxies, since I went LC.

My question for you -- when will the conditioning fade completely? When will I be myself again? How long is this going to take? I found this site Jan 1st. I'm full-time working on recovery. I know it's probably an impossible question.


March 29, 2012 - 6:21pm

Pretty much NAILS it

doesn't it? Thank you Spinning.....brilliant & thought-provoking as usual!

March 29, 2012 - 5:12pm

This post

Fantastic, Spinning!

March 29, 2012 - 1:54pm

Great Post

I needed this today, as I woke up with wanting to contact the ex-narc, or biker guy. I'm so condition to the pain, I think it's normal, yuk!!! Love does not equal pain, I so need this embedded in my soul. Thanks Spining for the great post.

March 29, 2012 - 12:27pm

Awesome as usual.. Hunter

Awesome as usual..


March 29, 2012 - 12:27pm


Upsetting to read because I saw myself in this.

I needed to read this though, the truth is still the truth, whether I choose to look at it or not.

love~ Layla

March 29, 2012 - 8:28pm (Reply to #1)

Me too- I cried and still

Me too- I cried and still am... A painful to read but excellent example.

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