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Pavlov's Dog or Thorndike’s cat?

Emotional Abuse • How did this happen?

These types of relationships so hard to heal from, but why?

The damage caused, puts you into a state of confusion, you had no idea the abuse was taking place; and like Chinese water torture, it happened very slowly and it turned you insane!

I wrote a short post for a Divorce Consultant who was talking about the Sally Challen re-trial following the new law Coercive Control. She was putting out an invitation to any therapist reading her newsletter to write a guest blog to help others understand why Sally Challen couldn’t leave…

The only person who really knows why Sally Challen couldn’t leave is her and you can read the Guardian story on her here.

There could be many reasons and the marriage sounded horrific, but why would she not walk away? It appears she had family that wasn’t in favour of her marrying Richard Challen; towards the end of the article it says ‘not one family member, friend or neighbour I spoke to had anything positive to say about him’.

It is really hard to understand how hard it is to leave this type of relationship if you have never experienced it.

The level the abusers go to ensnare their victims is shocking.

I believe the abusers are really insecure people themselves and in an attempt to make themselves feel in control of their own lives and their fragile sense of self, they take over other people's lives. If they aren’t deemed to be in control of that person they reject them.

I do not know what the childhoods were like for either of them, apart from knowing Sally’s father died when she was 6 years old and her mother believed that college or university was not for women.

And in the article, their marriage is described as ‘very old fashioned’.

So the question was why is it so hard to leave.

As I said you have to have experienced this to understand but I will try and explain.

In the post, I used Pavlov’s Dog as an attempt to help people understand these invisible ties.

Oxytocin plays a role in this as does that Cycle of Abuse.

The Cycle of Abuse runs IdealisationDevaluationDiscard - a more in-depth explanation can be found in my articles on Thrive Global.

During the Idealisation stage the victim receives hits of Oxytocin, which is a bonding hormone, it is important to remember we all get the hormone at the start of a relationship or when bonding with someone, however in the cycle of abuse this is a constant feed of this hormone.

In these the relationships the abuser has put themselves in the place of caregiver, they have possibly isolated the victim from their family and friends or the victim may have done this themselves, knowing on some level that the relationship isn’t healthy, this is probably at the point that they started to protect the relationship rather than themselves.

When our security is threatened we turn to our caregiver for protection, in this case, Sally’s caregiver is Richard who is also her abuser.

With Sally, she will have received a cycle of being love bombed, followed by devaluation and then discard and back to the love bombing. Once the victim is more interested in protecting the relationship than they are themselves the abuser tests this by using little putdowns, if the victim asserts themselves they may hear ‘I was only joking’ or ‘you are too sensitive’ and they are taken back to the idealisation stage, this is trauma bonding.

In the blog, I used Pavlov's Dog as an example.

A few times this had come to me, at the end of a very unhealthy relationship I was compared to Pavlov’s dog… The ringing of my mobile would have me running to answer it.

I remember thinking about it and how at the beginning of the relationship I was questioned where I was or why I hadn’t answered his phone call or responded to his text message. I remembered how, when I got my new phone I changed the ring tone for his number so I knew he was ringing or texting me. And the realisation hit me, I had been trained to respond, at the time I do remember registering the comment but my brain was so fried, I had no response.

Pavlov's Dog or Thorndike’s Cat?

Ivan Pavlov was studying how saliva was produce in dogs, and during the tests, he discovered that the dogs were salivating before the food was given to them. He then experimented with a bell and he also discovered the dogs salivated when they heard the footsteps of the lab assistant.

Around the same time, Edward Thorndike was observing the behaviour of cats in his puzzle boxes. Thorndike was discovering that the cat's behaviours were strengthened by experiences of success or failure. He tested this by repeatedly placing cats in a box, which allowed one way out when the cat performed a certain behaviour. His results showed that the cats eventually stumbled onto the correct behaviour and were released. Over subsequent trails the cats became faster at performing the correct procedure, Thorndike called this learning from trial and error.

Then BF Skinner who worked with pigeons teaching them to recognise words for rewards of food proposed that both Pavlov and Thorndike studied, stimulus-response learning. Which he defined as behaviours elicited by a stimulus or respondent behaviours.

John B. Watson was credited with establishing the school of Behaviourism, which maintained that human behaviour could be completely explained in terms of reflexes, stimulus-response behaviours and the effects of reinforcers upon them.

So the question is why Sally was so attached and couldn’t leave the relationship.

She did leave, but she very possibly had been trained or taught during her relationship and 31 years of marriage, how to behave. She would have been receiving the mixed messages from her caregiver who was supposed to be there to protect her and who was also the abuser, confusing the brain.

She was told she was an alcoholic and she was crazy. She also knew her husband was visiting a brothel.

As soon as she returned to work, her husband withdrew from paying the bills and bought himself cars and watches.

She grew up without a father and a mother who believed a woman’s place was in the home bringing up the children.

The subtle abuse that goes on in these types of relationships happens over a long period of time, you often have no idea it is taking place.

When Sally Challen left the relationship she very probably felt very lonely and very afraid. She had spent years being told by Richard what to do and how to behave, she was probably lost and I know this is hard to believe, but it was probably more painful for her out of the relationship than the pain and abuse she would have received in it.

There are so many terms that describe what happens in an emotionally abusive relationship and describe some of the behaviours.

The mask the abuser wears, to disguise who they really are, can only be held up for so long before they show their true colours. Other people saw the man behind the mask and in truth, I believe Sally did as well, but she was possibly so traumatised by his behaviour she was too afraid to leave earlier.

The question was why didn’t Sally Challen leave, it could have been all of the above or just a few… I haven't even touched on cognitive dissonance or gaslighting...

The pattern is the same, each story is different.

Personally, I don’t really know, she could possibly tell you and I really hope she gets that chance.

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