Breaking a Cycle: Familiar Captivity Versus Unfamiliar Freedom

Have you ever realized that something you are doing is a recurring cycle of very unproductive behavior, thought or effort?

Perhaps it’s a job, a relationship, a habit, or worse, some addiction, behavior or belief that keeps you from being the person you want to be?

You know who you think you are, but certain routines or comfort zones surround you making escape impossible. The ability to rise up to the next level stays just outside your reach.

You feel captive to the situation, but you like it.

Writer and theologian C.S. Lewis once wrote:

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“A familiar captivity is frequently more desirable than an unfamiliar freedom.

The Captivity

The obvious analogy to captivity is a prison. In 1994 the great movie Shawshank Redemption was released. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. The film is about a man named Anthony Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) who is wrongly convicted of murder and sent to Shawshank prison to wait out 2 life sentences.

Andy quickly learns that life inside the prison is a world of its own with codes and complexities that not only shape this world but also shape those who live in it long enough.

Dufresne got to know the other prisoners and their own resignation to the waiting. Survival in the community was based on accepting the fate that nothing would change.

Hope,” one veteran inmate told him when he first arrived, “Hope is a dangerous thing. It has no use on the inside.”

So those who lived on the inside just existed. They found their place in that world and expected nothing more. Their identities were based on their habits, how well they could manipulate the system and what you could offer to the other inmates.

Parole

Parole became a joke. However, for one prisoner, parole came up. After 50 years inside, he was being released.

When the old man found out about his parole, this gentle, meek elderly man grabbed his close friend and put a knife to his neck and threatened to kill him. The old man was so frightened of living free that he thought killing someone would let him stay inside.

After so much time on the inside, how could he learn to survive as a free man? Inside he had his own identity, he was an important man, a respected man – outside he was nothing. How could he survive?

Becoming Institutionalized About It

After that episode, Ellis “Red” Redding (played by Morgan Freeman) described this mindset as being “institutionalized.” Red explained, “I’m telling you, these walls are funny. First, you hate them, then you get used to them, enough time passes you get so you depend on them.”

The Big So-What

The Shawshank Principle shows us the familiarity of captivity versus an unfamiliar freedom. Once freedom was taken away from the convicted criminals, they found comfort inside the walls. The comfort became so profound, they could not imagine having freedom again.

Circumstances in our lives create for us familiar captivity. The routines we begin to follow day after day become a type of captivity. Your leadership style may be just a little too routine. To decide to change some part of the routine will seem like an awkward, strange idea.

Ask yourself whether you are allowing your current path to be your comfort zone. Has your view of the world become “institutionalized”?

Or can you do something different; something more significant? As you think through that challenge, realize your first reaction may be to be afraid of the unknown.

Though a new choice might be beautiful freedom of expression and accomplishment, you might be inclined to stay frozen where you are.

Make a pledge to try something new. Do the thing you’ve been avoiding.

As Andy Dufresne is quoted:

If you ain’t busy living, you better get busy dying.

Walk away from the familiarity of captivity and embrace the uncertainty of an unfamiliar freedom.

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Disclaimer: “The Shawshank Redemption” is a 1994 American drama film written and directed by Frank Darabont, based on the 1982 Stephen King novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.”

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