Beating It Back

Random Reinforcement

Waiting for me to get up. Copyright Debi Adams 2022

When you are training a dog, or in my case, a person, there are a variety of reinforcement techniques you can use.

You can reward the dog, (or me as a child), every time they do something. With this, the dog, (or me as a child), learns the behavior quickly. If you stop giving the reward, however, the behavior stops quickly, as well.

You could also reward intermittently. Perhaps every third time or every half hour. This creates a more robust behavior. The dog, (or me as a child), could eventually get wise to your “trick”, and only respond when he (or me as a child) knew there was going to be a reward.

The greatest reinforcement pattern, a variation of intermittently, is random. Because the dog, (or me as a child), never knows when the reward is coming, they need to respond every time.

My father used the last of these. His love and approval were highly erratic. What worked one day could fall on deaf ears the next. When something worked, I would do it repeatedly, even if there were days or weeks between the approval.

They (the adults that my father left us in the day-to-day care of after he abducted my sister and me) also rewarded randomly. With them, the reward was freedom from their abuse. That was why, after I was raped, I started to initiate sex play. It allowed me to Feel in charge. They were amused, and sometimes they lost interest.

For them, the fun was in my pain. If I took away that reward for them, I was more likely to be safe.

As you might expect, it strongly bonded me to my father. It also made me feel l was just like Them, dirty and evil.

My father started my indoctrination early. It started with his suicide attempt when I was 4-5. I was the only one in the house with him. He changed his mind (or perhaps it was a ploy to begin with) and called for me. I dragged him out of the tub and jumped up and down on his chest, per his instructions.

He was alternately trying to fix me and giving me an exaggerated sense of my own abilities. All I really knew was that my mother frightened me (in part because he told me she didn’t want me). My father may have been giving love erratically, but he was giving love. Or, at least, what I thought was love.

The abduction mentioned above happened on my 9th birthday. We were on a visitation. Just before it was time to go home, I told him I didn’t want to. A typical thing for a child to say to her non-custodial parent. His response nearly stopped my heart. He told me he hadn’t planned on that, and it would be inconvenient for him, but since I had asked, he would find a way.

Because of this, I felt everything that happened in the following 6 months was my responsibility. Every thing They put us through.

If we fast forward to when I was 23, I met my ex-husband in a mental ward. The following 12 years were a haze of random reinforcement. By slow steps, he pushed the envelope of what I would stand for sexually.

He was hypersexual. Most days, we would have sex 2-4 times. On top of that, he would masturbate. Every single day. Before too long, this was not enough. For a while, we had an open relationship. Which meant he slept with other women. Although I had veto power, it turned out I really didn’t. At one point, I asked him what he would do if I wanted to stop. He said he would probably keep doing it. At that moment, I knew he had me trapped.

All I knew for sure was I needed him to survive.

Those tiny steps lead us, eventually, to a swing group. We spent several years with them as our main social outlet.

The swinging held a perverse attraction for me. I tolerated the sex because I loved the people. The sexually charged atmosphere felt so familiar. Once again, I fancied I had control.

When we finally reached the end of our marriage, I stumbled around for several years, trying to find a career that felt meaningful. Eventually, life felt blah, and I felt useless.

That ended with me spending a summer in outpatient psychiatric programs. That put me on the path I am on today.

Now, I supply my reinforcement. Some things I reinforce randomly, like staying on my eating program and not binging. Others, I reinforce intermittently. I might buy a new subliminal recording or piece of clothing for keeping up on my writing for a set number of days. I reinforce every time for thoughts of self-harm. There is no way that will ever get a foothold in my life again.

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