Loyalty is the pledge of truth to oneself and others. – Ada Velez-Boardley
Unquestionably, loyalty is a character virtue we all want people to ascribe to us. Who doesn’t drop a comment about being “a loyal employee” in a job interview? We want it visible.
We are attracted to people who demonstrate loyalty. An accusation of being disloyal is a major affront for most of us. The trait itself does not distinguish whether our loyalty will be viewed as honorable or dishonorable by others. After all, someone had to be pretty loyal to Bernard Madoff to keep his ponzi scheme hidden; the old “honor among thieves” kind of loyalty.
Paradoxically, our “invisible loyalties” can both help in developing resiliency in life and also keep us stuck in old patterns. An innocuous example of invisible loyalty is the brand preference that every marketer seeks to develop in us toward their brand.
We find ourselves going to the same stores and making repeat purchases without even being aware of the invisible loyalties we’ve developed. Try bringing home a different brand from the store and see what kind of explaining is needed.
Loyalty to people with significant influence in our life – parents, grandparents, coaches, teachers, etc. – may help us keep a dream alive and persist though to achieving it. That the storyline of so many autobiographies and the inspiration for films – the promise to a dying parent, the stuff of true love, and the hope every family has to see the next generation more “successful” than they were.
But it is also true that invisible loyalty may keep us stuck, pursuing a life course many of those same influencers “expected” even when it is not our passion nor a match to our skill set. The idea of changing major life choices can bring up powerful shame-feelings of being disloyal to them or that it would “break their heart” – so we keep going without heart.
We may have powerful invisible loyalties to decisions we made at earlier, less mature stages of our life. There are many people who experienced painful family relationships and at a young age made a promise to themselves, “When I grow I will never be like my [father or mother]!
Amazingly, many people can remember the exact age when that became their life-contract. Unfortunately, the only way to achieve that is to live a perfect life, never get angry, always have money to pay the bills and avoid all stress. Since that is impossible, they often act in ways that are disloyal to their commitment, feel like a failure and then renew the promise again.
It becomes a defeating cycle that gives power to the very people they dislike most. It is important to know that keeping focused on what we’re not going to be like we have to hold that negative image close. It’s like someone saying, “Don’t you dare think of a purple elephant!” and you can’t not picture it.
Becoming aware of our “invisible loyalties” is an important part of taking a healthy self-inventory. Here are six questions to ask yourself about invisible loyalties that might indicate the presence of unconscious limitations on your life. Remember, not all invisible loyalties are life-taking; many may be life-giving.
- Whom would you fear/dread disappointing if you made a major life change (vocation, moving a significant distance away, etc.)?
- Whose approval do you feel you are you still missing?
- Where are you not “moving on” because it would feel disloyal to a mentor-figure?
- Would you feel disloyal if you set healthy boundaries in relationships that are more life-taking than life-giving?
- Whom/what did you promise yourself to never be like or to avoid experiencing yet you struggle to live that promise successfully?
- What growth opportunities have you passes up because you sensed it might jeopardize peer or social relationships?