Exploiting Loyalty in Relationships


Children who are ignored or neglected create a misplaced loyalty towards their parent as a buffer against letting in the reality of the parent's emotional absence. The child ingeniously figures out how to distort reality by manufacturing a false loyalty.

It's a kind of placeholder in the child's developing mind which functions to simulate being in a reliable relationship with the parent. When the parent is emotionally checked-out and unavailable, the child's mind cannot let in this harsh reality; it's too frightening.

Therefore, the child internally overcompensates by manufacturing an imaginary closeness and connection with the emotionally unavailable parent. The child is learning how to be in relationship with an idealized version of the parent.

The child's mind assigns the idea of a meaningful connection via his or her own feelings of empathy.

This is how the child can comfort him or herself and not have to feel the fear and grief of consciously knowing that in reality the parent is disconnected. The child is manufacturing through his or her own empathy the reciprocal emotional exchange that is not taking place between parent and child.

The child's mind is filling in the blanks and imagining connection with the parent in those moments when emotional attunement and harmony are not actually there. This means the child is able to imagine how he or she "would like" the parent to behave, and then subconsciously substitute the imaginary interactions for real ones.

Children must do this in order for their developing mind to mature.

Unfortunately, the byproduct of this developmental overcompensation nurtures a false loyalty that the child takes into adulthood.

Once an adult, the person with this history will recreate the same relationship dynamic with others. He or she will take this "skill" of misplaced loyalty and apply it to all intimate relationships.

The misplaced loyalty then warps the ability to experience healthy allegiance towards a partner. When this happens, we will feel extreme loyalty and emotional connection towards a partner even though such a feeling is not merited or deserved; even when there is concrete evidence proving otherwise and exposing this reality distortion.

The adult who has been trained to misuse his or her empathy will fill in the blanks, overcompensate, and idealize relational interactions with intimate partners, yet be oblivious to the fact that the other person (similar to his or her parent) is emotionally absent.

This system of relating is how a person can be in a relationship for many years that for all practical purposes doesn't exist. It's a system sustained by exploiting one's own loyalty.

This is the byproduct and result of parents who emotionally ignore and neglect their children.

When applied to adult relating, the misplaced loyalty confuses allegiances and feigns commitment where commitment is either not merited or tenuous at best. The rationale behind this subconscious bait-and-switch comes from an assumption that to feel a depth of loyalty must then equal affirmation of a committed relationship.

That feeling is not reliable. It’s the false-loyalty that confuses one’s commitment to his or her partner and relationship. Misplaced loyalty becomes a function of denial.

When offering relationship coaching to clients, I like to assess the client’s ability to practice reality testing. Reality testing is the opposite of engaging in denial. It's the ability to look at the facts and data of a situation and not make assumptions. It’s the ability to see relational interactions at face value, including seeing one's self and partner clearly.

Strengthening reality testing counters the delusion of the misplaced loyalty dynamic.

This dynamic learned in childhood successfully shuts down our ability to take action. It trains us how to get stuck in unsatisfying relationships. We were never able to confront our emotionally unavailable parents or do anything about it. We were forced to endure being treated poorly.

Therefore as adults, when we strengthen the skill of reality testing we discover new-found choices in our clarity. We access our wherewithal as an inner resource and finally learn how to leave the less than nourishing relationships in our life.


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