The stigma of disloyalty
The other day, I asked a client of mine if she was loyal.
She looked at me, horrified. “Of course!” she said to me, half surprised and half indignant that I’d even asked – as if she’d be anything else!
“Yes,” I replied, “and that’s the problem.”
You see, there’s an unwritten law in society – the Law of Loyalty.
You’re expected to be loyal to your family, your culture and even society. But the biggest one is family.
“Blood is thicker than water,” we hear. “They’re your brother/sister/mother/father. You HAVE to forgive them/get along with them/etc.”
If you don’t – or can’t – get along, there’s a real stigma attached to stepping away from your family.
And that’s especially true if you choose to step away from your mother, regardless of her behaviour.
It begins with wanting to be a ‘good girl’
Sometimes, if our families are abusive and unsupportive, we can justify stepping away by telling ourselves that we don’t want to be like them. Even in those situations, though, you may have to fight the conditioning you grew up with – society expects family loyalty above all else.
But what if your family AREN’T awful people? What if they’re not perfect, but they love you and you love them? What if you don’t want to hurt or betray them?
Well, then it’s even harder.
Because going against their wishes and expectations can feel ‘disloyal’. And nobody likes to think of themselves as disloyal.
Being ‘disloyal’ makes you a ‘bad’ person. It means you’re not a ‘good girl’ – and our society constantly rewards women who show up as good girls.
Being a good girl has likely earned you love, praise and recognition from the people around you. But those rewards come with a cost.
They often come from prioritising other people over yourself. They come from avoiding ever making other people uncomfortable. And they come from being agreeable and not making a fuss, even when you really want to speak out constructively about something that’s important to you.
But when you step out on your own path, part of the journey is about dismantling your role as a good girl.
It’s about prioritising what you want – even if that makes other people feel uncomfortable. It’s about putting yourself first, even if you have to make a fuss, ignore the status quo and disagree with all that you’ve been taught.
In a nutshell, it demands that you become disloyal.
Sometimes being loyal to yourself means being disloyal to someone else
Stepping onto your own path means you may have to be disloyal to everything your family, culture or society expects – or even demands – of you.
Note that when I say ‘being disloyal to your family’, I don’t mean abandoning them (unless you need to for your physical and emotional safety or well-being, anyway).
Instead, I mean being disloyal to your family’s patterns, behaviours and stories while remaining in a loving relationship with them. And these patterns and stories may be about money, happiness, work, health, love, education, etc. For example:
- Perhaps you want to start your own business, but your family story is one of working hard, focusing on safety and sacrificing your dreams for job security and a good wage.
- Perhaps your parents value education over all else, but studying for a degree didn’t suit or interest you.
- Perhaps your family believes that the harder you work, the more honourable you are – but you want a life full of grace, ease and flow.
Regardless, when I talk about disloyalty, I’m talking about being disloyal to the patterns you’ve inherited that have stopped you from following your dreams.
I’m talking about letting go of all the patterns and behaviours that don’t align with or serve the person you know yourself to truly be (or the person you want to become).
In other words, I’m saying that being disloyal to these stories and patterns allows you to be loyal to yourself. It allows you to study what you want, love who you want and do what you want.
You may think you know what you want from life. But if you’re anything like so many of the women I work with, as soon as what you want diverges from what your family wants or expects, you start feeling ‘disloyal’.
This creates cognitive dissonance, the mental conflict that occurs when a person’s behaviors and beliefs do not align. So instead of staying on your chosen path, you find yourself unconsciously drifting back to your family values where you’re comfortable. And then you find yourself not sticking to your decision and wondering why you seem to be sabotaging yourself (yet again).
There’s only one way to live the life you want, instead of the one that’s expected of you. You need to become disloyal to all the stories, patterns and behaviours that no longer serve you.
Your family might not understand your choices, but that’s OK. They don’t have to understand. The choices are your choices, not theirs.
But you have to make those choices.
Because if you don’t – if you’re disloyal to yourself – you just end up dissatisfied, frustrated and resentful.
I’m not saying that it’s easy
Let’s be honest: it’s hard to be disloyal the way I’ve talked about above.
The collective stories and patterns you’ve inherited are powerful. The shared beliefs about what’s right and wrong, true and false, are what hold a family, a culture or a society together.
Unchallenged, they dictate who you should be, and how you should behave. They become inextricably wrapped up in your identity as part of that family, culture or society.
So letting them go can mean stepping away from all that you know. It will mean stepping away from this collective conditioning to discover your own sense of self. It will also mean understanding that ‘this is the way something’s always been done’ isn’t a good enough reason for requiring yourself to continue to do it that way.
Of course, stating that you don’t want to do something any more is the easy part.
The hard part comes when you actually try to take action based on what you want. That’s when the Law of Loyalty shows up to remind you how ‘bad’ it is to be disloyal.
Yes, you want to walk your own path and live on your own terms. But you’re human. Human beings are designed to live in communities. It’s natural to feel worried or scared about being alone and left out. But when you choose to step away from the collective pattern, you’ll create your own personal revolution.
It’s time to remember that your path requires you to get clear on who you are and what’s important to you. Not what’s important to your family, your culture or society, but what’s important to you.
It’s time to decipher what your true beliefs and values are, not just the ones you’ve been told you ‘should’ have.
It’s time to break free from the constraints that have been holding you back and claim the freedom to explore who you really are.