“Loyalty can be a confusing, loaded term and is often the reason that people stay stuck in toxic relationships. What you need to know is this: When loyalty comes with a diminishing of the self, it’s not loyalty, it’s submission.” – Hey Sigmund, blog.
For me, loyalty starts when you have someone in your life who is a witness to your flaws and still stays by your side, through your best and worst times. We as humans have a special kind of loyalty that we devote to our family and friends who have stuck by our sides longer than others. We learn the most valuable lessons in life by being witnesses to their flaws and struggles, seeing that not everyone is perfect, and this empowers us and helps us grow. I have made many mistakes and learned what I should and should not do from the people close to me, but those who know how beautifully flawed humans can be will stick by your side, showing you that the key to a healthy, loyal relationship is working through the tough stuff. People we love, including our closest family and friends, are all capable of jealousy, inadequacy, and insecurity at times, but everyone we love has made changes and sacrifices to accommodate us. Love and loyalty begin when we realize the choices that must be made in a relationship, and give back the love that we have received, even if that means making a few accommodations and changes of our own.
But what happens when love and loyalty do not coexist? What if the love we received from our family was not about making sacrifices and learning to change and grow, but instead we were taught to close down, stay small, and bury our needs in an effort to support others? What if we grew up with a toxic parent who lacked kindness and compassion, and instead used their power to manipulate their family into being loyal to them? Toxic people are able to recognize the loyalty that they will get from the people who love them, and know that this will make it a lot harder for them to say no or abandon them. To a toxic person, love is more about being in control and they will put their needs before those of someone else, especially the ones who love them the most and are willing to do anything for them. Think if you have ever had someone you love, whether it was a parent, partner, or friend, say that they need something from you, and you provided it for them even if it hurt you. What if a parent is borrowing money from you and putting you in a bad place financially? What if you went to them for advice, and they shot you down saying you were too weak, too needy, too “whatever,” and you needed to toughen up? This is going to be what you know as love, especially if that person is overpraised and given more love as a result of their behavior. But to me this is not love. This is self-serving manipulation designed by a toxic person to keep you tethered and bound to them.
Think of it this way. In a healthy relationship, love is circular. You give love and you receive it back, making you feel whole and complete. There are no corners to cut, no walls to hit, no boundaries, and no expectations that constantly have to be met. Instead, it is just free flowing, fluid, and open to change and growth. There may be time that problems and insecurities occupy the space, but you will always end up where you are meant to be and feel whole and complete as a result of the love you are giving and receiving. In a toxic relationship, you are stuck in a tiny little box. You have a set role that you need to provide in that box, and there is no room for growth or change. If one person in the family or relationship tries to get out, they will be squashed and manipulated back into their corner so that they do not affect the other people. Because of the love we have for these people in our secluded lives and the misplaced loyalty we have to those we love, we will feel like we have to stay in our place, sacrificing our own growth for those who are self-serving and are afraid to feel weak and vulnerable, even if it means helping another person. We should be able to recognize these toxic situations because the people we surround ourselves with will either give us the feeling of being happy and free, or they will make us feel detained and stressed out, constantly thinking we are causing problems for other people around us.
A toxic person is very familiar with lies and manipulation from seeing it in their own lives, and notices that people gain control from using those tactics. They will use the same tactics on you in an effort to control you and manipulate you into being the person who better serves their interests, and they will trample over what you need to get what they want. You may feel like you genuinely love a toxic person, and that by living up to their standards they will love you back, but trust me, they do not genuinely love you. They were never taught kindness and compassion and nothing you say or do is going to teach that to them. Reasonable people, no matter how strong or independent, will feel as though they can reason a toxic person into loving them and believing that the relationship will be okay but this is extremely unlikely. It is more likely that this toxic person will always be surrounded by broken people, broken hearts, and broken relationships and manipulate you and everyone else into thinking it is not their fault, but the fault of something else. Unfortunately, being young and vulnerable, and not knowing any better, we often depend on the ones we love for survival and depend on them to take care of us, just like we depended on our parents growing up to show us love in our most pivotal moments. But you can not depend on a toxic person for anything, especially love. The only thing they will leave you with is remorse and heartbreak, thinking that if you have done something differently, maybe it would have worked out.
Letting go of a difficult relationship will not suddenly make your life easier, but trust me, you will get there. It will be extremely hard to let go and most likely, the loss of the relationship will come with anger, guilt, or grief. The bottom line is, the person you loved did not choose you. They instead chose to put you in your place and take advantage of the love you had for them, which is not an easy feeling to get past. You will not be able to pretend the toxic relationship never happened. You will not be able to eat it away, drink it away, smoke it away, gamble it away, or even love it away, but you can do the only thing that will help you grow, and that is to walk away. Maybe the toxic person will fight harder for you to stay or maybe they will blame you, manipulate you, and be more toxic than ever. Keep moving forward and let every hurtful thing they say or do fuel your step. One day they might catch up to you with their growth and their healing but until then, choose your own health and happiness over their need to control you. Sometimes there are not two sides. There is only one. Toxic people will have you believing that the one truthful side is theirs. It’s not. It never was. Don’t believe their highly diseased, stingy version of love. It’s been drawing your breath, suffocating you and it will slowly kill you if you let it, and the way you do that is by standing still while they gain control. But stop standing for it. Move on. Don’t let the tiny hearts and small minds of others lessen you or stop you. If the relationship ends, it is not because of your lack of love or loyalty, but because the toxic person chose not to treat you the way you deserve to be treated. I promise you that it will be the greatest decision you ever made, just give it time.