I have written a lot about the subject of loyalty due to my decades of helping with the abused and traumatized population. My first publication was The Forbidden Betrayal: Loyalty within Sexual Trauma in Treatment Centers Magazine, February 1993. Since then I have written many articles on the subject to inform survivors of the power and influence the issue of loyalty has in relationships whether abusive or healthy.
I was asked by one of my clients that I was coaching the following questions. She asked: "Dr. Bill, I have to ask you about your concept of loyalty. Why is loyalty the hardest issue to overcome in recovery from abuse or trauma? How does loyalty to an abuser form? What powers loyalty? " She paused for a couple seconds, not waiting for my response and then kept talking, "I think shame is far more powerful than loyalty because as a survivor I can't say the word "shame" without having a significant amount of highly charged emotions bubble up in my throat. Maybe understanding my barrier to my recovery is either loyalty or shame might really help me get further along into and be successful in my recovery."
Definition of Loyalty
The issue of loyalty is a very important concept to understand if you're seeking to heal. Understanding who you are loyal to needs to be addressed in order to move out of the past and heal from the effects (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder - PTSD) of childhood abusive and/or traumatic experiences in order to mindfully embrace recovery.
Loyalty is an accrued belief forced upon the victim and he or she is made to accept the secret to ensure the "it will be kept at all costs".
In American society, in fact, in many other societies, loyalty is highly valued core belief, socially and religiously.
So perpetrators etched loyalty to into a victim's mind through repetitive verbalizing in order to the protection of themselves from possible discovery. The victim is taught loyalty so that the victim will never betray the abuser or disclose to anyone what happened or who did it. The victim is forced over and over again to promise his or her loyalty out loud to "not betray the secret and declare out loud to keep the secret".
Emotions like love, fear, and terror are all mixed together with the declaration by the abuser to provoke an emotional response from the victim. Intense emotions along with repeated verbalizing so the promise belief would bypass the victim's mental filters and embedded the concept of loyalty deep within the victim's subconscious.
Loyalty is also embedded on another level through the formation of an attachment or bond to the abuser with the victim on purpose. Suggested statements like "I will always be around watching you", "If you ever tell I will return and hurt you (or family)", "We are always together", "No one will believe you over me". Once the emotional bond is achieved between the victim and the abuser, loyalty becomes the most powerful, and most influential belief the victim carries for the rest of his or her life. Once embedded the victim would rather hurt self, ruin his or her own life, or die than betray their abuser.
The belief of loyalty or loyalty bond, which is found in, taught and highly valued in healthy families and advanced societies. The concept of being loyal can be transformed into the most destructive belief by an abuser and end up being a massive barrier to healing in a post abuse treatment effort. Embedded loyalty can destroy any chance of recovery.
The loyalty belief or bond to his or her abuser makes it so that the now survivor cannot betray his or her perpetrator even at the threat of death or loss of possible healing.
Another view is that the abuser puts fault upon the victim. At that point, the victim is made accountable for causing the abuse or trauma situation by the abuser. So the abuser confuses the victim by stating " I will keep your secret (loyalty to the victim) for causing it and you keep our secret". That locks the victim into being loyal to the abuser or his or her secret would get out.
After discharge, she returned to her family, home and to her job. She worked on her recovery process with extreme drive, willingness, and commitment. Even though her accomplishments were significant, all of a sudden with no warning signs at all, she stopped practicing her recovery and began to engage in self-defeating and self-sabotaging behaviors once again as well as in her thought addiction. She returned to my program just 6 months later in much chaos, crisis, pain and presenting the same symptoms as before. Her major need this hospitalization was to recant to the program staff all of what she had truthfully verbalized about her abuse, abusers and strongly reaffirm her loyalty to her abusers stating her abusers were good and had not hurt her. She worked hard and by the end of her second time in the program admitting while at home her loyalty belief had been triggered and she admitted that she was more loyalty issues strongly connected to her abuser and not at all with being herself.
Loyalty belief/bond is a powerful recovery issue which can cause a survivor to either align again with his or her abuser and relapse from a recovery path or set a stronger course of healing and align loyalty back to self.
Back to the original question asked at the beginning of the blog about a bond of loyalty vs shame. On the statement mentioned by the client was "I think shame is more powerful than loyalty." I wrote to her "you are partly right."
My explanation started with what is shame? Shame I believe is not a feeling. Shame is a concept that is taught or told to a person that the person broke a belief, law, rule (man's or God's), principle, standard or relationship. Loyalty is the strongest emotional attachment that two or more people can have in common as well as an ethic, moral or religious tenet. So whether a child is taught within a healthy environment or forced to learn through pain, terror or coercion that being and keeping loyalty to family, country, group or authority is what makes them a "good person". Loyalty is the highest form of allegiance, devotion, faithfulness or love, which a person can give to another. Breaking that standard or rule would bring on strong inner guilt and the need to fix what they broke.
As I have learned more and expanded on my theories of loyalty, I discovered that the origin of "loyalty" is that it is an embedded mind code. The mind code influences the formation of an extremely high valued core belief.
Perpetrators use shame as a tool in an effort to "control" another person..keep them in line..a way to remind a person of indiscretion or betrayal is bad..a method to make a person "tow an emotional line".. or not betray an attachment to the person, or family (group, religion or "occult").
This "reminding process" or "shaming process" is used in the treatment of addictions. The phrase "don't you feel bad you relapsed" is used after a person in recovery has broken his or her promise to be clean and sober one day at a time. Shaming is put upon in order to make a person break of a belief or a promise. By definition, shame is an accusation made toward a person to make him or her believe they had broken a belief, rule, standard, loyalty, ethics, moral, law, tenet or promise that they had been taught or told to follow. It comes across as "Don't you feel ashamed that you broke your promise?” “Don't you feel ashamed that you didn't follow this rule?” “Don’t you feel ashamed that you betrayed and told this secret?" So based on what I have learned shame is a subcode of loyalty.
So for anyone, loyalty and shame are by far more powerful influence on how you behave, think, feel and react to life situations. In the recovery journey from abuse or trauma, your loyalty issues should always be investigated and dealt with completely. In order to heal the wounds of one's soul from abuse, loyalty should be removed from the perpetrator and always be re-affixed upon yourself first.