Family loyalty refers to the feelings of mutually shared obligations, responsibilities, commitment, and closeness that exist among family members (e.g., parents and children, between siblings, grandparents and grandchildren, and other close family members). Not surprisingly, loyalty is not a character trait we value in just our family members; we also seek the same and or similar traits in others that are close to us, like our friends. Not only are we drawn to loyalty traits in others, but we often desire to be seen as possessing this very trait. For many of us having this trait visible to others conveys both trustworthiness but reliability as well.

Persons that are loyal to their family members typically honor familial traditions, obligations, and ascribe to a shared identity. A loyal family member is emotionally present with support and encouragement during both family success as well as family failures. These unwavering devotions are admirable and observable: just look at how a loyal family member helps another member during an illness, a financial crisis, the breakup of a marriage, death. Loyalty is essential for building and maintaining family solidarity; however, blind loyalty can lead to familial dysfunction.

A family member that possesses blind family loyalty does so without hesitation or questioning of why they are supporting the family even when there are things that are concerning, in direct contradiction to how they feel, what they believe in, etc. Unfortunately, blind family loyalties typically occur unconsciously, unbeknownst to the follower, and done in an effort to maintain peace and homeostasis within the family. Sometimes, the blindly loyal family member will ignore or reject concrete examples of a family’s damaging behaviors and actions in a deliberate attempt to avoid causing tension within the family.

Blind family loyalty demands that family members overlook when one member is abusive to another, has a substance abuse problem that is creating problems within the family, has gambling issues, etc., in favor of accepting the family’s “accepted views and perceptions” of the events in question. Loyalty usually begins in early childhood to win parental love, approval, and acceptance. We all want to believe we have a healthy, solid family so we ignore the imperfections and transform our family issues into virtues. Too often we do not recognize there are issues within our family until we have an opportunity to observe the family style and interactions of someone else’s family. The reality comes later when we see other people’s families or we marry someone whose family can disagree and challenge a member’s decision without compromising the integrity of the familial relationship.

Unhealthy Family Loyalties Include:

  • Accepting perceptions or views that are in stark contradiction to your own without questioning.
  • Going along with a familial decision or behavior in order to avoid family conflict
  • Ignoring, minimizing, or pretending family issues do not exist
  • Failure to identify or acknowledge familial imperfections
  • Consciously transforming family issues into family virtues
  • Rejection of concrete examples of damaging family behaviors
  • Distorting family experiences to eliminate events that are unflattering to members.

Blind family loyalties can be both a benefit and a hindrance as blind loyalties can both build resiliency as well as keep us stuck in an ongoing cycle of dysfunction. Notably, most of our loyalties develop at an age that we are not yet conscious of them, believe that these loyalties should be accepted without question, and have been taught to follow out of respect for he family. We may also have powerful blind loyalties to decisions we made at earlier, less mature stages of our life, decisions that no longer appear appropriate, right, or align with who we are today. Becoming aware of blind invisible loyalties is an important part of taking a healthy self-inventory.

In closing, we accept certain conditions out of fear of losing the love, support, attention, and respect of our family members. We all have an innate desire to feel connected with others, therefore, fear can lead us into going along with behaviors and decisions that contradict who we are personally. Ongoing contradiction to who we are or failing to be true to ourselves can lead to resentment, depression, animosity, and guilt.