The phenomenological approach of Family Constellations brings out the importance of loyalty in the lasting cohesion of families and groups.
Loyalty is the grounds on which trust between individuals is built, and which can protect inter-personal relationships.
It guarantees the connection to our roots, our history, our ancestors,whatever the odds.
It ensures the respect of the values shared by the clan.
However loyalty has also non-beneficial effects. For some people it can become an unconscious prison, for it leads our choices without our knowledge, so as to respect the laws that govern the system to which the individual belongs.
Itis almost impossible to break this bond of loyalty. However bringing to consciousness the visible and invisible loyalties can allow distanciation, and de-activate their impact.
What does the dictionary say? Here is the very interesting definition I read:
Loyalty:faithfulness to one's commitments, to obey the laws of honour andintegrity. Synonyms: rightfulness, honesty.
Loyal comes from the word legal, which means true to the law, whatis required by law, what is completely consistent to the commitments that were taken, and that obeys the laws of honor and integrity. See synonyms: true, honest, upstanding,devoted.
The word that stands out is: FIDELITY.
A small history of loyalty
In the Middle Ages, among the Francs, one could not leave his family except if a court allowed it. The family or next of kin would ensure inheritance and protection rights, in exchange for some duties like bringing assistance in case of need. Loyalty and fidelity were inseparable and guaranteed social balance. Those loyalties were practiced inside families but also inside the social hierarchical structure. For instance, the vassal had to be loyal and faithful to his suzerain.
The model of the Western family has deep roots in the history of Rome. Among other things, the word family comes from Familia, derived from the word famulus that means slave.
In the Roman empire, a family is a group of individuals living under the absolute authority of a pater familias. This man had the right to life and death on his children, his servants and his slaves. His wife remained under the authority of her own father. His children, his servants and his slaves simply belonged to him. He could therefore use them as he wished, including to pay out debts. Coming back to the Middle Ages. Fidelity and loyalty did not always go together, and this is how deals were made between parties to ensure trust and mutual protection commitment.
Fidelity requires a promise and a vow, and is exchanged in a context of closeness, when loyalty does not need it.
Today, reconstituted families are a good example of the distinction between loyalty and fidelity. Family loyalty remains, when fidelity does no longer prevail between the mother and father.
Loyalty: a matter of survival
All of us are loyal children, even the most rebellious among us who are reading this and may have rejected your family.
In one way or another, we respect, consciously or unconsciously, the laws that govern the system we belong to. Rejection of family or social laws is another way to keep them central in our universe.
We are loyal for a very simple reason: alone, it is difficult to survive in a threatening, dangerous and violent world.
Several thousand years ago, living alone in nature could be risky. Predators would only wait for a moment of carelessness or weakness to strike and feed on our flesh.
Human beings are fundamentally social beings. They need to belong to a tribe to ensure survival; and that means that there are implicit agreements on the rules to which the group we belong to obeys. The other members are there for us and we are there for them.
The debt of life
When we are born, we receive life from our parents, sometimes thanks to great suffering. In some cases, birth meant the death of the mother, of a twin brother or sister. The feeling of indebtedness for this life is at the bottom of this unconscious loyalty. Thanks to Family Constellations, I discovered how many people sabotage their life because they feel guilty of the death of their mother, or twin brother or sister. They pay with their life, the life that was lost.
What is the connection to fidelity?
Let's come back to the word fidelity. It means the ability to be devoted, attached and constant. Fidelity is another word for allegiance, which means obligation of fidelity and obedience.
When we were a child, we learnt that in order to be accepted, we had to obey, to be attached, devoted and constant. When we obeyed, our parents would give us a smile, or a compliment, or they stopped the suffering they were inflicting on us.
Until she is 7, a child does not have the capacity to distance herself from the informations he receives. Moreover, she is mainly in an Alphaconsciousness state (hypnotic state), which makes her permeable to all the messages sent by her immediate surroundings.
Many studies show how abused children remain attached to their parents.They justify their parents' actions and take responsibility for them.
To understand this, let's go back to History and to the Roman period,where the paterfamilias had the right on life and death on his wholefamily, except on his wife. Fortunately, laws have evolved, but only on the surface. The belief that what happens in our family is nobody's business keeps on being passed down.
The child has therefore no other choice in order to survive than to accept the point of view of his parents, and to never question it, exactly like in a dictatorship where, if one does not agree, they risk being killed. They cannot get help outside of the family because that would be a conflict in loyalty. This is how they prefer to keep their chin up and suffer in silence.
Alice Miller, a psychoanalyst and an expert on violence against children, has researched through history, how the child was treated, and found out that for millennia, the innocent child was accused so as not to accuse the parents. To justify this, theories were created to make this violence against the child acceptable. He learns quickly that, if his parents are abusing him, it is because he is “bad”, that he is the one provoking violence, abandonment, rejection or humiliation from the parents. Children are not allowed to defend themselves against the violence of parents and are therefore forced to suppress or hold back the natural reactions to parental aggression, like the emotions of anger and anxiety. It is only when they reach adulthood that they can release those powerful emotions,on their own children.
Loyalty towards absent people and family secrets.
The concept of loyalty can be expressed through expectations and family injunctions that have been internalized during major events like burials, long illnesses, trials, bankruptcy etc.
Other loyalties will take root in the unsaid,family secrets, “ghosts” or indecipherable transgenerational resonance.
During a divorce, the child will identify with one of the parents, which behaviour is the most acceptable for her. Either she will join the victim-parent to protect him or her, or the persecuting parent because this place is more comfortable and enhancive. For some children, the persecutor-parent is the most attractive because he or she does not suffer and controls the situation, and sometimes it is best to be his or her ally.
Paradoxically, in some cases, when the child joins with the victim, she can develop an unconscious loyalty to the other parent, and unknowingly copy the same behaviours, and vive-versa.
If she joins the persecutor-parent, she could, out of loyalty, become a victim so as to feel what the parent she has rejected feels.
Toxic loyalties create a feeling of guilt and powerlessness to find the solution to a situation that is complex and out of control.
Guilt and this feeling of being powerless will act on self-esteem and self-love. The feeling that one do not deserve a good life will bring about life choices that will carry them into an endless spiral of self destruction, self-depreciation or emotional suffering.
How to end toxic loyalties?
As I was saying at the beginning of this article, stopping from being loyal is very difficult, especially with our family. Those are the most powerful bonds on earth.
Fortunately, Family Constellations offer a quick and gentle way to take back one's life into one's hands.
The representation into space of a system and of the stakes of the relationships within it, thanks to the participants, brings a new vision on the connections that bind us in our evolution. To be able to see without judgment brings acceptance on what is, without blame, and the solution that was indeed always there, comes into the light.
For my part I have observed in my own life or the lives of my clients, that acceptance is one of the most powerful healing processes of all. You can also call it Forgiveness.
Recognizing that we have played a loyal part in the relationship game is freeing. Yes, we had to play that game because it was a matter of survival.
Today we do not have to keep on doing the same thing, and play that game. We have grown and we can stop collaborating in the suffering of the system we belong to. By accepting to stop playing the game, we free ourselves and all those who were part of that story. A release is felt and each person can take their life into their own hands.
They are also sometimes called Family and Systemic Constellations.
This phenomenological therapeutic approach was created by Bert Hellinger more than 30 years ago, and it is practiced throughout the world.
It involves the “staging” of a situation, a system, a problem. This representation process allows the client to distance himself from his story and reveals the hidden stakes.
Thanks to the systemic process, one can let go and turn to simple solutions within the system. This way, toxic loyalties can be transformed, effortlessly, in a positive support for the client.