The concept of loyalty is a positive one in most people’s minds. It conjures visions of devotion, commitment, love, respect, and honor. In a healthy relationship that involves two emotionally balanced people, loyalty is appropriate and can cement a mutually satisfying, fulfilling union. However, there are instances where “loyalty” can be seriously misplaced. If a partner is being abused emotionally or otherwise by the other person in the relationship, the devotion and attachment shown by the victim is unhealthy. Here are 4 reasons the concept of loyalty can be misplaced in abusive relationships:

1.       Loyalty should arise out of love, empathy, and concern for how the other person would react were there to be a disloyal action. In other words, when faced with a temptation to do something that would hurt the other partner, a loyal person in a relationship acts out of a concern for the hurt feelings the partner would have about the betrayal. This does not occur in an emotionally abusive relationship.

2.      A primary motivator for a victim of an emotional abuser is fear. There is worry about what price, consequence, or punishment will emerge from the betrayed partner were the victim to step outside of the parameters of acceptable behavior in the relationship. This is different than true loyalty, as the victim is “behaving” due to intimidation.

3.      The loyal behavior of the victimized partner in an emotionally abusive relationship is demanded by the abuser. His or her definition of “loyalty” becomes the defining model for the relationship. This asserts the abuser’s control. He or she may place what most people would consider unreasonable expectations of devotion or loyalty on the abused partner. For example the abuser might demand that the victim give up time with friends and family. In a balanced relationship, this would be considered a controlling and unreasonable request. However, in the mind of an abuser, this can become a defining test of his or her concept of “loyalty.”

4.      Rather than empathy, love, and true respect driving the victim to act inside certain parameters, the victim may also feel obligation and guilt to follow the “rules.” The abuser may accuse the victim of being responsible for his or her anger and abuse, under the guise that the abused partner is disloyal and thus caused the abusive reaction. Thus, loyalty as a concept is again warped away from its true meaning and for the victim, the primary motivation becomes avoidance of abuse above all else.

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