Toxic Loyalty – Part 1

What is Toxic Loyalty?

Part 1 The Tribe – The Family

I wasn’t sure what to entitle the following article, and I went back and forth. Initially, I wrote,” How Powerful is the Tribe?” Then I thought to myself, ”That is a part of it, but not all of it,” so I decided to change it. As you can see, instead, I beg the question of ”What is Toxic Loyalty?” I do not know if someone before me coined the term, but if not, it is mine for the taking and sharing with you. Before we go deeper into this issue, it is essential to discuss the root of toxic loyalty, which is the allegiance to a tribe.

I explored a few sources for the best definition, and according to, a tribe is a “group of people, or a community with similar values or interests, a group with a common ancestor, or a common leader.” This platform went on to say, “An example of a tribe is the deadheads who followed the Grateful Dead.” I said to myself, “Bingo.” This looser definition, compared to some from other dictionaries, fits perfectly with the subject I am going to address.

The Importance of the Family

Many of you would agree with me that the family has been the most potent unit throughout history. In this day and age, the nuclear family is the primary driver. Although less now for societies in the west, the extended family was a dominant force throughout history. Frequently, the grandfather was the patriarch, or the grandmother was the matriarch overseeing their children and grandchildren. Their word was sacrosanct, and all of their descendants followed suit. Loyalty to the family was unquestionable.

Now there are many positive elements to this. Law and order were well-maintained in the system. Respect toward elders was non-negotiable. In many loving families, children experienced the daily presence of cousins, and caring aunts and uncles. Most significantly, the dedicated parents’ number one goal was to raise their children to be good human beings. Most of these parents would die for their children, frequently sacrificing their pleasures and needs to put their children first.

For many, this familial connection is quite lovely. Those not born into such a stimulating environment may yearn for this embodiment of love. Yes, these robust families have been and remain the envy of others, and I want to say that in most cases, you understand why.

When Things Are Not As They Seem

Now, what if this perfect presentation in certain situations is a charade? What if all you perceive is not as it is? What if there are secrets in the family that create havoc and destruction to their own, and in some instances, others? What if the family is so bound and cemented by the loyalty that they will relinquish the well-being of their children? ”No, ” you might say. ”Not in this day and age.” Unfortunately, I would respond with, ”The truth of the matter is yes, ” which is the reason I termed this as ”toxic loyalty.”

Looking back on my childhood, I wonder about some families with whom I was casually acquainted carrying deadly secrets? I can think of one where a particular young adolescent female displayed random sexual behavior most unusual for the mores of the late nineteen sixties. I learned soon enough as a young adult that maybe those actions were a consequence of something behind the scenes. Now, I would put my money on it that the poor girl was probably a victim of some form of sexual abuse.

The Increase In Child Abuse

The most obvious is in the form of bodily harm because disturbingly, hospitals are treating those with injuries that fit the criteria of physical abuse.

You might wonder why I am discussing this during a pandemic and the unrest from the murder of George Floyd. Bear with me, please. There is a connection. Last weekend, I read in the Wall Street Journal that child abuse has increased, but reporting has decreased as a consequence of the lockdown. The most obvious is in the form of bodily harm because disturbingly, hospitals are treating those with injuries that fit the criteria of physical abuse. Thankfully, X-rays and other modern-day detection help identify those who have suffered from abuse. Even with that, denial from the family often ensues. To them, children’s safety is often secondary when the family’s cohesiveness is at risk. In these cases, individual members are warned with a fierce look from a parent, ”Don’t tell!” Due to powerlessness and fear of abandonment, children consent, of course. Sadly, however, adults often do also. By the time they have reached a certain age, ”toxic loyalty” is firmly embedded in their brain.

What about those forms of abuse that are not visible? Emotional abuse can create wounds that often never heal. For the educated, the financially well-to-do, or the pillars of society, even some outsiders will turn a blind eye. How about sexual abuse, which cuts across all socio-economic classes? ”Toxic loyalty” is strong and present in these families, and to sustain this, the conspiracy of silence remains tantamount. If and when the adult child survivor confronts or breaks the code of silence, more often than not, they become the sacrificial lamb. Consequently, the expectation is for the victim to recant, ignore, or lose the family-at-large. In these situations, all that matters is the preservation of the family and the perpetrator’s good standing.

The Power of The Tribe

The family is truly the most powerful of tribes, but there are other tribes where ”toxic loyalty” remains front and center. Some members of the tribe may resist, but the desire to belong overshadows everything else. Consequently, silence about even the most egregious issues must be maintained. If ”toxic loyalty” had not been the expectation, George Floyd might be alive today.

In future articles, I will continue examining this phenomenon, including an example of someone whose very dysfunctional family, ignored the reign of terror he and his cohorts in crime perpetrated over much of the South Boston community. Also, I will look at some of the other tribes which emphasize loyalty, and in these cases, toxic loyalty.


Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett views herself as a life-long learner, a pursuer of excellence, a work-in-progress, and a seeker-of-the-truth. She is also referred to as the "Unstuck Expert" in her many roles. Why? Because for over thirty years, she has been assisting people to get unstuck. Darlene's primary roles are now Therapist, Hypnotherapist, and Author/Writer. Although she loves speaking, it is now secondary and done mainly through her podcast, "Get Unstuck Now. Because of her wealth of experience, Darlene began putting her thoughts on paper.  Many of her blogs can also be found on Medium, Sixty and Me, and Penning these articles set the stage for her first book, "Stop Depriving The World of You," traditionally published by Sound Wisdom. Being a believer in pushing oneself as long as one has life, Darlene has tried her hand at fiction, hoping to have something completed in the no-so-distant future. Over the years, Darlene has been described as animated or effervescent which contradicts the perception of a psychotherapist. She firmly believes in the importance of being authentic and discusses platinum-style authenticity in her book.

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  1. Very good, Darlene. I have known very few families that were not somewhat dysfunctional. Of course, the larger the family the more likely that one or more members of the tribe will be problems. One of the issues, particularly for children is that they feel something must be wrong with them or others in the family and that their family is just a bad lot. Their experience isn’t broad enough for them to see that most other families are just as dysfunctional as theirs. That can create a lot of emotional stress.

    • Hi Ken,

      Thank you for your thoughts. Yes, every family has some dysfunction, but there are varying degrees. I believe when there are venomous secrets the dysfunction is like a python slowly strangling its prey. The only way to avoid being suffocated forever is, if possible, is to leave or, at the very least, distant oneself.

    • Hi John,

      Thank you! Yes, shame is clear and present. The child already experiences shame, and then, is often shamed by the perpetrator. It is an untenable position for the child. The best response to this gross unfairness is success through healing and living a good life.💖

  2. Hi Larry,

    Thank you for reading and offering your thoughtful comments. I agree with you, but for some, the fear of being abandoned supersedes all. You are correct. Finding an ally is most important. Many years ago, I heard a story about siblings who stood by the person abused by one parent. They confronted the other parent and told them, ”Leave your spouse or you lose us.” The parent chose their spouse over the children. Consequently, to my knowledge, the Siblings united never to see the parents again. Unfortunately, that is not a common occurrence. I was going to post this on Dirt Road, but I wanted to check with you first.💖

  3. Darlene, This is some serious STRONG INK. It truly makes you pause and ponder. While I agree with all you say, from experience it often helps to know who to talk to. You don’t have to belong to anything to show courage and speak up. I still feel it goes back to knowing and believing in yourself. Speaking to the crowd rarely gets results but knowing that one person that will hear your voice and respond is essential. Again you gift us with a powerful question that each one of must answer.

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