The Emotional & Life Benefits of Breaking Blind Family Loyalty
By Susan Ball
The Holidays can be a very difficult time especially for anyone who has experienced
the damaging effects of blind family loyalty – a dysfunctional form of people-pleasing
and co-dependency developed in childhood and continued into adulthood until you
make the choice to break the cycle.
As a young child, you are told you have to go here, behave a certain way, ignore
dirty Uncle Moe, follow long-standing family traditions, and not discuss certain topics.
These were the rules you were given to ensure everyone had a happy Christmas.
And it was made very clear if you didn’t behave, you would disappoint everyone and
Christmas would be ruined.
Naturally as a child, you want to make your parents happy and you do your very best
to please them with your compliant behaviour. And by doing so, you effectively
suppress your own feelings while learning the fine art of being quiet, good, and not
rocking the boat. And that unhealthy denial of your feelings will follow you into your
One brave December, I made the conscious choice to stop doing the same routine
for Christmas. No dinner at my toxic sister’s house, no listening to arguing, and the
end of hearing toxic conversations. I vividly remember the moment I informed my
mom of my decision. The clutching of the shirt, the pleas to not ruin her Christmas,
ending with “Susan you’re so selfish.”
The response was a classic representation of toxic family values – all about her. And
her reaction was my solid proof that I had made the right choice for me.
That December proved to be one of my greatest breaks from people-pleasing, blind
loyalty and co-dependency. It was also the most difficult. I endured phone calls
pleading, yelling, guilting, shaming and whatever else the family could throw at me. I
felt my resolve weakening at times but I kept telling myself: Susan, this is your
chance to break the cycle.
The big day came and went and I realized I had set a new standard for myself and in
following years, I would be able to spend the day in a way that made me happy.
Surprisingly, I had earned my family’s respect. No one demanded my presence. I
was able to choose the how, when, and who for my holiday celebration. That’s a big
step in healing.
Learning how to set internal boundaries is a necessary step in learning to be a friend
to yourself. It is your responsibility to take care of yourself – to protect yourself when
it is necessary. It is impossible to learn to be loving to yourself without owning
yourself – owning your rights and responsibilities as creator of your life.
The Emotional and Life Benefits of Breaking Free:
You are making the choice to make the change. This is a powerful
moment. You are choosing to change your holiday programming. You are stepping
into creating a holiday you truly love. You are respecting yourself, setting boundaries
and saying no.
You are a decision-maker. You can decide if you will completely break free
(rip the bandaid off no contact style) or take a low contact approach and let family
know you will only be coming for dinner, or to watch the children open gifts, or join
them at church – you fill in the low contact time and activity that suits you. You can
decide to visit the day after Christmas and spend your day volunteering or simply
enjoying much needed downtime and self-care.
You are standing up for yourself. This is your time to stay strong in the face
of guilt. You are not doing anything wrong – you are breaking the cycle, setting
boundaries for yourself, and doing the holiday a new way. You are courageously
stepping into self-validation.
You are releasing the expectations. Take a deep breath and ask yourself
“Do you even like or want to carry-on or participate in certain traditions?” Allow yourself
to be curious about what you would like to keep, edit, or delete from your celebration.
Gift-giving can be stressful financially and choosing the right gift a nightmare. Do you
want to stop or edit your gift-giving obligations? Expectations, responsibilities, and
traditions can feel overwhelming and draining at this time of year. Time to reflect on
how you honestly feel about expectations and traditions. Choose to change whatever
no longer feels good.
You can Holiday a New Way. You have given yourself the freedom and
space to imagine how you can holiday in a new way. You can create new traditions,
that make you happy. Create and embrace new traditions you will love for many
years to come. Fill the season with exploration, discovery, and creation! Unleash
your curious child – imagine the possibilities.
Sadly, we accept certain conditions out of fear of losing the love, support, attention,
and respect of our family members. But the reality is when we stand up for ourselves
and set boundaries, we will gain much more love and respect from family, friends,
and partners. And we will be taking responsibility for our peace, happiness, and
Remember the Holidays are about whatever you want to create. If it’s more joy then
create that. If it’s to see your family on a limited basis, make it happen. If it’s to focus
on enjoying a day-off celebrating you then focus on creating a special “holiday”
experience just for you.
You don’t have to grin and bear the same old holiday. You can change the energy
and truly have the experience you want.
To your gentle, self-loving holiday season, Susan xo
Susan Ball, Abuse Recovery Expert. Susan works with women who are ready to live life unapologetically. Courageous Woman Community is a monthly support group for women recovering from abuse, domestic violence, and other traumas. https://www.recoveryafterabuse.ca/courageous-woman-support-group/