I had never heard it termed in quite that way, but as we talked, I realized I was guilty of spreading Toxic Loyalty all over my life! And by extension, all over the lives of people I loved too!
What is it? Toxic Loyalty is very hard to spot, primarily because as a society, specifically us women, we are taught to be there for others no matter what. It's a shining star on our chest that we're a good person, that we're worthy of being liked or loved. Loyalty to our jobs, our bosses, our friends, lovers and family is a very admirable trait. However, when it becomes toxic, it is damaging both to ourselves and those we're trying to "help."
You'll know your loyalty has become toxic when you start to resent the very situation or person you're being loyal to. For me, it was scattered all over my life, in every aspect of what I do and how I behave. Feeling loyal to my business, Gearhead, and all the bands and people I worked with, I almost killed myself trying to be there for everyone, and trying to do the things they wanted me to do. I saw I used that martyr mentality as a way of proving my worthiness to those around me, and to myself, as a way of proving I was worth liking, and of being loved.
Instead of just saying no, I got myself in deeper and deeper, until I hated the people I was working with, and the projects I was spending so much time and money trying to create.
In my volunteer projects, I saw too that I was allowing toxic loyalty to dictate what I kept doing for free. Giving my time and energy away to help organizations, like one's church or school, is a valuable part of being in service to others. However, when it feels like those organizations or institutions are sucking you dry, and you no longer feel the joy of helping, it's time to step back and take a look at how you're valuing yourself and your time.
Where has unbalance set in, and where are you no longer honoring your self worth by setting boundaries? I have been feeling tremendously guilty because some gardens I was volunteering to take care of were taking so much time and energy, I was starting to resent the commitment I had made. What used to be fun for me, and give me tremendous pleasure as I transformed sick unloved property into a thing of beauty became another chore, another list of things I HAD to do because I had promised I would do it. I had given my word, and I was gonna stick to it no matter what.
I started finding excuses not to go work on the gardens because there no longer was a balance there in what I was doing. I was no longer getting back as much as I was giving out, a sure sign that my loyalty had grown toxic.
I was simply going because I had promised I would. The purpose had been served, but instead of ending my service consciously and with truth and honor, I went into hiding and avoidance of the situation, hoping it would go away, but guilt was eating away at the back of my mind.
Where is toxic loyalty affecting your life? Are you doing a job that you feel you're not being paid well enough for? There was a time that it was worth it, and you were grateful for the opportunity, but has that changed? Do you feel now you're giving more than you're getting? This is the ongoing dance of human relations and balance. When we no longer feel we're getting out of a situation as much as we're putting in, it's time to examine your motives and determine whether you need to speak up, and ask for more because you know you're worth it, or maybe it's time to end your commitment to that project or person.
Toxic loyalty can also affect our personal relationships. I had a friendship where I was constantly helping and coaching a friend who had drama after drama in her life. And I was happy to do it, because I loved her and valued her friendship and our time together. But after a few years of this, I started to feel I was getting the short end of the stick. Whenever I had a problem, she was never there for me, and I was starting to resent that. I finally said something to her; I told her I loved our friendship, but felt it was time to balance my giving with a bit more receiving from her as far as support went. I felt I was worth that, and so was our friendship.
Well, she got so angry at me, and shouted at me how dare I say she wasn't supportive. Instead of having a discussion, she became angry and abusive, and chose to end our friendship right there and then. That was the last time I ever talked to her, not by my choice, but through how my words were received. It's not my problem how she received it, and I can't change that. I don't regret being honest and saying I needed more out of the relationship. It came from a sincere place of love and grace.
When that relationship ended, I felt a deep sadness, but also a lightness in my body. I was no longer responsible for propping someone else up, simply because she was my friend. That toxic friendship ended probably much later than it should have and on a much more dramatic level than had I simply noticed the resentment building in my soul earlier and spoken up.
I chose to ignore it because we are not taught to speak up and bring attention to our worthiness, our value, of being paid well or treated fairly.
This is an ongoing lesson in my life, and clearly one I am still working on. But I am doing better about speaking up before the resentment is really bubbling. I now ask my romantic partner for help around the house, instead of seething that he doesn't notice the dishes need to be loaded into the dishwasher, or the floor needs to be swept.
In my career I was able to voice that I was worth more than I was getting paid, and while that has changed in one circumstance, it's being considered in the second. I'm ok with that. I spoke up, and asked for more, because I'm worth it. And in my volunteer work, I am now stepping back and examining where I can truly give my time and energy in a way that honors my needs as well as those that I am volunteering to help.
If resentment starts to creep back in, I know I'm doing too much and undervaluing my worth by giving away too much. It's a constant balancing act, but now that I'm much more aware of my tendency towards Toxic Loyalty, it's much easier for me to step back and re-set my boundaries.
Lesson for Today: Notice where Toxic Loyalty may be affecting your life, your relationships, your career space, or your activities, and be willing to consider that maybe you're undervaluing yourself, and it's time to speak up.