Invisible Loyalties: Ties That Bind Us

Episode 31 – Invisible Loyalties: Ties That Bind Us

Miriam is doing a Family Dynamics Series and the week’s episode is about Invisible Loyalties, those strong ties that bind us to our family, village, group, country and that hurt us in the long run. This is a fascinating episode especially during this holiday season. The concept was coined by Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy in his book of the same name Invisible Loyalties.


  • What are invisible loyalties
  • What happens to the bond we have to our family in case of trauma and abuse
  • Why are family ties so strong?
  • Consequences of invisible loyalties
  • Self-sabotage and playing small
  • Releasing invisible, harmful loyalties and choosing visible ties.
  • The courage to choose freedom


Article by Miriam Njoku on medium: Invisible Ties That Bind Us

Invisible Loyalties by Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy


Miriam is a Certified Trauma Informed Coach, an African, a mom of three daughters, a blogger and writer. After graduating from the London School of Economics, she built her international career in the fields of banking and international development, working for organisations such as the World Economic Forum, Lombard Odier Private Bank, JP Morgan, the Mastercard Foundation and the United Nations. She now uses her passion for psychology and dedicates her time to coaching others to free themselves from the burden of childhood trauma. Her wish to help other women connect to their inner wisdom, love themselves and follow their passion. In her effort to destigmatize mental health and normalize mental health conversations in black communities, she wrote her memoir about surviving childhood and finding her worth. 


Instagram: @_miriamnjoku/




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Ep 31 Audio

Ep 31 Audio


Miriam (100%)

Hey everyone. Bonjour. Hello, hello. Today I want to talk about a blog post I'm working on, because the topic is fascinating. So I want to talk about invisible loyalties. Invisible loyalties, it's so, so fascinating. So the term was coined by this family therapist found our family therapy called the Nash something Nash, I will put the name in the show notes. So his book is called Invisible loyalties. And so these are loyalties that we have two generations that came before us to parents, to grandparents to our ancestors, right. So because when we are children, when we are small children, our parents, they take care of us, they feed us, they protect us from harm they, they love us, they make sure we are okay. And in return, we cannot pay them in return because we are still small. So what happens is that unconsciously, we we have really strong ties, lawyer ties to our parents, you know, that's how we pay them back. Because they took care of us because our ancestors allowed us to be here today, we paid him back with our loyalty. So these invisible ties are very strong. And that's it's because of these ties that family members have each other siblings help each other. You know, they have traditions that people follow their family values that people have together, and they band together, right? Where the problem happens. So it all sounds really great. But the problem is that in the case where a child was not loved, was neglected, was abused. In cases of war, trauma, and everything. These invisible loyalties t stay, you know, the child with t tend to want to be loyal to the to the group to the family, to the detriment

of themselves. This is something I really have to explain. So it just means that even though even if you receive the care or not, you, we tend to be loyal to your parents, to your family to your group, you know, but in the case when there's abuse, so this kind of this, you have to distort yourself to be lawyer, even cases where where there is no abuse. Imagine you're raised in a family where you're loved and everything is okay. But the parents, they have this path for you, they want you to take in life and you know, deep down inside, that's not you, they wanted to become a lawyer and you what you want to do is to write to be a screenwriter, let's say. And then but you feel that because they did so much for you, you will follow what they want for you. Right? These are these the this is an example of, of what invisible loyalties are. And most of the time we go along with what our parents our ancestors won for us why actually, as a human being, there's a basic need, that we all have the need to belong. So we all need to belong, it's so scary to be out by yourself. It's, it's as a child, it's not even possible for a child to imagine their survivor a way from their caregivers, you know, so that's why when a child is abused, they never take their caregiver is bad. They think that they are bad. That's why the abuse came to them. Because for their survivor, they have to believe that the caregiver needs once they are good wants them to survive. You know, that's just how child psychology is. That's why people blame themselves for bad things that happened to them when they were growing up. Because they for their survivor, they their brain couldn't accept that actually, this parent is not good to me. They don't want me to survive. It's not possible. So it doesn't mean that we don't where we grew up in these contexts. We still want to we still want to be loyal to our families because it's necessary even for an abused child to feel they belong somewhere. That's why I was calling it an abuse trustee needs to feel they belong to a family. They claim a family that actually is not a family because the family the family doesn't love them or protect them or take care of their needs. But they claim and these people most of the time they claim their families more than other people, every two sentences, they talk about their family. And then when you look at it, they actually never really had a family. But you know, but they need that they need they needed to be like that. If not, it means they're by themselves. And it's not possible. It's too It's too scary. It's too scary to, to feel as if you don't belong to anything. So in my experience, why did I start writing about this? It's so because it's so hard to realize what is our accept? What is the reality of things? I recently found an essay I wrote when I was 10 years old, and I was going to school in Cameroon, in the, in, in yonder in the capital, I was in a primary school that in this became Primary School in the Francophone region of Cameroon in Cameroon, you speak English and French. So in my very overcrowded school, because it Yeah, it was English speaking. So all the Anglophone kids and many other kids came to. So that's cool. So we have two shifts. So some some one week I would go to school in the morning, and the next week, I will go in the afternoon, just alternating like that. So in that school, I wrote this essay, where I don't have it, I tried to look for it this morning, I couldn't find it. When it is in an essay, my name is Miriam. I don't know if I say my age. I say I look like a girl, I find that very funny. And then I go on to say that I want to, I want to work hard to honor my parents. And then I want to bring electricity to my village. I want to bring water to my village and things and stuff like that, you know. And then what struck me when I will read this essay was that I spoke about parents at the time, I was not living with my parents, I did not have parents that I was living with my uncle who was very, he was really physically very abusive. And like, I was totally parent defied cooking, cleaning, washing his clothes, walking to school for kilometres, walking back four kilometers. And I had to sit there in silence, or unless he spoke to me, then I could reply, he couldn't read and write. So I had to

do my own homework, because if I failed school, he would beat me he would beat me randomly from anything. So I always sat there very tense, very scared, not knowing when the next beating would come or for what, you know. So yeah, so that was it. I spent two years living with this uncle. Why I'm saying this is that fast forward, if we think about this invisible loyalties. Many years later, when I was not even living with him, he was in Cameroon, and I was living in Switzerland. He wanted me to study medicine. And I can tell you when I was in high school, I was right on my way to go study medicine because my uncle wanted me to begin to study medicine. And then, when I was in Switzerland, I sent a letter to my dad, and that I didn't know and he replied, and then we started calling each other. In the letter I sent him, they were big. I sent him pictures of me when I visited the United States and things like that. So my uncle told me that he had the the speech, my pictures in his breast pocket, and he would show anyone in the village who cared that I was his daughter was very smart. And I would go to university and he was so proud of me. And I can tell you, I wanted to make my father proud. I wanted to make my uncle proud. I wanted to make my village proud, especially that my father is a prince in my village. And I also heard growing up that oh, you're a princess Maryam, you're a princess. And I wanted to believe I was a princess. I wanted to be a princess. You know, even though my life was that of Cinderella. I wanted to feel I was the princess anyways, when I became a teenager, it was really hard to reconcile all these identities are these contradictions. And that's what happens in when you're abused. And then you have these invisible loyalties. So there's what you want to project you want to be a good person you want to respect your family, you want to do what they want from the word what they're asking of you. But deep inside you're conflicted you're angry. You're Yeah, okay. You say I'm a princess but in my head as okay, why was I raised like an orphan like Cinderella. You know, my uncle wants me to become a doctor where why did he treat me better and things like that? Right? But you don't say it because you don't want to disrespect the adults in your life. Let's say it like that. But this This this, this conflict, you know, it leads to sabotage, it leads to you sabotaging yourself because you go out in the world and you do things that you're not interested in, just to prove a point does to make other people happy. So I went to high school, I studied biology and chemistry, with the aim of going to university to study medicine, like my abusive uncle dreamt off, but you have to see that he's the only father figure I had, even though I lived with him only for two years, he was the only father figure I had in my early childhood. So it you can see it as Stockholm Syndrome. You know, he's the fact that he wanted me to go. And study medicine mattered more than anything. When you see, like today, when I see how he treated me, and then how I was trying to please him still, because that's the thing. Unconsciously, I wanted to study medicine so that my uncle would at last love me and accept me, you know, that love and acceptance and beatings I had, then I thought that by doing something he really valued, it will repair or what I didn't get, at last get the love I never had, I will at least get the recognition, I will become someone valuable in their eyes, right. But that's so so wrong. Because you put your energy into something that doesn't interest you. I don't like hospitals, I don't like how hospitals smell. And I wanted to go be a doctor. But luckily, in third year of high school, it was not a conscious thing. I just got fed up, I sat next to two girls who were trying to go to who are studying for an entrance exam into translation school to study languages. And somehow I'm like, Nah, I don't want to study medicine anymore. I switched and then I didn't switch. I was good. In all my I was doing good in all my subjects that are in high school. So I just focus more on doing preparing the entrance exam to go to, to, to do translation studies at university. And yeah, at least,

I think I understood at one point that my uncle didn't have a hold on me anymore. He couldn't decide my life, like what he said, far away there in Cameroon didn't matter if I don't want to do it, you cannot do anything to me. But now, what I want to say, for people who listen to this podcast is that these invisible loyalties, they make us live a life that is not for us, you know, we we live with guilt and shame. So the idea would be to break away from them. It's so so hard. But as adults, we owe it to ourselves first, to say, Okay, thank you, parents, thank you ancestors for what you did for me, you did the best you could, even though it was not enough, you did the best you could. But as from now on, I want to live my own life. And this is what I choose to do with my life. That's why I'm doing this podcast. And I'm writing and blogging because actually, at the core of me, that's what I always loved reading books, writing, bouncing ideas around in my head, connecting them and things like that. That's what I love. It gives me life to do this, to write, to speak. That's what I love. But I can tell you for years, or even decades, I didn't do that. Because I was trying to fit in. I was trying to, to fit into what society expected of me, my family expected of me what will make people proud of me so but then I was not happy. And I was not giving it my all or even dedicated to things I procrastinated and I still procrastinate. Because that's not what I wanted to do with my life, you know, but all of this is unconscious. We don't know why we feel so conflicted. We want this job, we get it and then we get there. And also oh my god, what am I doing here. And then we just feel we don't know what to do with our lives that self sabotage is because maybe something at the core is not right. And we need to free ourselves from these loyalties. Because if we take these loyalties at a macro level, they cause a lot of problems because in some families when we are born, they are some like the family could be that they hate this other family, you know, and they were born into that and then we just inherit that hatred and they were just hitting that other family because that's what we do in our family. You know, this is destructive, and many or we hit that group or we hit those people I don't know who have for years, you know, but then you don't even know them you don't even examine, but why do we hate them? Again? You know, there is no, no, that's how it is. That's how it's always been. So it's that questioning that bringing those invisible loyalties to light. And then we can break the cycle and they will stop the self sabotage on us. We give ourselves a real chance to create a life that is fulfilling. And something with these loyalties is that sometimes unconsciously, we don't dare be happy, because maybe we come from poverty for imagine, I don't know, you grew up in poverty, and then you you manage to get yourself out of poverty, and then you go to university, and then you you have a good job. And you know, what a how invisible loyalties can play in your life. You can think in life unconsciously, or my parents, my siblings, my cousins, testy, they're still not out of poverty, you know, and then you restrict yourself, maybe you will do well in your job, and then have relationships where you're not close to the person, just that you don't have it all, it's like a way of holding yourself back, you know, holding yourself back, because you're trying to be loyal to, to your other family members. And this is unconscious, the thing is, we have to realize it, because holding yourself back will not necessarily translate into them getting a better situation is just that you both knows that maybe they are not in a better situation. But you you don't live your life fully, because you have these invisible loyalties holding you to them, right. It's like, I don't know, a daughter who would say, my mom is my best friend, you know,

but while you're busy being your mom's best friend, you cannot be the daughter that you need to be to grow in that relationship with your mom, it means that you're taking care of your mother's needs, and that you're not being a daughter. And that's detrimental to your own growth and your own development as a young woman, an adult woman or a child, right? And, but for that you have to at one point, realize that no, I have to take my seat as a daughter and stop feeding my mother's needs to have a friend and actually encourage her or tell her to get a friend, refrain. And sometimes I don't know, if if we come from a country where our ancestors were killed, or of us black people were when we went through colonization, or, like African Americans with slavery and stuff, sometimes we hold ourselves back because our ancestors suffered so much. And then we don't dare go out there and fully express ourselves. Because, you know, there will be like the perpetrator, you know, for example, you could be living in the ghetto, and then you what you decide, oh, I want to be decent, you want to be that people in the ghetto might feel threatened by the fact that you want to break out, you know, and, yeah, and so, but you not breaking out will not make things better, and will not automatically translate into people around you having a better situation. So it's important to understand these ties, because the ties the the invisible ties that are toxic, are the ones that make you feel small, and restrict your growth. So those times you have to kind of cut them off, or realize them and, and release that, you know, so that you can actually grow. Because the reality of it is that our ancestors, our forefathers, you know, they want us to thrive, they want us to be the best version of them. You know, we always hear the saying on social media and the best version of my ancestors. That's what they want. For us. That's really what they want for us, you know, so when we know better, we do better. So if you look in your life, you see that there are these ties, sometimes they're really, really insidious and unconscious. But if you realize that you have these ties, you know, try to break them off. Because sometimes, when we didn't get what we needed, we were neglected. We were not loved. We were not protected. You know, it's easier to like, it's not easier, but unconsciously we can bond with we can become an angry person like our father because somehow it brings us closer to our father and maybe he will give us that recognition we never had. Or we can be depressed like our mother because somehow it brings us closer to our mother and maybe she will see us because he didn't have time to see you in childhood and things like that. But these are things that we hold you back or we hold ourselves back, you know. We're going The word I'm thinking, oh, yeah, okay, I have a good job, at least I have a good job, you know, we have this lack mentality where, okay, I have a good job, then it's okay, my relationships don't work out, instead of like saying, Okay, I'm scared of relationships, what could be going on here, and maybe seeing that we are scared of intimacy and things like that, and working on that. And then so that we can have thriving relationships in our lives. But when we have these invisible ties, where maybe we come from something where relationships were not always good, we could we could want to, you know, somehow, in a distorted way, hold ourselves back. Because we are loyal to this, you know, we are loyal to, we can be loyal to good things, you know, to good traditions, to things that align with us that don't make us feel as if. But when we discover that there are these invisible ties, it's a good thing to think about it. Think about the invisible ties in your life, and then see which ones you can try to break. Yeah, that's, that's what I wanted to talk about today. I hope it will help you, you can share with me what you thought about this episode, I just find it fascinating this, this concept. And it explains a lot. You know, it explains a lot for me. And for things that I see. And it's not an easy path. Of course, it's not the easiest path to for example, for me to come and accept that, okay.

That family, I saw thought I had where I never really had a family, my father was not there. So even if he's proud of me, it's because that's for his own reasons, because he could maybe tell the villagers that his daughter is abroad, and he looks good. My uncle wanted me to become a doctor. Well, that was not for me. That was his own dream. That was not my dream, because he never knew me, I had to sit there silent. So it's not as if I told him I loved science or anything. You know? So but it's not easy to come and see things for what they are. It's a process. It's a long process me took me a long time to see that. Okay, this is what happened to me, this is what my my family constellation was. But the beauty in accepting that is that, then I don't blame myself for what happened to me. Okay, I'm saying it, but the sad things, but for most, for the most part, I don't blame myself for the abuse I received. And it gives me the also the opportunity and the freedom to create something new for myself something that looks more like me, align this to create a new me that is aligned with my values, you know, aligning, like, choosing who I want to become getting to know myself like, What do I like? Who am I? What is important to me? What kind of relationship do I want to be? What kind of mother do I want to be? What kind of spouse do I want to be? How do I want to live my life? You know, that's the freedom that it brings me then I don't have to report to these two ties that are toxic, or, you know, dysfunctional, or make myself small, because if I find myself, this person will be hurt. Or if I say, say this, did we hurt this other person? If I say this, we don't do that in our family. No, I break free from that. And I, I take my life into my own hands, and that's what I wish for you. So voila. That's the episode today. Until next time, take good care of yourselves. Bye

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