Invisible Ties That Bind Us

Have you ever thought of the ties that bind you to your family? As children, we receive love, attention and protection from our parents and caregivers and in return we offer them our loyalty for taken care of us. As small children, there is not much else we can offer in the asymmetrical parent-child relationship. We mimic our parents, “obey” them and follow what they want for us. These “invisible loyalties” as coined by Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, one of the founding fathers of family therapy, are characteristics and behaviors that are unconsciously passed down through generations. They make family members help each other, follow traditions and have family values. They are unconscious and compulsory. “I have to do X for my family”, “what can I do, she is my mother/he is my father.” These are just some examples of sentences based on invisible loyalties.

These unconscious loyalties are detrimental to us often and are a tribute to those who came before us. A woman who was harshly criticized by her mother might grow up to harshly criticize her own children or a man who grew up with an alcoholic father might become a workaholic and spend a lot of time not connecting to their family, just like the father did in a different way.


What Can We Do?

Make the invisible ties visible! Drop the burdens that were/are not ours to carry.

By becoming aware of these compulsory hidden loyalties, we can break the cycle of carrying them. Accepting that the adults in my life did not take care of me and that the family I so want to belong to did not really exist gave me the space to drop this weight of toxic loyalties and obligations I was handed, to face the shame, disappointment, anger, loss, grief and acceptance of what was. The hardest part was accepting that nobody is going to come and save me, because like a small child I was waiting for my parents to return. It did not happen. Instead I am returning to myself, learning to reparent myself and hold myself in that warm embrace. We don’t have to do it alone, we can surround ourselves with compassionate people who can help us on our healing journey.

These are words you can write to yourself or read them out loud. (This ancient blessing was created in the Nahuatl language, spoken in Mexico. It deals with forgiveness, affection, detachment, and liberation).

“I release my parents from the feeling that they have failed me.

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