Lingering allegiance to a bully is a common occurrence, even if a bully’s primary position in our life has changed. Similar to phantom pain from a missing a limb–past trauma from a bully can linger into our future.
Because bullying creates deep impressions in the brain, phantom loyalty often carries on long after it should. We feel bound by pledges of loyalty (spoken or unspoken). Our falling-in-line to avoid retaliation (or to gain favor) becomes automatic. We don’t realize we may still be carrying on a bully’s disrespect for ourselves or others treated unfairly. We are swept along by lingering loyalties.
We see this play out in adult children who feel a great sense of loyalty to a bullish parent. Even after a parent is out of the picture, the adult child still feels obligated to that parent’s wishes and ideas about life. There are feelings of guilt and internal conflict in pursuing a different course of action, or thought.
We can feel confused moving forward. Freeing ourselves requires healthy understanding that it’s “okay” to think differently.
Here are some tips:
1. Identify ways in which you desire to behave differently than the person who has been a controlling influence in your life.
2. Admit (your own) mistakes that were inspired by the bully.
3. If you once said “yes” under pressure, it’s okay to change your mind and say “no”.
3. Seek a trustworthy accountability partner.
4. In taking these steps remember that feelings of guilt are natural part of breaking free. Misplaced loyalty is often driven by guilt—that’s why it has a powerful hold.
*Seeking a qualified counselor may be helpful.