You Can be Right..or
You Can Have a Relationship

Where is Your Highest Loyalty?

Loyalty! It’s a high virtue, right?

Well, of course it all depends on what we are loyal to.

If you grew up in an alcoholic or some other variety of dysfunctional family, or if you suffered childhood abuse or neglect, you found a way to survive…obviously, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

Perhaps you learned to be invisible to minimize the criticism, molestation, humiliation, or beatings. Maybe you became hostile to preserve some shred of your own identity among people who didn’t care to know you. Or maybe you learned to please others to placate their anger and gain some scarce attention.

Though as an adult, you might have faulted yourself for your shyness, your anger, or your codependency, truly, you deserve to feel very good about that strategy. Your instincts helped you live to tell the tale.

Trouble is, what worked for you back then probably doesn’t today.

A soldier, constantly vigilant for attackers in Iraq, once back home, must heal from his PTSD just to be able to relax enough to enjoy his wife and family. He’s safe now…but he may not feel safe.

Like the soldier with PTSD, some part of you that survived a difficult childhood, that learned a way of thinking, an attitude to hold, and a way to be around people, may feel a very fierce loyalty to these ways of surviving. It’s like the loyalty you might feel to someone who saved your life. You wouldn’t lightly toss them out on the street in winter. Similarly, we hang onto our survival strategies as if our life still depended on them…even when they may be making us miserable today.

If you haven’t yet done the healing work of letting go of these old survival strategies, they probably just seem like “the way life is”…things that are “obvious” or “go without saying”.

“It’s no use crying over spilled milk.”
“You can’t trust women.”
“You can’t trust men.”
“You can’t trust God.”
“Life is shit, and then you die.”
“Keep your head down or get it shot off.”
“The best defense is a good offense.”

You may be like many of my clients who have found that something about their lives just is not working any more, and they’re in enough pain to want to be really honest about getting to the bottom of it.

So my suggestion is, watch out for the gross generalizations you say to yourself and your friends. Watch yourself for the flareups of defensiveness, or the sudden ways you feel hurt, withdrawn, or angry. These will be the signposts pointing to your old survival strategies.

There’s a saying in 12-Step groups that, “You can be right, or you can have a relationship.” There’s a lot of wisdom in those few words. The fierce loyalty with which we hold on to these obsolete survival strategies may simply seem “right” to us, but to those we are in relationship with, they just feel righteous, obnoxious, close-minded, or abusive.

I wish they taught us these things as youth…when we were first experimenting with romance and real friendship. I know a lot of us tried desperately back in high school to look like we knew it all. Well, at least I did! We were afraid that if others found out we were almost completely ignorant about relationships, sex, romance, or even friendship, then we surely would not be lovable.

Too bad that we weren’t patiently taught back then that humility, kindness, and a willingness to let go of our fears and our pretend know-it-all thinking could actually increase our standing and make us more trustworthy…at least to those who were themselves trustworthy.

Oh well. As I’m fond of saying, “it’s never to late to have a happy childhood!”

It’s not too late to get very honest with yourself.

It’s not too late to let go of needing to be right.

And it’s not too late to count understanding another’s point of view as more important than proving your own.

Oh, what a multitude of human suffering that last one would cure.

And it is never too late to lovingly and sincerely thank yourself for the strategies which helped you survive a difficult childhood, and to let them go.

It might not happen overnight. You may be quite attached to them. But it’s ok to let go a bit at a time. Test the waters of new ways of being, ways which may include humility, openness, and not knowing the answer. I think you will soon find out for yourself that your life no longer depends on the fierce, unquestioned loyalty with which you have hung onto old ways of being “right”.

And in the space inside you where self-protection, rigidity, or righteousness resided, others may now find a lot more space for getting close to you…and for loving you.

Good luck!

Your comments, questions, and stories are welcome below. I will respond.

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Paul Chubbuck is a practicing psychotherapist in Fort Collins, CO, using Somatic Experiencing to help people release trauma, abuse, and loss. He may be reached at 970-493-2958 or through his website at

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    • Jo

      Excellent, excellent insights, Paul. And exactly what I needed to hear (sign post to the work I need be doing) at this very moment. Thank you muchly!!!

      • Thanks, Jo. I’m very happy that it spoke to you.