Psychological Writing Series: Loyalty

Loyalty: the last character trait and personality quirk I’ll throw at you–for now.

As I child, our frequent moves resulted in me being the “new kid” more often than not.  Because of this, I learned to leave friendships with relative ease.  It was a survival skill that has a backlash into my adulthood.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore my friends.  Relationships are extremely important to me and I enjoy the company of others.  I’m a people person in many ways.  I would do anything within my power for my friends and would suffer their greatest woes if I could.  However, when it’s time to make the next move, I can disconnect so completely that it’s downright scary.

I hate to think this quirk, forced on me by childhood events to protect myself from the pain of loss, makes me less loyal than individuals who grew up in diapers alongside another. 

So what is loyalty?  By definition, it is a feeling of attachment, responsibility, devotion or duty.  It is the state of being loyal.

But what, exactly, does this mean?

In literature, we adore loyal characters and feel betrayed when our beloved literary friends walk out on one another.  We tend to view them as having no virtue.  Yet nowhere in any definition of loyalty did I find a stated length of devotion, attachment or sense of duty. 

In dictionaries across the web (and even the huge, hard-bound, blue one of my childhood) loyalty is defined in terms of intensity rather than duration.

Christopher Robin is a devoted, loving and supportive friend to the Hundred Acre Wood crew–until he grows up and leaves behind his make-believe world.  The fact that he eventually leaves behind these friendships does not diminish the intensity of his loyalty at the time.

On the flip-side, Pooh would have given every last bit of fluff for Christopher even after CR left the woods.  Pooh’s devotion extended above and beyond his friend’s need.  Yet both of these characters would be considered loyal almost to a fault. 

In THE HUNGER GAMES, Peeta is fiercely loyal to Katniss and puts himself at great risk to keep her safe.  Katniss, on the other hand, is driven by her will to survive and keep her promise to her little sister–the one who own’s Katniss’s loyalty.  As much as I adored Katniss in this book, she was not loyal to Peeta.  Not emotionally, anyways. 

She cared about and for him, but Peeta never earned Katniss’s unfailing emotional devotion.  Instead, he incited her strong sense of responsibility based on her own guilt.  By definition this is still loyalty and yet it feels sullied to me.  Not pure.  Maybe because there was motivation behind her sense of duty and love.

Dissecting the relationship between Peeta and Katniss makes me question the reasons behind our friendships and the way we attach meaning to loyalty.  As readers and writers, we extend our own values onto another’s intentions.

We declare that someone can’t possibly be loyal if they walk away.  But what if walking away is the right thing to do to best protect and love the one we are devoted to?  We diminish an individual’s value as a loyal friend if they hurt us in some way.  Yet I’ve never read anywhere that hurting someone breaches loyalty.  In fact, I’m sure I hurt my Dear Hubby every day and I’m fiercely loyal to him.  In the same way, we brush away loyalty that comes out of necessity and not love.

But loyalty is how an individual feels.  Not always how those feelings manifest themselves physically.  At least in my humble opinion.

What is yours?   Does the reason behind loyalty matter?  How does the duration of a relationship impact the sense of loyalty one feels?  Are there degrees of loyalty based on the type of relationship people share?  Is one motive more acceptable than others?

Curious minds want to know.


6 responses to “Psychological Writing Series: Loyalty

  1. Oh what a great post, Cat. In fact love and loyalty are the two main themes in my next book Shield the Heart. You so eloquently sliced right down the middle of these two actions and emotions. Great food for thought!

    • You’ve picked some tough issues to tackle and I can’t wait to read it!

      Until I started the psychological writing series, I never consciously considered these things in my own writing, yet the impact can be tremendous. It will be nice to see read a novel that deliberately uses these themes.


  2. Having moved a great deal during childhood and between “parental units” I can understand and agree with the disconnect that comes out of a need for self-protection. This was a difficult thing to outgrow in early adulthood but eventually, having a great group of friends gave me reasons to trust. See I feel that trust and loyalty go hand in hand.

    Trust brings loyalty.

    Great post, Cat! I’ve really enjoyed this series and hope you will do more in the future.

    • Well, you gave me a good reason to write at least one more post on it sometime in the future: trust. What a convoluted, yet extremely deep, topic that is!


  3. Great post Cat. Yes, I think loyalty is a hard one to pin down, and it does have massive effect on readers. I’ve read the Outlander series a few times, but I never fail to feel personally betrayed when Jamie marries Laoghaire, believing that Claire is lost to him, but I can’t think of a more loyal character in literature.

    • BBC,

      Loyalty is hard to pin down. I think it’s one of the reasons I struggled to love Mockingjay. I felt the loyalty between Peeta and Katniss was out of necessity and not love and it left me sad and empty. While I know that marriages can be based on this type of need, it never fails to hurt my heart. And yet love does not define loyalty. Just in my perfect sense of the world.

      I think that’s what makes books like the Outlander series so personal.

      Thanks for the comment!

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