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RIDE OR DIE: When Loyalty Becomes Toxic

I once knew someone who loved to use the expression “ride or die” to describe certain relationships in their life.

The phrase often came up to describe relationships where the two had gone through incredibly hard times together, and because of the bond formed during those struggles, there was now a commitment to stick by each other. No. Matter. What.

But as I witnessed this person’s life and the relationships they defined this way, I keep seeing the shadow side of this intense loyalty.

Troubling behavior got swept under the rug because… ride or die.

Crossed boundaries were quickly forgiven or completely ignored because… ride or die.

Disrespect or outright abuse was laughed off or explained away because… ride or die.

Loyalty is often a noble feature of the human spirit, but like every human emotion, it can take on a toxic, shadow side when not practiced consciously.

Toxic loyalty is when we continually self-abandon or endure abusive behavior in the name of maintaining a relationship we feel an obligation to maintain at all costs.

Sometimes there is a trauma bond at the heart of these shadow loyalties. Sometimes these toxic ties are with blood relatives and we feel guilt at the prospect of setting boundaries with them, or shame at the thought of removing them from our lives altogether.

I honestly believe we need to question this “ride or die” attitude in human relationships.

Loyalty is not something that should irrevocably bind us to another forever, regardless of their treatment of us, regardless of how we might be required to abandon or sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the relationship.

Loyalty is better thought of as a joint pledge to maintain the health of a relationship for all involved.

If a relationship takes a turn into unhealthy patterns, if hurtful words and behavior are beginning to emerge, true loyalty would ideally spur both people towards working diligently on themselves and the relationship for the well-being of all.

But if the other person refuses to grow, refuses to work towards health, and instead demands that you adjust yourself exclusively to their wants and desires… it doesn’t matter how much backstory you have with this person, how many years you’ve put in, or even the blood you may share… they don’t deserve your unquestioned loyalty, they don’t deserve you destroying yourself for their benefit.

This person is not your ride or die.

And if the toxicity of that relationship escalates to the level of abuse, then staying on that ride with them may actually be a ride to your death… if not a physical death, then a spiritual death as you sacrifice everything precious within you on the funeral pyre of your loyalty.

Don’t ride or die.

Choose to be in healthy relationships.

Believe in your worthiness to be in healthy relationships.

And if the health of a given relationship is completely compromised, and staying means a continual abandonment of your self, your worth, and your well-being, then you always have the right to walk away.

You ALWAYS have the right to walk away.

- Matthew Foley


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