In a one-week period, two people for whom I have tender feelings experienced significant betrayal. One found another woman in her hubby’s bed. The other reported to their manager that she was totally responsible for a significant error. Here are some thoughts on the dynamics of feeling betrayed, and how to move on to trust and forgive again. Let me start by reminding you that healing from betrayal is not an easy task.
There is a phrase that says “stronger in the broken places.” Bad things do happen to wonderful people and, in the end, often strengthens them. Or, as my friend Melanie says, “What won’t kill you will make you funnier!”
Psychologist Gwendolyn Jansma suggests that all parents need to “betray” their children in order for them to learn the weaknesses of their parents and eventually leave home. While it may seem like nothing good can possibly come from being betrayed — especially by a family member — we can actually grow through people disappointing us. We can learn that our opinion of ourselves is the most important opinion, that we are our main caregivers, and others are not in the world to make us look or feel good.
Life is indeed full of paradoxes with light and ugly shadows like rape, affairs, name calling, stealing, and all forms of betrayal. As in the movie Star Wars, we are sometimes drawn into the dark side or we can fight to stay in the light. Another alternative is to have compassion for all of our tendencies.
Bring your dark side into the light. A friend of mine recently demonstrated this choice. After a fierce divorce where she was often tempted to react with revenge, she declared how angry she felt, cried, and then moved on with grace. She gave herself a promise ring as a reminder to care for herself until death does her in.
After being betrayed, it’s not uncommon to be in a state of doubt as to whether or not we can ever trust those who have wronged us. That is particularly true if there are multiple violations or incidents of deceit. In order to regain trust in others, it is important to realize that we all have weaknesses and we will all let others down. Few of us are saints and even Mother Teresa had a crusty side. I often say, “You can trust other people to live life their way.” Pay attention to how others operate. Trust them to come late, or break their agreements or run off with your money if that is their lifelong pattern. Conversely, trust that others will be there for you, will honor their commitments, and will not violate the bonds of your relationship. As another cliche goes Actions speak louder than words.
The Buddha said that in this life we would experience ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows and Jesus said, “In the world, you shall have tribulation.” Both also agreed that the act of forgiveness is a way to deal with the wrongs of the past so that you can move forward in peace to the future.
When it comes to forgiveness, the most important person to forgive is yourself. We need to learn to forgive ourselves for our humanness, our misplaced trust, our neediness, and our innocence. Certainly, forgiving both ourselves and the perpetrator of our harm frees us to totally move on.
Still, the first place to start is with ourselves and our feelings. Identifying feelings and how they might be familiar allows us to be authentic with ourselves. To transform feelings of blame and shame, we can identify lessons from this experience. We can learn to trust our intuition, not tolerate initial disrespects.
We can learn to heed warning signals and trust ourselves to trust again. We can also learn to discern what action we need to take to reclaim our power. We might get a lawyer, write an angry letter (mail it or not), have a face to face confrontation, or sell the engagement ring.
Yes, betrayal is painful, but it just might bring us home to ourselves and allow us to move forward to a place of forgiveness and trust. What are your experiences of betrayal and how have you recovered?
Note: For more on healing from betrayal, consider reading Dr. Beth Hedva’s book, Betrayal, Trust and Forgiveness.
Patricia Morgan MA CCC helps her readers, clients, and audiences lighten their load, brighten their outlook, and strengthen their resilience. To go from woe to WOW call 403.242.7796 or email a request.