Betrayal is a breaking of trust and goodwill in a relationship through some form of wounding. Depending on the circumstances, it can take a long time to heal from and can leave us changed forever.
Betrayal has broken marriages, ended long term friendships and has been the cause of family rifts that can span generations. It may be through a sudden event that can leave us feeling shocked and in disbelief, as in the discovery of an infidelity or an affair. Or it may be experienced over time, through of a series of lies or indiscretions that gradually deteriorate our confidence, trust and respect.
Whether it’s our good friend, partner, work colleague, sibling or parent, many of us have experienced the specific wounding that is felt from betrayal. We know how this type of wounding needs sensitive handling, patience and loving repair for recovery.
How do we get betrayed?
The sting of betrayal may be experienced through a broken promise, a breaking of confidentiality, feeling abandoned by family or friends during a life struggle, or seeing someone else getting the long awaited pay-rise we felt we deserved. Whatever your experience of betrayal, it usually involves a mixture of feelings – hurt, bruised, angry, resentful, anxious and deeply disappointed. Some of the effects of a betrayal are:
- losing a partner or close friend,
- lowering self confidence or self esteem, questioning your ability to trust and feel close to others,
- fear around opening your heart to others
- affecting intimacy and closeness to others.
It is a common experience for people who’ve been betrayed to say that they saw some of the signs beforehand. It may have been a felt sense that something was wrong, a gut feeling.
We can often diminish these because part of us really doesn’t want to believe they’re true. We want to give our trust to the other person that we know and believe in their highest good.
Why does betrayal happen?
Given that we are all dealing with our own motivations, blindspots, woundedness, ego needs, reactions and impulses it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that people will fail us. Or, that there will be times that we will inevitably fail people we know and love. No matter how sensitive we might want to be, it is part of our humanness, our growth and maturation to make mistakes. Taking ownership of hurt we’ve caused is an opportunity for us to know ourselves better and create healing from our own pasts.
Most of us don’t consciously set out to hurt someone when they feel betrayed by us. It is often something we’ve done out of our unconsciousness. The betrayal or ‘let down’ can be a wake up call around consciously looking at and taking responsibility around our behaviour which is the first step for creating change.
Being betrayed by someone close – Steps towards Healing
I had been working with a client around her feeling of betrayal by her mother. It deeply affected her ability to trust or be close to her mother and her relationships with her women friends. Growing up, she never felt acknowledged or protected by her mother around her father’s explosive, abusive behaviour. Her mother always seemed to dismiss or diminish her hurt and take her father’s side, no matter how poorly she was treated. This, in some ways, was more painful for her than her father’s abuse towards her. Despite repeatedly feeling betrayed by her mother my client still longed for a close relationship with her and hoped one day her mother would see and understand how she felt. Over time, she had to face the difficulty that this wasn’t so. Not because she didn’t deserve it, but because of a limitation in her mother, not being able to shift her focus of compassion towards her daughter.
Healing the Hurt
The first step for healing to occur was for my client to stop expecting her mother to behave differently – given that this was consistently her mother’s behaviour. Every time she attempted to have a conversation with her mother about past hurts she would become defensive, dismiss her experience and my client would feel hurt all over again. When we looked at her family history, it wasn’t surprising to see that her mother had her own deep, unresolved issues around intimacy. Much of what my client was taking on board as being unlovable was not about her personally but her mother’s own woundedness. This was the start for her to really see the mother she had, rather than the mother she kept longing for.
Grieving, Feeling the Disappointment
To stop expecting her mother to respond differently also helped her get in touch with the deep disappointment she held around having the sort of mother who would really support her. A great deal of grief arose around the closeness and understanding that she longed for with her mother.
Allowing herself to feel her grief and acknowledging its presence took the focus off her mother and back to herself. As she did this, she started listening to and giving loving attention to her hurts. This was the start of her own tender, compassion for herself. Giving herself the mothering she deserved.
Validating and Loving Your Authentic Experience
Getting better at listening to and validating her own needs helped my client take care of them better. She also started to catch the times when she would diminish or dismiss her experiences or internally criticise herself. She started to really listen closely to the needs of her inner child that needed validation, support, understanding and protection.
Over time, the betrayal she had initially felt was the doorway to creating her own healing. She started to give to herself the mothering she had longed for. As she became more practiced at this, her need for validation from her own mother diminished.
Step 4 Forgiving and Letting Go
In the process of letting go of the type of mothering she was wanting from her mother, my client started to see much more clearly the mother she had. This allowed her to appreciate some of her mother’s specific strengths and positive qualities. She also started to practice stronger boundaries around their relationship that made life easier for her. Knowing there were limitations in where she could go around their intimacy and this took time and patience. She practiced listening to her feelings, trusting them and responding to them.
Is there recovery after betrayal?
Getting over hurt requires recovery time. It is unrealistic to expect yourself to get over feeling your grief and hurt quickly. Recovery time means listening to your heart and allowing it to stay soft despite having been hurt. Listening to your heart and allowing it to guide you helps us recover our trust in our inner knowing. When we are hurt we can’t make the pain go away or change what happened. We can, however, reach out and get support and comfort from people we love – friends or family members. It can also be a good time to reach out for help from an experienced counsellor.
What do you do when you’ve been betrayed?
Here are some key questions to help assess things for yourself:
- Has the betrayal you’ve experienced been a shock, something out of the blue, or has there been an ongoing deterioration of goodwill, disrespect of boundaries, conflict, small lies.
- What, if anything, do you feel you need from the other person in order to gain some peace and closure. If they are unable or unwilling to do this how can you seek this for yourself elsewhere? What support and guidance do you need for this to occur.
- Where might you be dismissing or diminishing your own feelings of hurt, anger, fear or caution? In order to keep a balance between an open heart and a clear head. – Are you paying more attention to your feelings, thoughts and intuition?
- Who is around you that you can trust and speak to? Friends, family members or professional help through counselling, social work, naturopath or GP.
If you’ve enjoyed this article you may want to take a next step and listen to my audio – 5 Steps for Healing from Betrayal. It includes a very beautiful healing heart meditation.