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Healing From Betrayal

Let’s look at the definition of betrayal so we can understand why it hurts so much.

Webster’s definition: To hurt (someone who trusts you, such as a friend or relative) by not giving help or by doing something morally wrong.

“The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies.” ~Unknown

By definition, when someone commits an act of betrayal, we are going to experience emotional pain. Our world is going to turn upside down, we have to grieve the loss of our interpretation of who the betrayer was, understand the more realistic interpretation of who the betrayer is based on his/her actions, forgive ourselves for whatever we blame ourselves for, heal and move forward.

Forgive yourself for the blindness that let others betray you. Sometimes a good heart doesn’t see the bad.” ~Unknown

Now, if we add codependency to this mix, I propose the healing is more difficult, may take longer, and requires working on our codependency issues. Let’s go back to the definition we have been using for codependency: a system of distortions that exists on a continuum. Codependents learn personality traits that interfere with knowing one’s self and others. Codependents take care of others, often ignoring or tolerating their abuse, avoiding confrontation, and enabling the “bad” behavior.

Three very important components of codependency are: putting others concerns before our own concerns, needing others to like us for us to have self esteem, and an irrational need to avoid conflict. When any or all of these are operating, we are not taking care of ourselves. It is not a contradiction for us to take care of ourselves and then address others concerns, build our own self-esteem and feel good when others like to be around us, or learn how to face confrontation and use de-escalating practices. Think about these concepts and see where you honestly assess yourself. If we do not have the tools to take care of ourselves first, build our own self-esteem, and handle conflict, we are going to be hit hard when we are betrayed by a love one. Betrayal hits everyone hard, but if we are fragile before it arrives we are really going to be knocked down emotionally.

If we add a long history with the person (thinking you could trust them) – e.g. Elizabeth Edwards with her husband Senator John, or any long marriage/family relationship/friendship where the person is someone you felt you could trust – betrayal is going to be devastating. The grieving process becomes more challenging when there is a long history. Betrayal is not gender specific

Betrayed Now What?

  • Hire a competent therapist who is committed to moving you through this challenging breakdown to the point you and your body are at peace AND you have skills you didn’t have before it happened.
  • Grieving is a process that has a beginning, middle and an end. Many of the stages may overlap or you may spend longer in one than in another but go through all stages: denial/shock, bargaining, anger, sadness, and acceptance. As I said, the longer the history with the person, the more challenging the process may be. If your loved one betrayed you with a friend or another loved one, you have two grief processes you need to complete.
  • If you have good self-esteem when betrayal enters your world, it will be easier for you to make the distinction, “nothing I did caused the perpetrator to betray me, it was his/her choice.” If your self-esteem is shaky, it will be easier for you to blame yourself for the perpetrators betraying actions. You have your own mirror for self-reflection, but when someone makes a choice to act in a certain way, it is his/her choice. Boundaries are important here. Take a look at what you need to about yourself for your recovery. Stay out of the perpetrators work. No stories about why what they did was okay or they were betrayed so they just did what they knew. Stop. Betrayal is not a viable choice for anyone! I repeat anyone. If you were betrayed as a child, get help so you don’t hurt others. If you know someone you love was betrayed as a child, get help so you don’t enable this person.
  • If you always take care of others first, you may have trouble when the therapist wants you to immediately focus on taking care of yourself. You must learn self-care and nurture yourself through this very challenging process. You must learn to say no to being with people who can’t support you and make request of people who can help you. Your self-care practices will come into the spotlight during recovery from betrayal, as taking care of others will not help you here.
  • If you have avoided conflict your whole life, betrayal will shine a light on not having this tool. Anger at the perpetrator is part of grieving and you may not have accessed this emotion. There are lots of ways to work your way through this anger, but denying it is not one. Writing letters you don’t send, screaming and hitting pillows, exercise, constructive conversation with the perpetrator in a structured situation may be indicated, are all ways to channel your anger but you must find the anger first.

Help I am Stuck!

Many people get stuck in anger in combination with ruminating. Ruminating, in this context, is going over and over a thought or a problem with no closure. This ruminating can be present in both anxiety and depression. If you wake up every morning with your mind being high jacked by angry thoughts about the person who betrayed you and you can’t stop the thoughts and get on with your life you may need strong interventions.

  • Start your day with some form of physical activity dancing, running, biking, walking, or whatever you have found successful to stop the ruminating. If you focus on the other man/woman in your ruminating (and you don’t know them), it is imperative to stop these thoughts as they detract from your work. Stay focused on your anger at the perpetrator.
  • If your spouse or friend betrayed you with another friend then you have two grieving processes to go through. This compounded betrayal is really challenging to recover from since you have two losses: your spouse and your friend.
  • Some people have found relief from the ruminating, with music, support groups, friends, service to others, shifting the conversation as well as with exercise.
  • If you have tried everything and you remain stuck, medication prescribed by a Psychopharmacologist may be needed.

“To Heal a Wound, You Need to Stop Touching It.”

Betrayal is one of life’s greatest challenges, so it can be one of life’s greatest teachers. Don’t misinterpret what I said: Betrayal sucks, is horrific, and the recovery can be like quicksand where you often get stuck ruminating/blaming/beating yourself up etc.

After you get through that muck, there will be gifts. You will learn to love yourself, have resilience, set boundaries, deal with conflict, and take better care of yourself for starters.

“Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.” ~Unknown


Images Courtesy of iStock

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