Betrayal is probably the most devastating loss a person can experience. To be betrayed, the person must first experience trust in the betrayer. It is fairly impossible for you to be betrayed if you did not trust the individual in the first place. Therefore,the definition of betrayal involves the act of someone violating your trust in them. Betrayal can happen to anyone….whether you are a celebrity, a political figure, wealthy or poor. Betrayal is not always obvious either…. sometimes the signs are there but we give people the benefit of the doubt or are in denial. At other times, there are no signs and this type of betrayal can be all the more difficult to deal with. Next to a death of a loved one, betrayal (loss of trust) is the most devastating loss a person can deal with. When an individual is betrayed by someone, they lose trust in that person. When we trust another person, we feel confident that they will not hurt us. Betrayal only occurs due to the deliberate behavior of another person, from their carelessness, from their own personal weakness. Unlike a loss such as death or illness, betrayal of another person is a choice. The person who was betrayed believes that the choice was wrong and preventable.
Whatever the course or the source of your betrayal, it is important that you don’t blame yourself or think that you did something to provoke the betrayal. Betrayal has many motives, and it is not your fault. Just as in any loss or shock to our emotional core, we go through several stages: shock/denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, and acceptance. Very often, one or more of these stages may be experienced more intensely than another, or one might not be experienced at all. However, the most important part of this theory is that it is not possible to reach the final stage of acceptance without moving through the prior stages. The first stage of shock or denial is when you are initially confronted with the betrayal. You may feel like you are out of your body, or feel like someone just punched you in the gut. This stage, however, is usually fairly short, especially if the individual acknowledges the betrayal and the loss. Once the betrayal is acknowledged, the anger arises. Feeling anger is perfectly fine and very normal. Wanting to retaliate, wanting to hurt the person back is also very normal. But don’t get too blinded by anger that you do something that will only come back to “bite you” in the end. Stay focused and don’t do anything you will regret later.
When we are angry or hurt, we need to “vent”. But venting to the person who betrayed us is counterproductive. They are just going to be on the defensive, and that will only make you angrier. You need to vent to someone who will listen and comfort you through your anger, preferably a trusted friend, a family member, a life coach, a therapist or your minister or rabbi.
Writing down your feelings, either through a journal or just a slip of paper can also be a great way to release your feelings of anger. You can even write a letter to the person who hurt you. However, don’t send it to them. A letter format is frequently helpful in working through the anger stage of grief because it feels as if you are talking to the person and able to vent. Be careful that you don’t misplace your anger by taking it out on people who are not to blame. That is why it is so important to find a way to release it. Another great way is to get a punching bag, throw away reminders of that person, or just plain break some plates or jars (in a safe way).
As you go through the stage of anger, your sadness will start to arise too. You think how your trust was shattered and how you may never be able to trust again. You need to release the sadness just as you need to release the anger. Again, you can write your feelings in a journal, but it is most important to allow yourself to cry and cry and cry. Crying is a healthy way to release sadness. Don’t be afraid to just let it happen.
Grieving and the process of grieving is a healing process. It is built-in to our systems to help us cope with the many losses we experience in life. If we trust the process fully, we will heal. Trusting the process means allowing our feelings to evolve in any shape and form. Feelings are never wrong or bad. We will experience a whirlwind of emotions that can be incredibly intense, and this is all natural. If you trust this healing process, I promise you will finally get to a point of acceptance. This is the point where rational decisions can be made and proper action can be taken. At this point you are able to think clearly about the situation and decide what is the best course of action to take. And, of course, that action will vary depending on the person and the situation.
Now, we get to the final process which was not listed above, and that is forgiveness. This is probably THE most difficult stage. How can we forgive someone who deliberately and knowingly deceived us and betrayed us? How can we forgive a monster? It’s difficult. But, here’s the truth: In order to truly be free, we must find a way to stop drinking the poison and expecting the other person to die. They won’t, but the poison will seep into every area of your life…your relationships, your family, your health, your sanity and your happiness. The anger and the bitterness will slowly eat away at you while the betrayer enjoys their life.
But let’s just take a minute here to understand what forgiveness is and what it isn’t.
Forgiveness does not mean you are a pushover and that you condone what happened to you. It doesn’t mean that everything is now sunshine and roses. It doesn’t mean that you have to be friends with the person who betrayed you. What it does mean is that instead of holding on to the hot coals, we accept what happened and realize that the other person is damaged and carrying tons of emotional baggage. Forgiveness on your part helps YOU drop all YOUR emotional baggage and lighten your load. Forgiveness is about your own inner healing and extending kindness to yourself.
In closing, just remember this: every test in our life can make us bitter or better. Every problem comes to either break us or make us. The choice is ours whether we become a VICTIM or a VICTOR. Our hearts are muscles. What happens when a muscle gets torn? It grows back even stronger!