"To be betrayed, the person must
first experience trust in the betrayer...
...when they do hurt us, we then have the awareness
that this other person has the capacity to hurt us."
WHAT IS BETRAYAL?
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. The betrayal I am discussing in this
article refers to a variety of forms of betrayal. For
instance, a child is betrayed when he or she
is abused by the parents who are supposed to love,
support, and protect the child. A spouse is
betrayed when their partner has an affair. Betrayal is
when someone you trust lies to you,
cheats on you, abuses you, or hurts you by putting their
own self-interest first.
Betrayal as Loss.
Betrayal is probably the most devastating loss a person
can experience. Notice that I am using
the term "loss" to describe the consequences of
betrayal. In our society, we have trouble
understanding the concepts of loss and grief. We
understand that when someone dies we
experience loss and grief, but frequently we don't
recognize the other forms of loss that we may
experience in life. Loss can be losing a person through
death. However, it can also be losing
a part of that person such as through illness. When a
spouse develops Alzheimer's, for instance,
the healthy spouse may experience loss of companionship
or loss of emotional support.
Loss can also involve things that are less tangible such
as trust. When an individual is betrayed by
someone, they lose trust in that person. In trusting
another person, we believe that they won't
hurt us; when they do hurt us, we then have the
awareness that this other person has the
capacity to hurt us. Therefore, we have lost something
very important to the relationship.
Purposeful Aspect of Betrayal.
The reason that betrayal is the most devastating kind
loss is because most often it is a loss that didn't
have to occur. It only occurs because of someone's
deliberately hurtful behavior, or their
carelessness, or their own personal weakness. Unlike a
loss such as death or illness, there is
usually some sort of choice involved. The person who was
betrayed believes that the choice
was wrong and preventable.
Loss of the Illusion.
Even more confusing, however, is that sometimes loss can
be the loss of an illusion. Frequently,
we develop in our minds the way we think things "should"
be. However, reality doesn't always correspond with the
demands that we put on life, ourselves,
and others. Therefore, sometimes we are hurt when we
have to face this reality. For instance,
imagine children who grow up in the fortunate experience
of having parents who always put the
needs of their children first. But what they don't know
is that their parents are unhappy together.
Those children become young adults and are confronted
with their parents telling them that they
are getting a divorce. Frequently, those children feel
betrayed by the illusion of the happy family
they always thought they had. Suddenly they are
confronted with a hurtful reality.
Another example is that a man marries a woman and thinks
of her as a virtuous, moral person. Later he
finds out that she had numerous sexual encounters prior
to their relationship. He has lost his
concept of how he thought of his wife. He feels betrayed
even though she didn't do anything to
break her committed to him; his sense of betrayal is the
loss of the illusion of how he thought of
However, even if the betrayal is the loss of the
illusion, the grief is very real and needs
to be dealt with. Sometimes this is hard to do because
the person is told and believes that they
shouldn't feel so strongly about something that was not
an actual betrayal of them. So with this
type of loss a person is often tempted to move on too
quickly without resolving it.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS OF GRIEF?
So, given that betrayal is a loss, it is necessary to
understand the process of grief in order to deal
with having been betrayed. Most often, when people have
been betrayed, they have overwhelming
emotions which are so intense that they are unable to
make any sense out of them. Therefore, if you
have been betrayed, you need to understand what these
emotions are and why you are experiencing
them before you can really take any action.
The theory of grief is that it involves several stages:
shock/denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, and acceptance
Frequently these stages may overlap, or one may be
experienced more intensely than another, or
one might be so shortly lived that it didn't seem that
it was part of the experience. However, the most
important part of this theory is that it is not possible
to reach the final stage of acceptance without
having moved through the prior stages. Sometimes people
will get stuck in one of the early stages
which prevents them from moving on. It is even
conceivable for someone to be stuck in one of these
stages for years.
Denial Stage of Grief.
Most commonly people want to avoid the experience of
grief because the emotions are so intense.
So they will engage in avoidance behaviors. These can be
compulsive, additive behaviors such as
abusing drugs or alcohol, over-eating, or gambling.
These types of behaviors are escapes from
emotions. People also escape emotions in other ways such
as obsessive reassurance-seeking,
questioning, or dependency. Or people might just avoid
the situation altogether and write the other
person out of their lives. These are only a few of the
most common ways people avoid the grief
The Anger Stage of Grief.
A common stage where people become stuck, especially
with the issue of betrayal,
is in the anger stage. They become so focused on the
wrong that was done to them that they never
fully experience the other emotions such as the sadness
due to the loss of the relationship. Other
times, people become stuck in the denial stage by
becoming so focused on forgiveness. They
are so quick to want to resolve the issue that they deny
the full experience of the anger and
sadness involved in the loss.
WHAT SHOULD YOU EXPECT WITH GRIEF WHEN BETRAYED?
first stage of shock or denial is when you
are initially confronted with the betrayal. You may feel
numb or feel like someone just punched you
in the gut. There might be a tendency to disbelieve the
betrayal. For instance, if you hear it from a
third party, you might tend to ignore it or even get mad
at them for making things up. This stage,
however, is usually fairly short especially if the
individual acknowledges the betrayal and the loss.
It may be longer if someone has an issue with feeling
anger; then they might want to try and dismiss
the seriousness of the transgression or try to focus too
quickly on forgiving the transgressor.
Once the betrayal and loss is fully acknowledged, the
individual is likely to feel intense anger.
This is a very delicate stage because this is when many
things can go wrong in the process.
Primarily, it is critical to recognize that the emotion
of anger is perfectly okay, but our actions
that are influenced by anger may not be okay. For many
people, when they are first hurt and
react with anger, their inclination is to retaliate, to
hurt the person who hurt them. There is
nothing wrong with feeling this way, but it is best to
not react during this stage. It is better to
work fully through the stages of grief and then decide
how you are going to react. Even if it
takes a number of months to work through the grief, it
is better to wait than to regret rash
actions. Now, this doesn't mean you have to be
completely passive about your anger. In fact, it
is okay to tell the person, "I am so angry right now
that I can't think straight. Before I do
anything I will regret later, I need some space to
During the time of anger, the betrayed person needs to
vent. The tendency is to want to vent with
the person who hurt you as a form of retribution.
However, it isn't really a safe way for you to vent.
The transgressor is going to be dealing with his/her own
issues and is most likely to respond
defensively. Therefore, it is only likely to lead to
escalating anger. You need to vent to someone who
will listen and validate your anger without feeding your
anger. For example, you want someone who
will say, "I can understand why you are angry" but not
someone who says "He's really scum. You
should throw him out." Therefore, it is often best to
talk with a trusted but unbiased friend. If that's not
possible, a minister or a therapist can help you through
Write Grief Letters.
Another way to vent is to write out your feelings. You
can even write a letter to the person who
hurt you. However, it's not usually a good idea to send
these initial letters to the transgressor
because it may not reflect the final outcome for you. 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
without having to regret it later. This is also a good
method for people who have trouble getting in
touch with their anger. Also, you need to recognize that
especially if you aren't venting the anger,
you are likely to misplace it, feel generally irritable
and angry, and are likely to take it out on people
who haven't really done anything to you. Finally, with
anger, recognize that it is okay and necessary
to release the anger physically. However, it is not okay
to physically violate someone else.
Therefore, find a physical release such as hitting a
punching bag or breaking old pickle
jars (in a safe way so as not to get hurt).
As you work through the anger, you should begin to come
to a point of sadness. The sadness is
experienced when you begin to recognize the full extent
of what you have lost. You begin to
think about the good things in the relationship that you
miss. You think about the shattered trust
and knowing that you can never get complete trust back.
Once someone has violated our trust,
we can get to a point where we can continue the
relationship with them, but we will forever
know that they have the capacity to betray us. During
the time of sadness, you need to release
those emotions just as you needed to release the anger.
Again, you can write how you feel. Or
you can imagine telling the person the hurt you have
experienced and the loss of the relationship
that grieves you. And, of course, it is okay to cry.
The grief process is a healing process. It was built
into our systems to help us cope with the
numerous losses we experience in life. If we trust the
process fully, we will heal. Trusting the
process means allowing the feelings to be what they are,
whatever they are. Feelings are never
wrong or bad. What we do because of feelings can be
wrong or bad, but that is a choice. The
feelings themselves are not bad. Therefore, they won't
hurt us. They help us in healing. If you
trust this healing process, you will finally get to a
point of acceptance. This is the point where
decisions can be made and 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. You
may decide that a continued relationship with this person
can only lead to more hurt
and is not worth the effort of trying to
sustain a relationship. Or you may decide that there are
too many good things in the relationship
to give it up.
WHEN SHOULD YOU FORGIVE A BETRAYAL?
Many people ask how to know whether or not to forgive
and continue with the relationship. I
can give you some of the questions to consider for this
issue but I can't give the answers
because each person needs to determine for him or
herself what is right.
1) First of all, is the
behavior a continuing behavior or does the person
recognize the hurt they have caused and are
trying to change the behavior?
2) Also, does the individual
want forgiveness? To want forgiveness
the person has to see the behavior as wrong and not
intend to engage in it any further.
3) Was the
transgression out of justified anger and the person
regretted acting so rashly? Did they learn
from this behavior and are unlikely to do it again?
long have you know the person? Is this
typical behavior or is a single instance?
5) Have you
talked with the person and they have
6) Was the behavior intentional or
was it related to the loss of an illusion (as described
7) What makes this relationship worth the forgiveness?
8) Do you need to forgive so as to move on in your life without the bitterness? However, this
doesn't mean you have to continue the relationship.
This article only touches on the surface of all the
emotions involved with betrayal, grief, and loss.
Hopefully, however, it will give you some ideas about
putting it into perspective and working
through the stages of grief in order to determine what
you want to do regarding the betrayal.
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