Surviving Betrayal Requires a Leap of Faith
By Cynthia Wall, LCSW
I define betrayal as any experience which continues to produce guilt, resentment, anger, fear or helplessness. The confusion often comes when you want to let it go, because it happened so long ago; or you want to believe that "they did the best they could," so shouldn't feel trapped and demeaned. How you respond to a betrayal experience will make a huge difference in how you choose to see your life, and will be mirrored in all your relationships, including your feelings about yourself.
Has someone you deeply trusted ever betrayed you? Have you ever betrayed someone you love? Does it surprise you to think that it might be a common problem in every relationship?
Whether the acts were deliberate, accidental, or just a misunderstanding, the hurt, resentment and fear linger for years. It can stain even the closest relationships - sitting there unprocessed, ready to leap and confound when another hurtful situation arises. In this way betrayals can stack up, surprising us years later when "I thought I'd finished with that nightmare in the last relationship!"
You can rage and punish yourself and the other, thereby keeping the resentment and guilt fresh with a daily reminder. Or you might feel the need to minimize the pain with denial, and choose to stay in a hurting relationship, acting "as if" all were forgiven. In either case, if you can't eventually let go and truly come to peace with the overwhelming feelings, you must hold a shield over your heart, not trusting. And that limits emotional intimacy. You can't fake trust in your deepest self!
This doesn't affect just the one relationship, it destroys self-esteem as well, and compromises your ability to trust anyone, including yourself. If you choose what looks like the easiest path - to leave without forgiving - you may discover that you attract others with whom to repeat the pattern, wondering why you ever tried to trust again!
I believe that trust requires faith in the basic integrity of someone. We must also acknowledge that there are times we need to separate a person from his/her actions: be angry at the action while loving the being. It also helps to recognize that trust and love are not the same. You can love someone, but feel you cannot trust them with some aspects of your life and affections. There are times, due to a multitude of reasons, you might be afraid to share everything with your partner, parents or children, keeping some thoughts private. Some are not so great with money, or dependable about time or remembering tasks. So there are times when you simply should NOT trust someone, because they are not strong enough or emotionally capable of honoring the trust placed in them.
Incidents of insensitivity or neglect can bring strong feelings of betrayal, hurt and doubt. Yet you know that you love them still, and work toward the changes that open both hearts to the possible return to trust. Forgiveness is your best hope to return the relationship back to trust. Forgiveness is a major shift in awareness, one that supports the courage to return to a relationship after a serious breach of trust. Ironically, it can also strengthen your ability to let go of a connection that no longer serves your needs. Or if you are no longer bound by rage, hurt or guilt, then it is easier to say "Good bye" without more hurt and drama.
How can you forgive? You may have been told to "forgive and forget," but couldn't. Forgiveness is a word that evokes conflicting meanings within each person. The most powerful result of forgiveness is to allow the forgiver to reclaim the peace of mind that comes from letting go of past hurts. You need not condone the action, nor deny the painful feelings - in fact, you must bravely and totally acknowledge the facts and experiences, in order to know what you are ready to release.
Perhaps most significantly, in terms of sanity and safety, forgiving does not require having to let the betrayer back into your life! Forgiveness is about fully experiencing and releasing the feelings still trapped inside, accepting any lessons learned, and seeking peace of mind. Only then is it possible to let go of the remnants of the shame, fear and anger that is created by betrayal.
This includes forgiveness of the Self, ending perpetual self-punishment: perhaps the most difficult process of all!
As you free yourself from the shame and pain caused by others, as well as your own mistakes, you can regain personal power and self-respect. It is by learning to trust yourself that you lose the terror of abandonment by others. And by releasing any unproductive guilt from your own mistakes, you can accept the lessons learned, and move on to self-love.