Have you ever been hurt or betrayed by someone you trusted? Have you ever been so badly hurt that your life felt consumed by how you could possibly move on in such an unjust world? I think it’s pretty safe to say that most people experience betrayal in some form—some more than others and some more intensely than others. But we don’t need to measure our betrayal(s) against one another because the thing about being betrayed: it is intensely personal (which is what makes it so very difficult to experience and process). It doesn’t look the same for everyone and our reactions can range from numbness to hysteria.
Intensely personal. How do you move forward after someone has betrayed your trust? How do you react? Below is a list of some of the common reactions (from my perspective, as someone who has been deeply betrayed and someone who has helped others who have been deeply betrayed—in no way is this list comprehensive).
… Why me?
… This is not fair.
… How could s/he do this…to me?
… What is wrong with me?
… I will never let someone do that to me again.
… I need to make this person feel the way they made me feel.
… I can’t believe this person did this to me.
… I don’t know what to do, how to react?
… I don’t want other people to think they can do this to me too.
… I feel like I’m not good enough.
… How will I ever move forward, away from this pain?
These questions are constantly brewing, and the urge to answer them is strong yet scary. We often react with anger, an emotion that is very difficult to understand. The anger can manifest as different emotions—making the situation even more confusing. Sitting still and letting go don’t feel like options—your emotions have been amplified and you are clear that someone else put you in this state. This knowledge can seem liberating (you can clearly identity the cause and the effect), but really it shackles you to the memory of the pain.
Looking back, I’ve been hurt by others on different occasions, but really only betrayed once. This one betrayal puts the other betrayals into perspective, as tiny blips on my radar. After I was betrayed by someone I trusted, I felt anger and did what I do best: research. And just in time, Revenge (the tv show) began to air. I had another word to add to my growing anger vocabulary: Revenge. I vowed to myself that I would make sure that no one experienced what I experienced, because that felt more politically correct and emotionally mature than making someone pay for what I went through emotionally.
And here is where I want to insert a disclaimer, being hurt by another person—to be betrayed by someone you trust—is intensely personal. The words I share should not be seen as advice but merely one perspective of countless. Because for some people, action needs to be taken and there is no shame at all in taking action.
But for me, I got lost in my anger. And with the lapse of time, I subsumed other people into my anger—how could others so easily forget what had been done or feel that time heals all wounds? Time didn’t heal my wounds and actually made them worse. I felt more isolated by the betrayal and felt that I was weak because I did nothing. The anger turned inwards and this is when I felt the real betrayal—turning against myself.
It was this realization that altered my perspective and allowed me to see the bigger picture, to practice self-compassion. Until this switch occurred, I felt very much like a victim without a voice. I felt like power had been stripped from me. I felt lost in my own life. And it’s only now, when I reflect on this period of time that I realize I let myself change into this person. I lost all confidence. And I guess I am not a good actress because I could not hide this lack of confidence from others. It wasn’t until I forced myself to get uncomfortable and think like my old self in a high stakes situation that I finally felt like I was beginning to regain my stripes. And regain my stripes I did. It took well over a year to rebuild my trust in myself and to recognize that my self-worth could not and would not be changed by another person. Most importantly, I learned to protect myself—from self-betrayal.
Reacting to betrayal is messy and very uncomfortable. There is no timeline. Others typically don’t understand what you are going through because you experience the pain internally and try to hide the weaknesses and your vulnerability. I know what a privilege it is when someone lets me help them during this period, to create a safe space to process the raw emotions they are experiencing without much clarity. There is no simple solution or plan. There are questions and there is uncertainty. And what I find myself asking others is this:
… How can you begin to practice self-compassion during this uncertainty?
… How can you sit with the questions without getting angry at yourself?
… How can you let yourself feel the emotions as they come without judging yourself?
… How can you serve as your own protector?
Because at the end of the day, we cannot control the actions of anyone but ourselves (logically we know this, emotionally we need to remind ourselves of this lesson repeatedly). We can’t change the past or even forget it. It’s there and it’s going to remain there. Your position however is up to you—one day at a time.
My story is still unfolding. I sit with uncertainty and questions, but they are no longer laced with anger or a need to know the million dollar question: why. I’m okay with the answer as it is today: I don’t know why. Emotional pain is the wisest teacher I’ve ever had. And yes, for that I am grateful—for the lessons I learned, some I wish I could unlearn but know that is impossible.
Writing these words and reflecting on this time is still uncomfortable for me. There is no tidy ending or ribbon to tie together the truths gained during this period. I need more distance to gain greater clarity. With each step forward, my new foundation is strengthened and my perspective broadened. I could wait until this foundation is perfectly formed to share a tidy beautiful fairy tale ending with you, but that would be a charade that I would not want others just beginning this path to see. Because life does not conform to our carefully laid plans. Everyday, we must dig deep and embrace the experiences we are given with courage and wholehearted honesty.
Always remember, what you are experiencing is intensely personal.
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