“It was a mistake,” you said. But the cruel thing was, it felt like the mistake was mine, for trusting you.”
― David Levithan, The Lover’s Dictionary
The term “stabbed in the back” is often used to describe betrayal. It illustrates the pain and the shock that is often evoked following a betrayal event.
Betrayal takes many forms. A lover who sleeps with someone else, a good friend who spreads vicious rumors about you, or a business partner who takes all the money and leaves your name on the paperwork for the debtors. These are just a few examples of what betrayal looks like.
In my work as a clinical psychologist, I hear stories of betrayal from time to time. What strikes me most is the emotional response that results. The depth of the pain and hurt, how confidence turns to shakiness, and that underneath the outrage and disbelief a deep shame often exists within the betrayed person.
Some people respond by hiding from the world. Believing that others would think them a fool, they would rather avoid interactions with people. Sometimes the betrayal is kept secret. For example, intimate affairs are often covered up and not spoken about in order prevent the potential public shame of people knowing that a partner strayed.
The betrayed person did not cause the betrayal, yet he or she often shoulders the responsibility via shame. I sometimes offer this up in therapy. “It’s interesting that you feel so much shame, it’s almost as if you were the one who cheated/ stole/ lied/ spread rumors.”
When we hide or cover up a deeply painful event, we cannot access support or alternative perspectives from others. It allows our mind to get stuck on thoughts of being naïve or to speculate that we brought the betrayal on ourselves. Isolation following betrayal can lead to a punishing existence of loneliness and disconnection, and ultimately depression. This is the opposite of what you need after betrayal.
What can you do to heal from betrayal and build confidence?
• Give yourself time to process what happened. Some people act immediately but it is also ok to give the situation some space before you respond. This is important if you feel like taking revenge.
• Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Eat well, exercise, sleep, and talk kindly to yourself.
• If necessary, put in safeguards to protect yourself from ongoing hurt from the person. In the case of a thieving business partner take care of financial affairs as quickly as possible. With an affair, protect yourself physically if you choose to stay in the relationship by only having protected intercourse.
• Share your hurt with someone you trust. This is not a time to hide. Spend time with people who know your better qualities and can reassure you of your worth.
• Avoid taking the blame through shame. Remind yourself of your intentions and hope for the betrayed relationship. Compassionately remind yourself that betrayal is a common part of human experience. Many have walked this road before you.
• Sometimes betrayal makes people want to stop trusting others. As humans we need to trust to survive and to have the relationships that nurture us, help us, and bring joy. You may not feel like trusting now, but don’t let this one event ruin other relationships that have treated you well. Spend some time each day focussing on good experiences with others.
Recovering from betrayal takes time. Be kind to yourself during this period. You are worth it.