“We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love.”
- Freud

I have often found it interesting how little information has been written about betrayal. The subject is a common theme in stories and movies, yet doesn’t seem to translate well to a more open discourse. Most of us can identify a time and relationship where we have experienced betrayal, and for many of us who are managing family estrangement issues, betrayal has been an intimate and impactful experience.

So what is betrayal, why is it so damaging, and how come no one wants to talk about it?

At the most basic level, betrayal involves the breaking or violation of an agreed or assumed trust or confidence. Often betrayal is seen as the act of supporting a rival person or group at the expense of another person or group. We believe our family will accept and value us ” no matter what”, we trust that our partner will be faithful, we assume that our friends will have our backs and seek mutually beneficial outcomes, we believe our work place is healthy and that our jobs are safe, we trust our wider social systems to protect us and support us when we need them to.

When our trust is broken, we experience betrayal – a substantial psychological and emotional dissonance, which occurs within a relationship between individuals, within families, organizations or even larger social and political systems. Betrayal is often unexpected but even when we have suspicions, discovering betrayal is psychologically and emotionally shattering and involves shock, disbelief, disappointment and the re-evaluation of one’s relationship(s) and belief system. As the Freud quote above suggests, the more we care or trust, the more vulnerable to betrayal we become because, generally speaking, the greater the trust that one puts in another person, the greater the impact the betrayal has. In addition, the more we rely or depend upon a relationship and the greater it’s sphere of influence in our lives, the more profoundly we will experience betrayal. Because family is deeply primal and the place where we first learn about trust and belonging, if we have experienced betrayal in those relationships, we may carry fear and distrust forward with us into our other relationships too. We are also likely to have these deep primal betrayals re-triggered by later ones.

The aftershocks of betrayal are anger, despair, fear, revulsion for the lack of integrity and loyalty demonstrated by the person who has betrayed us and a pervasive sense of helplessness or powerlessness. Discovering we have been betrayed is devastating because it strikes so deeply at the core of who we are. Betrayal causes us to doubt ourselves and to doubt our ability to make sound judgments about other people. Betrayal shakes up our belief in the fundamental goodness of people, of groups, of organizations and of the world. When we have been significantly betrayed we may fear that we cannot trust anything, or anyone and we may begin to perceive even the sturdiest of relationships as dangerous and unsafe.

Betrayal is an experience that causes us to question ourselves, devalues our self worth and erodes our self confidence. In the wake of betrayal, we may find ourselves socially isolated and silenced because not surprisingly, betrayal also leads to shame. Yet going it alone and silence are not our friends when we have been so deeply wounded. This is the time we must seek out trusted relationships with those who have consistently been present for us. This is not the time for fair weather friends, this is the time for those who will walk the hard yards beside us. If we find we are without people who we feel we can trust, we can trust ourselves and we can enlist the support of a professional to help repair the damage done to our sense of self and self-worth, and to help resolve any feelings of vulnerability we carry with us.

The opposite of betrayal is loyalty. Both exist and there is no point pretending otherwise. Building and establishing trustworthy relationships is a journey and so too is getting to the other side of betrayal. The important thing to remember is we can do it and we are worth it.

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9 Responses to Betrayal

  1. edward says:

    Like love and hate, betrayal is a given at some point in everyone’s existence.

    Our personal safety demands that we immediately move away from the source of emotional destruction that emanates like waves from the betrayer. Out of sight of course is not out of mind, but out of heart is what we have to attain unto by moving the betrayer far from us in the emotional context.

    My journey to establish myself in the lives of others is indeed a never ending voyage, and the level of trust, no matter how strong, can always be added to over the years.

    People are fickle, even God was grieved with what He had to work with so we are well justified in feeling similarly inclined towards humanity.

    Occasionally a truly loyal and emotionally loving individual enters the scene, and I have been fortunate to embrace a few into my existence from both genders. This then is an imtegral part of our happiness, to always seek people who are good for us with the responsibility to be good for them.

    In the midst of my challenges and trials, three people moved close to me, and especially one woman who is an integral part of my existence, occupying a place so close to me, and I to her, that the empathy is instantaneous and mutually felt in a hurting manner when the other suffers emotional pain. This is the highest tribute to a truly loving and respectful relationship any two people can cultivate but it has taken 12 years to blend the ingredients into a fulfilling soul nourishing relationship/friendship.

    I gathered this treasure to me, along with the others in my close existence, over a lifetime and the intent is to maintain all until the end of this existence.

    I would indicate that something amazing happens when opposite gender people, both beaten down, find the other, and the emphasis on agape love with srong platonic focus takes the friendship to heights unknown, as the physical bent is denied and that energy is added to the dynamics of an emotional relationship that words cannot begin to describe. Laugh and ridicule me, but unless one has pushed past the worldly focus on physical and concentrated on the emotional, one will never know that they have/are missing.

    To love with no strings attached, is the beginning of a journey that takes one beyond the stars. It gives total freedom and movement within the very being of the other, and allows repose from instant empathy for the other as the words scarce are spoken.

    A relationship of strength is 90 percent emotional, and the ten percent physical when denied, is slowly absorbed into that emotional realm, wherein it further strengthens and uplifts.

    Can you imagine two people loving in the unconditional sense, with no judgmentalism, no expectations, no strings attached, no topic off limits, and respect as well as love worn on each shirtsleeve to be accessed at will when needed by the other?

    There is never a plateau in such a friendship/relationship and I have found that learning is a voyage, not a harbor.

    Such a closeness moves around one when he/she has suffered hurt, inclding betrayal and warms, soothes, and calms the mind, soul and spirit of one, as it flows from the other…it is indescribable.

    It is the more amazing when one can find this across two thousand miles, by spoken or texted/typed word, relying only on conversational interaction.

    The destructivity of betrayal can be and is destroyed in it’s insiduousness by love from one who understands and cherishes the one hurt…but it is written, “Faith, hope and charity, but the greatest of these is love”. The author was referring not to “eros” love, but to the pure form of love called agape(unconditional) love, and he well knew that was the all healing balm applied to the heart that eliminates all manner of hurt, including betrayal.

    Indeed, one always turns ones face to the warmth of the sun, on a cold day, and that is what one needs to do to effect the beginning, and ending of any emotional calamity one suffers.

    • edward says:

      ..and I have only begun to wax long on this topic but will hold other thoughts, see what you did Fiona? Consider yourself loved and cherished.

      Always Edward

  2. JustMe says:

    Oh Fi, this touched such a deep chord in me. Sort of like a gong actually… As you stated, early betrayal by family members can lead to relationship & trust issues throughout your life… never has that been more true. I basically hibernate. Year round. I love my home, it’s “safe”, a secure environment where I have some modicum of control, thus I rarely leave unless it’s unavoidable, i.e. Dr. appt.’s, teacher conferences, etc. If having groceries delivered was less expensive I’d probably never go to the store again. The invention of the internet & Amazon literally changed my life! I can get almost anything I need w/o ever having to leave my home! There was a character in a movie called True Stories (with David Burns no less!), who NEVER EVER left her bed! She was obviously a bit quirky, but was very happy living her life from her bedroom, and had everything she needed so she never had to leave. I remember thinking how nice that would be…. I’m not necessarily a hermit, heh, I’m an introverted extrovert- if that makes any sense at all. 

    I like people. I like talking to them and hearing their stories. I even like going places and doing fun things. It’s just that when it comes to bringing people into my life, into our ‘inner circle’ that I cringe. I’ve been burned by nearly every single person I ever trusted. I used to think there was something wrong with me, that those knives in my back were somehow a result of my negligence. 

    My earliest memories are of my mom sharing MY (embarrassing) secret(s) with my sister (who was cruel beyond ‘sibling rivalry’), then both of them holding it/them over my head and laughing at & using them against me. Then, when I was only 13, my folks decided that we could no longer ignore, & that it was time to “forgive”, the man that molested me when I was 3 (an early age to learn the boogeyman who hides under your bed, which is what he did, was REAL). This man was her cousin, like a brother to her growing up, and before that we were very close to his family. Nice that they could forgive, but I couldn’t. I also couldn’t forgive my family for telling me to ‘just get over it’ & to stop being ‘selfish’. Not after he stole what he did from me. After that I was labeled as having some form of ‘persecution disorder’ by my folks, “oh, poor you!”. When I finally became a parent, the betrayal of that day hit home even harder. I realized I could NEVER forgive someone for doing that to my children, and I would NEVER expect said child to have some form of ‘relationship’ with this sick person. If it was a close family member, it would be hard, but my CHILD, and their feelings and safety and well being would my first, and ONLY concern. 

    I’ve lived the rest of my life with my family thinking I just sit around feeling sorry for myself (untrue) and that every case where I feel betrayed is just me having this persecution issue. it makes it hard to ever reach any sort of resolution with them, my feelings are discounted. As for friends? What friends? I’ve always been a bit of a rebel and a lot of a loner. Sometimes I wish I had someone other than my husband to share things with, but it always comes with a price. Too high of a price than I’m willing to give. I DO enjoy giving however, and am a big ‘ol softie. That’s probably why people can betray me so easily, I’m a bit naive and like to think the best of people, and give all my heart and loyalty away like a stray puppy. I’m kinda big on propriety, and doing the Right Thing, and live by the Golden Rule. I guess I’m a bit daft for expecting the same in return.

    I had one friend that I trusted 110% for 13 years of my adult life. We shared everything and could see ourselves in old age sitting on the front porch together rocking our grandkids in rocking chairs, laughing about all the crazy stuff we used to do. I was there when her daughter was born, there for her divorce, there to help her pack up & move, there to listen & wipe her tears. I helped with money when she needed it, chased off an abusive boyfriend, paid for her & her family to vacation with us when she was depressed, babysat 3 days a week for free- and I loved doing it & LOVED her baby like it was mine. My kids called her aunt, her baby their baby sister. I didn’t need any other friends! I LOVED her & was a good & loyal friend to her. I would’ve done ANY thing for her. I never kept score, the above was what I realized after I got an EMAIL (no less) from her telling me we couldn’t be friends anymore. Just like that. She said I was never there for her (???) & she couldn’t take a one way relationship anymore. To say I was devastated would be an extreme understatement. It was a betrayal and a loss. A loss like someone I loved had died. Oh, but before they died they turned my world upside down with their cruelty. Gee, that’s just me feeling persecuted again, ha. About a year later, I get another EMAIL, saying she was sorry, wanted my forgiveness, and that it was a new guy she had been dating who was threatened by our relationship and wanted her to ‘break up with me’… so… she… did. Against my better judgement I forgave. I missed her, missed her daughter, and my kids missed them both also, they were like family. Suffice it to say, things were never the same and she eventually made a repeat performance. My bad. Twice burned & all that. 

     I have never betrayed any one to my recollection. When I’m your friend, I try to be what I want in a friend and put a lot of stock in loyalty. Active listening, caring, heck, I’d give you the shirt off my back, and basically have. Yes, I’m sensitive, but I don’t think I’m overly so. Is it too much to ask or even expect the same basic considerations in return? I don’t even try anymore, I’m not sure what I need people or friends in my life for anyway, not if it involves all this pain and betrayal, it’s just too much for me. No, I’m not sitting at home feeling sorry for myself, not at all. I keep busy with my kids and have hobbies I truly enjoy. I have a happy fulfilling life. I LIKE being alone. 

    So now it’s just me & my little family in our little home & I’m right where I’m supposed to be. I may be friendless and estranged from my family, but what’s most important to me is right here. I may hope that one day, the right friend for me will enter my life, but I’m not holding my breath. I was out walking the other day, rare for me, lol, and I met a couple with a stray dog they’d rescued. The poor thing shook and quivered when humans walked past. I asked them if he was skittish around other dogs and they said no, that he did great with them. I thought about that…. I’m a lot like that stray dog… I LOVE other dogs, I’m a dog person, but I have a harder time trusting people. Why can’t people be more like dogs? 

    • pamela says:

      Hi JustMe, I sooo agree about dogs. They give unconditional love. I have dog-friends around the neighbourhood and know their names even if I dont know the owners names.

      The time we give to the friend is something that we end up on our hands after the friendship stops, so there is a need to do something with that time. I do gardening and drive to somewhere further out of town for a little look around. Then I get onto Fiona’s messages and cheer myself up
      Currently I am under attack from a friend who has taken my self-protective statements and turned them onto me with blaming. If we were two 7 year old boys we would be having a punch-up. As mature women, it is nastier. I throw a legitimate feint to her low blow, and try to limit her ability to hurt me. It still hurts a bit but I do whatever leaves me with a clear conscience, and get out into the garden.

      I wish I could take away the pain but I know you will be stronger because of it. So they say! You have met a couple who are giving time and attention to that stray dog, so you have met some beautiful souls on just one walk. If you do it again you might meet them and enjoy talking to them again. Those are the people who are worthy of time and attention, not the selfish people. Keep smiling

  3. JustMe says:

    Whoops, s’cuse me, that’s “David Byrne” :-)

  4. pamela says:

    Thank you Fiona, for showing me why I have felt that I did not want to see my friend for a chat anymore, after she decided she would make use of the resources of some people who have shallow values and who had hurt me. For me as a volunteer, the stress of being let down was enormous, and my ‘friend’ heard all the angst at the time, unti I cut myself off and ceased doing that volunteering. Now she has, quite legitimately, joined forces with them, telling me she believes she can avoid being let down the way I was.

    There is nothing to prevent my friend from working with the unreliable group but you have clarified for me that there is a loyalty involved in our friendship, and that there is betrayal. On the face of it, I should smile and watch as a friend joins the ‘bad guys’, because they are only ‘bad guys’ to me, and a few others who have moved on, out of their orbit. She has said that I can say “I told you so” if she gets hurt, but that would be the last thing I could ever wish for. Friends do not do that. Now that you have used the word “betrayal” I realise why I have a different attitude to my friend. I do not believe a friend would ever want to be saying “I told you so”, but she thinks our friendship is quite shallow if we could contemplate saying “I told you so”.

    Now I know why I do not want to meet up for a coffee and chat. The shallowness of our friendship has been shown up and there is not the closeness I had thought was there.

    Thank you. I am able to move on. The sisterly friendship only existed in my head and I am not wrong to be disappointed. Just aware that I have been naive yet again, Better that than cynical, anyway!

    This is a great source of inspiration and guidance, and thank you very very much, yet again.

  5. Michelle says:

    Interesting subject. I think my friend feels like I betrayed her. She got a little drunk too quickly and was making a scene. I told her to cool it several times and told her she was out-of-line when she destroyed someone else’s property.(food). I told her she was out of line and needed to settle down. I left the bar hoping she’d follow me. Fiona is probably chuckling right now b/c I should’ve known reverse pyschology doesn’t work on drunk people. She ignored me. She now feels I abandoned her. Yet, she didn’t call me to come get her, she didn’t walk over to my place, she didn’t sober herself up, she didn’t call another friend. As much as she feels betreayed –which I understand and I am sympathic to — I can’t control her choices and I can only guide her to what my belief system feels is appropriate. I made a pledge to myself not to apologize. I hate losing friends, but I feel I did nothing wrong. I’m not the one who chose to drink, be rude, and not listen to my friend when she tells me it is time to settle down or time to leave. Where is the line when you feel betrayed or recognizing it was something you could have controlled. The wierd thing is. I’m not mad. I would be friends with her, but not invite her to a bar again.

  6. Brendan says:

    Hi. This is my first post I have been estranged from my daughter for about a year. She did the estranging and gave me no insight into what the trouble was. Having tried to reconcile I got absolutely no feedback from her. While I feel sad for other people when reading their posts it does give me some comfort that this estrangement is probably more common than I thought and sometimes it occurs for rather innocuous reasons. There was never any abuse or neglect involved in my relationship with my daughter. I strongly feel that I was loving towards her. Divorce from her mother and the fortnightly access visits are certainly not ideal but life is never perfect. I am still working towards the acceptance phase but it is just so hard. Maybe I’m not posting under the right heading but a sense of betrayal is a dominant feeling for me about the estrangement.

    • Fiona says:

      Hi Brendan,

      Thanks so much for leaving a comment and sharing a bit of your story. It’s so hard to gain any sense of understanding or completion when we are truly in the dark about why estrangement has happened. Sometimes even when we’re told why, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, or clear things up – but when we don’t have a reason, it seems we crave one. Maybe somewhere inside we feel if we only could know the reason, we’d be able to fix it.

      You’re right, there’s so many reasons that estrangement happens. I think we can all let ourselves off the hook a bit. It’s happening to us, but it’s not always “about” us.

      Sometimes people doing the estranging need time and space to get clear themselves, to move forward with their lives and healing before they can come back to us for that conversation.

      It’s okay if we hold a door open, or maintain “continuing bonds” – love and desire for connection, even if its not possible or happening today.

      Betrayal is such a difficult feeling to wade through. It makes us want to shut down, and “harden up” rather than staying open and curious. Until we can move through the betrayal that we feel, we’re not in the best place to think about connection. Maybe this will be a time where you can focus on moving through the weight of that, so if and when the time comes to reconnect with your daughter, you’ve cleared what “baggage” you can.

      I hope that you’ll find the posts and community here helpful as you move forward. You are most welcome here!

      Warm regards,

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