What People Who Have Been Betrayed Want You to Know
Until you’ve been through it, it’s hard to know how it feels. There are 12 stages that we go through, and sometimes it takes a long time to move from stage to stage.
Too many of us feel betrayed at some point in our lives. It can happen in so many ways, with different people. But wherever it comes from, whatever form it takes, it causes some degree of suffering.
In professional life, it often plays out along these lines:
He was loyal, he trusted someone’s can’t fail-advice, and they betrayed him for their own profit.
She worked hard and was dedicated, and her employer betrayed her to save a few dollars.
He was encouraged to speak up when he saw wrongdoing. He did the right thing and was punished for it.
There’s a lot written about how to get over betrayal, but not much to help sort through the feelings and conflicts that follow a betrayal.
Here are the 12 stages of what happens to us when we are betrayed. May it be helpful if you’ve been betrayed—and may it help you treat those around you better.
When we’ve been betrayed, we….
1. Deny the truth. Denial often plays out in either avoidance behavior or addicted behavior. We may abuse drugs or alcohol, overeat, or gamble—or avoid the situation altogether and write the other person out of our lives. These are just a few ways one feels when one is denying betrayal even happened.
2. Experience loss. Betrayal is among the most devastating losses a person can experience. We live in a culture that is blind to betrayal and intolerant of emotional pain. Loss happens in many experiences and circumstances, and it can affect us deeply. The one who has been betrayed is grieving.
3. Hurt like hell. Whether the aftermath is expressed through apologies or being ignored, betrayal hurts like hell. We can heal, but it will have to be in our own time and on our own terms.
4. Brew our anger. Anger is never a good emotion, but sometimes it’s necessary to understand the root cause of something. The irony of betrayal is that when you are betrayed, you sometimes you end up betraying yourself. Anger may feel like showing strength, but in reality it shows how much you still care.
5. Lose our illusions. Most of us lead lives thinking this is the way things should be, so when things don’t go that way, we lose our bearings—even if they were illusory all along. It’s a loss that can be especially debilitating.
6. Forgive but not forget. William Blake said it is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend. When you care about someone, you can’t turn that off because you learn they have betrayed you. It makes for a difficult internal conflict.
7. Struggle to trust. Trust, once lost, is not easily found. Not in a year, perhaps not even in a lifetime. Once trust is broken it’s hard to come by again.
8. Experience everything differently. Old emotions and pain are always at close hand, waiting to remind you that nothing will ever be the same. So you learn to cope with them, control them, and censure them.
9. Hold on to doubt. Doubt causes great pain and kills even strong relationships. There are few things more toxic—and if you’ve been betrayed, doubt is probably a close companion.
10. Live in sadness. The sorrow of betrayal doesn’t come all at once but in stages, as you begin to recognize the full extent of what you have lost. Once someone has violated your trust, it becomes hard to escape the knowledge that people are capable of betraying others.
11. Work to break the chain. You may start out feeling like a victim, but in time realize that you have the power to break the chain of bad behavior. Try to make an opportunity to contact the person who has betrayed you. If you cannot talk to them, write them an email, and send it. If you can’t send it, write it anyway and tear it up. Breaking the chain is difficult but necessary.
12. Finally, claim acceptance. It’s the only way to move on. Holding on means damaging yourself. You can survive these injuries only if they are acknowledged and accepted. Remember, feelings are never wrong or bad. What we do because of feelings can be wrong or bad, but that is a choice.
At some point, too, you must allow yourself to let go of what could have been—how you should have acted, and what you wish you had said differently. We must work as hard as you can to go on with our lives.