~ Guest Writer, ELVIRA G. ALETTA, PhD. ~
By living we take risks.
By trusting we take the biggest risk of all.
When betrayal happens our foundation crumbles from underneath us. I mean, it’s one thing if someone we don’t expect to have our interests at heart is cruel. That’s pretty bad, for sure, but I’m talking about the kind of world-rocking betrayal that comes out of the blue because it comes from a trusted source.
If you’ve lived long enough, chances are you’ve been betrayed at some point. Does this sound familiar?
“I said I was sorry! Can’t we move on now?”
“Because you betrayed me, asshole!”
If you’ve ever had this conversation or even imagined it in your head, you know what I’m talking about.
A while ago, I was betrayed in a major way. I do not want to say much more than that because I don’t want that person to think this is about them (#istillloveyoucarlysimon). This is decidedly NOT about them.
It’s about my journey through betrayal to something like peace of spirit, mind, and heart.
When I discovered the betrayal I admit I was a bit in shock. Kinda like that guy in a dystopian drama who looks down and sees the business end of a sword popping out of his chest. At first he’s like, that’s funny, haha! And then he’s dead. That was me for a few days, then the mad took stage.
It’s good to give anger it’s time.
I worry about people who don’t admit to anger in the face of betrayal. “No, it’s OK. I get why they left me, wiped out the bank account and took the dog.” What?! I’m sure it doesn’t take a psychologist to see that that person has self-esteem issues and needs a lot of empathy and understanding and could also, maybe, use a good kick in the butt.
So even though it’s uncomfortable, giving the anger room for expression is healthy. As long as you don’t act out on it. As satisfying as it is to watch Angela Bassett torch her ex’s BMW, you do not want to have to explain that mess to the cops. BUT you can imagine horrible things happening to the betraying AH all you want! That’s why God gave us imagination!
Depression rolls in at some point.
Betrayal tends to put our basic judgment into question. What we thought was real turns out was a delusion, a lie, a mirage. We tend to blame ourselves for being naive, too trusting, pathetic. I know I did. For me, it wasn’t about learning to trust that person again. It was about learning to trust myself again.
Slowly I had to admit that I had ignored signs that things weren’t all they appeared to be. My body told me clearly, “Ew, that person is not genuine!” My gut said, “There is something icky here!” So my problem wasn’t that I was too trusting, it was that I wasn’t secure in myself enough to trust my Spidey sense when things weren’t right and merited a second, hard look. OK, I can learn from that. I can regain my sense of self-trust by promising myself to listen to my gut when it tells me something is off.
All these phases look nice and neat when they’re presented in this linear form. But… Not real life! In real life my little brain would bounce around, looping from shock, anger, depression, shock, depression, anger… I was stuck in this awful place feeling not a little like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. If I didn’t evolve I would never be free from the betrayer. My healthy reactive feelings of shock, anger, and sadness would calcify and harden into bitterness.
I went on a quest to resolve the residual negative energy so that bitterness wouldn’t take hold.
I dove into the research literature (I did a google search) and found a lot of stuff on the spiritual path to recovery from betrayal. So many articles about how you had to forgive the betrayer! Ugh. I was so not there.
Then I heard an old podcast where Oprah was talking with Marianne Williamson, the spiritual guide turned presidential candidate (Yes, I know. Try to hold your judgment for a moment). Oprah was betrayed (can you imagine?!) and she asked Marianne what to do to recover from it.
Marianne said Oprah needed to take five minutes every day for thirty days to pray for the betrayer, wish them well, genuinely ask good things for them. God bless Oprah, she said, “Oh No! That is not going to happen. Nope!” Marianne persisted.
I thought, what the hell. Nothing else seemed to be working. So I tried it.
I actually put a timer on for five minutes every morning.
For five minutes for thirty days I wrote in my journal as Marianne recommended. At first, my well-wishes had the tone of a Southern Belle’s “Bless her heart,” as in, “I wish this person enlightenment that they are toxic AF.”
Slowly, weeks into it, it became easier to see that that person’s life was detaching from mine so whatever happened to them from here on after, didn’t matter. They had less and less to do with me. The cleverness about the Williamson exercise is that, cognitively, it is almost impossible to have positive thoughts and negative thoughts in your head at the same time. By focusing on the positive I trained my brain/spirit to not associate the betrayer with my hurt. I could let the anger go. I could let the bitterness go. I could let the betrayer go.
Nope. Still not happening. The best I can do is not care. Not caring anymore is so liberating! What I could do was forgive myself for ignoring my intuition that the betrayer was not trustworthy. That feels right and good.
Truth is there are still moments when the hurt and anger return because, you know, human. Also, just as truly, the cuts are not as deep. The hurt, when it happens, doesn’t last as long. I continue to heal, to recover. Most importantly, while I’m not saying the betrayal was a good thing, I can say I am a better person for it, wiser, more trusting of myself, much more trusting of the people still in my life who truly deserve my love and respect. That shit’s empowering!
Your recovery from betrayal cheat sheet:
- Honor all of your feelings. Let them be.
- Even when uncomfortable.
- Let your imagination loose.
- Prioritize yourself, not them.
- Practice radical self-care.
- Surround yourself with good friends.
- Be kind to your self-esteem. It was hurt for trusting. It deserves to be nurtured, not scolded.
- Wish them well. Even if ironic or sarcastic. Humor is healing!
- Forgive yourself.
Elvira G. Aletta, PhD.
Elvira G. Aletta, Ph.D. is a wife, mom to two adults and one horse, psychologist and writer who lives in Western New York where it’s cool to wear a cape and tall boots every day.
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