QUESTION: I have felt betrayed in my love life and also at work. Can you help me to get over these feelings of hurt? . . . Patricia in Goleta
Thank you for your question, Patricia. It is an important question and a large topic. You have given me very few details of either situation, so I am going to have to write in general. I am not going to address betrayal at work in this column, but perhaps in another, as it is a broad topic and deserves one of its own.You have caused me to think deeply about my own life and the betrayals I have faced. Certainly, betrayal is very painful, and it can undermine trust and color our experiences for a lifetime.
I am going to start by telling you a story about an experience I had in the past. I was doing an interview in the bar at the Montecito Wine Bistro for a radio show I had at that time. My producer and I moved indoors because the weather was becoming a problem. The woman I was interviewing was producing a play in Los Angeles for the first time in her life, and at the age of 72. While we were discussing her life, she mentioned that some of her friends felt betrayed by her because “you are always so busy.” She said: “I find that some of the women are succumbing to being old. I feel embarrassed about pursuing other friendships, they are still my friends, but I tend to avoid them. I feel embarrassed because I’m doing a lot of stuff and they aren’t.”
What people feel as betrayal can be as simple as that. It’s what came next that amazed me. One of the men in the bar had been listening to her life story and, when the word betrayal came up, he just lit up. “I’ve been betrayed,” he said. His reaction was so strong to the word that I was curious and invited him to join us. One of his close friends had betrayed him and he was still upset by it.
Five others joined and story followed story around the bar with great intensity and speed. Half the stories were of friends and half of lovers that betrayed them. What made this experience so remarkable is that all this emerged spontaneously from a single word – betrayal – and that there was so much intense feeling involved in the telling. No one wanted to be denied in telling their story. Obviously, it is a very common experience to us all.
But what is betrayal? The word betrayal implies a violation of trust. To have our trust violated by someone hurts and the deeper the friendship the deeper the potential hurt. Also, I understand that we all have hurts from the past that make us wary and the tendency is to run, not walk, to the nearest exit. But are all hurts betrayals? Let’s look at the definition of betrayal.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of betray is “to lead astray; especially to seduce”. Additional definitions are: “to deliver or expose to an enemy by treachery or disloyalty, an act of deliberate disloyalty," like when your friend told other people all your secrets.
It seemed to me that some of the stories were about hurt, not betrayal. Being hurt does not imply any intent or malice. Being betrayed does. People can be hurt by misunderstanding, miscommunication, thoughtless acts or other “innocent” differences. When people feel hurt, as with the friends of the lady doing the play because she is busier than they are, it is to feel hurt by someone having different needs than they do. People’s needs change all the time, from day to day, week to week, and year to year, and are heavily influenced by circumstances. To nurse hurt over someone else’s autonomy and needs is to set yourself up for disillusionment and disappointment. That perspective on life hardens your heart and leaves you with less friends and can result in isolation and bitterness.
Romantic relationships have an enormous charge and early on are largely governed by a fantasy of who the other person is. Having said that, let’s take a common situation of betrayal. A man or woman choses someone to date and falls for them. They are highly sexually alluring and the ride is high. Then the person betrays them by dropping them or sleeping with another. This is a kind of painful betrayal that can cripple us.
So, given all that, what should you do? 1. Enter trust slowly . . . Look before you jump. Hard to do when you fall in love quickly. 2. Let your intuition be your guide – Many people, when I talked to them, had an intuitive sense that something wasn’t right but denied it. 3. When you feel betrayed ask yourself the following questions from Katie Byron’s work: Is it true that I have been betrayed or meanly hurt? How do I know it’s true? What if the opposite is true? I have betrayed them and theirs is just a response? 4. Talk out that hurt with the other person if possible. If you have truly been betrayed, I am going to enumerate a three-step process to consider.
Step 1: Forgive – Most people misunderstand forgiveness. They think it is letting the offending person off the hook. Staying angry and continuing to nurse hurt after some point is fruitless. It is the equivalent of punishing someone else by putting yourself in jail. Often the person is gone and doesn’t even know or often care what you are feeling. Draw the energy out of the experience by forgiving them and the world. That doesn’t mean that you would trust them again. Do yourself a favor and get over it.
Step 2: Comprehend – Try to understand the bigger picture of what happened. See your part in the whole. Let’s say you are a man or a woman who choses sexy partners with whom you have a great time in bed. However, these relationships are short lived because the partner leaves or is unfaithful. Often the most alluring partners don’t have the need to commit because there is always someone else around the corner. Your desire is fostering the choice of people that will betray you. Own it.
Step 3: Choose Wisdom – Understand what you would have to give up and change to diminish future betrayals. Maybe you need to let go of some of the allure and passion, despite Hollywood’s fascination with it, and choose more kindness and ability to handle conflict and understand individual difference. A real relationship is based on friendship.
Thank you, Patricia, for your email. I hope others will write more specifics.