It is quite possibly the most difficult bridge to cross in life. The betrayal of those you trusted, called friend and even loved is something not easily rectified. Most of life's problems and troubles have solutions that, even if not seen immediately, eventually are seen and can be followed to resolution. Betrayal is a different animal. The simple solution is usually seen as dismissing the person from the circle of trust, often with great anger and hatred taking the place of the love and friendship that once was and is now revealed to have been illusory.
For those dealing with betrayal, including some here who are currently wrestling with its more diabolical aspects, there are certain things to consider. These things aren't easy to think about when you are in the heat of anger and the pain the accompanies betrayal, but they are important to the healing process. Whenever I struggle with betrayal, which I am doing as I write this, I remind myself that my anger and pain only rewards the betrayer with the satisfaction that they have "gotten to me."
This is more of a step than a part of the self-healing process. It is a step that helps you change your perspective away from feeling like a victim and allows you to empower yourself and move forward. After all, how long are you going to let the betrayer drag you through the mud pits of life's lower quarters?
At times a betrayer is an incidental betrayer. By this I mean that due to situations that came to pass, this person's perceived role in your life turns out not to be the case, and you were in fact so wrong in your interpretation of them that who they really are and what they are truly capable of comes as a total shock and leaves you feeling betrayed. These types of betrayal are easier to forgive than the second type, which is where an individual unwittingly betrays you while not considering how their actions will impact you as they pursue their own designs, or the third type, where a person actively follows a course of action knowing it will turn into betrayal and injure you, something they consciously do, and may even be planning as they are winning your trust.
Release Your Anger
There are those who will actively avoid letting their betrayer know that they have injured them, not letting them see you in pain, in tears, etc. They automatically pass through the first step, but they often fail to realize that anger can be just as clear a sign that the betrayer has hurt them as pain and sorrow. Outward signs of anger can actually help a betrayer justify their actions to others. "Hey, look at what a crazy loon he is! Do you blame me?" Remember that every betrayer has their own circle of friends who will believe their version of events over yours, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Consider the potential virtues of anger and weigh them against the harmful impact they will have on you, emotionally, mentally and physically. Will shouting someone down, bashing them or kicking their ass really do anything more than provide you with a temporary release of tension and some satisfaction that you spoke your mind loudly enough to be heard?
One of the most difficult parts of betrayal, aside from the emotional devastation that accompanies it, is the feeling that others do not understand the real nature of events, at least as they appear from your perspective. Much anger comes from the need to tell your tale and have others understand, and to have them reject the betrayer as what he or she is. When others do not see how you interpret events, especially those who share ties to both yourself and the betrayer, it can be frustrating and enraging. The thing to remember is that anger doesn't work very well in getting your point across. Explaining circumstances and events is much clearer when you do so in a calm and rational manner. Anger is a self-defeating emotion that only empowers the person your anger is directed at.
Breathe deeply, find a way to relax you are comfortable with, be it meditation or a long walk or whatever, and talk the anger through in your head. Bash the betrayer to hell and back in your mind and get all the aggression out and then you will be more capable of weaving truth without losing your place through angry outbursts.
Yeah, forgiveness, when it comes to betrayers, or anyone you feel has done you wrong, is a tough cookie to swallow without choking on it. What is important to remember is that forgiving someone for their actions and their behavior and its impact on your life or those you love does not mean you open the door for a repeat performance. "Forgive but do not forget" means that you remember the lesson learned. This person cannot be trusted, especially in certain circumstances. They will reveal your secrets. They will sleep with your wife. They will steal money out of your purse. They will lie, cheat and laugh about it later. I once had a trusted female friend falsely accuse me of trying to rape her. I eventually forgave her and had a nice chat with her years later. Over the telephone. I'll never be alone in the same room with her again.
It takes a sense of knowing that we are all deeply flawed human beings and that a betrayer is less capable of concealing or overcoming their faults than others and that their need to use, abuse and hurt others is a sign of great personal weakness. If we can look at things from their perspective we will see that their pain and suffering, while different from our own, is no less intense. They are merely transfering their pain to us instead of dealing with it in a healthier way.
Deny the Betrayer Opportunity to Strike Again
Life is a series of lessons to be learned, not just about ourselves and people in general, but about individual people who we meet in our journey through life. Betrayal is something that makes trust very difficult for some people, who will put up walls and erect defenses rather than allow anyone near parts of themselves that are wounded from past experience. It is difficult to realize that what one person did in hurting us is not likely to be repeated by others, but as a string of betrayals gets longer and more intense, it becomes harder and harder to trust anyone at all. This leads to a lonely and emotionally isolated existence.
If we can take each person as an individual with their own unique set of flaws and dangers, we can follow the steps to where we can deny that individual the opportunity to hurt us again while allowing others who have thus far done us no wrong access to our inner sanctum. This is, of course, much easier said than done, and if it were that easy there would be a lot of therapists on the unemployment line.
Betrayal and the inability to trust were at the heart of the great depression that led to my suicide in 1994. There had been a long string of betrayals by friends I trusted along with a series of girlfriends who had serious trouble being faithful. More than once, the friend who had betrayed me had done so by sleeping with a girlfriend of mine behind my back. One situation involved me asking a close friend about getting into a threesome with my girlfriend and I. We had been experimenting with all kinds of kinky sex and this seemed to be the next step. At the same time she was trying to convince a girlfriend of hers to join us in a separate session. The girl didn't bite, but my male friend did. It was a wild and fairly interesting evening, but in the end I found myself regretting the decision as in my perception she was enjoying sex with him more than she did with me. In retrospect I know it was because of the nature of the situation more than anything else, but when I later learned they were sleeping together behind my back, the chain of events that led me to self-destruction was set in motion.
I was upset about how things had progressed during the threesome and found myself looking for ways to compensate for what essentially ended up being me feeling like a third wheel watching my girlfriend having intercourse with my best friend with a towel in my hand. Lisa had come into my life with a long list of past lovers, more than a hundred, she claimed, and she was only twenty-four. At twenty-one she had been my first, I had lost my virginity to her, and this may be an important lesson to learn. This does not a good match make. It works very well on the level of sexual adventure, but not when it comes to being a true couple in a committed, long term relationship.
It wasn't something I thought about consciously at the time, as I kept putting it out of my head and pretending it never happened, but I felt in that moment as if I had been betrayed simultaneously by my best friend and my girlfriend, even if it was incidental betrayal and I had actively facilitated the circumstances that made it possible. What you may consider a good idea may later turn out to be a very bad idea.
When years later I learned that Lisa had been actively cheating on me, and caught her in the act, I felt a strong sense of betrayal that cut me very deeply, despite the fact that I had been trying to prove myself by seeking other lovers myself. I was then consciously and purposefully betrayed by a woman who had long called herself my friend and now claimed to have been in love with me for years, something she held back because I was with Lisa. It turned out she was sleeping with the same friend, playing a game with both of us that involved convincing each of us she had long been in love with us and that the other was stalking her and creeping her out. She had intentionally done it to see what the reaction would be, as she knew the entire story of the two of us and Lisa very well.
This began a five year cycle in which I at first tried to trust people and found every minor betrayal highlighed and every major betrayal extremely painful. By the end of my deepening spiral of depression and emotional isolation, I saw no way out and took my own life in retaliation for what I considered my unworthiness. The cumulative impact of years of betrayal had led to me losing all sense of self-worth.
Years later, after much time had passed and I had gone on a long journey that led me to reject the depression and self-loathing I was once rooted in, I considered the events of those five years to no longer be relevant. After all, I had become a kind of Don Juan and "friend to all humans." Who would betray me? Even if they did, there were many roads to travel and miles to go before I slept and most things were marvelously temporary.
It would have been a neat little package. Badly damaged boy with serious trust issues and an inability to emotionally commit himself to anyone for any length of time kills self, rises from the dead and miraculously overcomes his prior paranoia and pain!
And that was where that boy fooled himself.
The thing was, I found ways around the wall. That wall was still there, but the revelations of my death experience showed me alternative pathways. Death is like a steel wall and it takes balls to pass through it and it is much easier to go over, around or under it instead. This is why those who have experienced death have no fear of death and are willing to take great risks in life others might not. The same thing is interpreted for life, especially when it comes to those obstacles that are deeply embedded within us. Can't trust friends not to betray you? Move around a lot, change jobs, change situations, leave friends behind as you make new ones. Can't trust a lover to not cheat on you behind your back or betray you in other ways? Jump from lover to lover like a monkey swinging in the high branches and pretend you like it this way.
Even worse, finally find, or in my case, rediscover the one love who means more to you and moves you more deeply than any other and find yourself subconsiously betraying your own heart by doing things that will eventually destroy the relationship. Convince yourself that it was simply not meant to be so you can go back to swinging in the branches. Find reasons and excuses why it doesn't work and then invent some on your own. Then become so miserable because of what you have done to yourself that you have no option but to flee the scene.
Sounds crazier than it really is. It probably happens more often than we realize. After all, we are all damaged in our own way, and sometimes we go through our entire lives without seeing how or why.
And this is how I came to be lucky enough to be betrayed.
Familiar patterns can be magical things. A big part of my journey to Florida and back to New England involved seeing a pattern of my life, "The Three Queens," unfold so that I could see how I had trapped myself in this pattern throughout my life and then break the pattern through a realization. My life in Orlando involved interlinked patterns and a self-discovery that is very much in line with Joseph Campbell's musings about the Hero's Journey.
All those patterns became like window dressing for the demon at the end of the story, the "boss" that awaited me once I had supposedly prepared myself for what I was told would be the hardest thing I would ever do.
The demon. My demon. My greatest unresolved pain. My Achilles heel.
Taken through a journey and a quest of mystical proportions where I would face down death, loss and heartbreak would not compare to a return to the world I knew where I would be forced to face that demon. Fear of betrayal and infidelity.
And so the pattern would reveal itself. For two years I was reunited with and living with The Muse, the greatest love of my life, and subconsciously avoiding committing to the situation. Always finding excuses and making sure I had an escape route if things became difficult, her problems with bipolar disorder and depression became easy excuses for not staying, and I would wait for her to have a major episode so I could empower myself to believe I needed to get out.
The pattern involved a repeat of a very similar situation to the circumstances that set off my downward spiral. We would invite another person to have a threesome with us, a female in this case, and it would become a somewhat regular affair. And hey, what dude isn't going to be all "hell yeah" about having two women at the same time?
And then I started having flashbacks and it all started to come back to me, everything I had suppressed for so many years and avoided dealing with. I began watching them together and not only feeling like the third wheel, but actually becoming the third wheel as their sexual and emotional involvement deepened and I was slowly but surely being relegated to the bleachers.
I began to realize that I am an extremely monogamous person, and much of their deepening involvement without me related to me telling "the other woman" that I just wasn't into it, that she was cool as a friend but that I really only "had eyes" for The Muse. For a while it was, well, kind of cool to chill out with a beer and watch two chicks go at it once a week on Saturday night. It was a hell of a lot better than any porn channel.
And then it went from being Saturday night to being Saturday and Sunday night and then it was almost every night of the week, and since I work third shift I was no longer really part of it at all. I went to work while they carried on. And it sucked.
Early on, this other woman and I had a conversation in which she agreed if things got out of hand and that if any of us had any problems with the situation between the three of us that she would exit stage left. When it got out of hand, starting with an argument between The Muse and myself that pretended to be about bills but was actually about the three-way relationship, she decided she wasn't going to break it off. Suddenly she was in love with The Muse and I was in the way. As a friend I had trusted her and believed her when she promised to walk if the situation stopped working or caused anyone hurt or pain and now she was going back on that promise.
The way things began was reminiscent of the first threesome I'd encouraged to happen with my girlfriend Lisa and my best friend. The way things evolved became a slow motion replay of the way things ended with Lisa. We had been forced to continue living together for several months for a number of reasons. I slept in the guest bedroom while Lisa and her lover carried on. That nightmare replayed in my mind as I came home every morning to seeing The Muse and this other woman in bed together while my protests fell on deaf ears. After all, it was said, I had encouraged this and now I was crying over spilt milk. As things developed between them and their actions contributed to The Muse, who had been stabilized for quite some time, going back to old self-destructive patterns, I had announced I was leaving and returning to Florida. So, given this, it was said that I had no right or place to file any complaint.
A great deal of anger had built up within me, in addition to a growing depression fueled by flashbacks that told me not only had I not left my old terror of being betrayed and cheated on in the past, I had the equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder. After all, as a recovering suicide I am prone to having psychological issues with those events that led to my suicide. I needed to release the anger and find peace or I was going to unravel and destroy myself. My anger over the situation left me unhinged and unable to think and plan with any kind of clarity.
I was able to release my anger through the method I have used often in the past, exchanging self and other, and looking at the situation from each of their perspectives rather than just my own. So much had been misunderstood and misinterpreted, so I needed to work on clearing up the confusion. This was a slow and painful process that left me wanting to flee the scene many times, as well as making me want to lash out in extreme anger. At one point I told the other woman, "If you were a guy and this was happening, I'd pretty much be required to kick your ass."
The Muse requires stability and minimal stress to function, given her nature and her imperfections. The situation was a major stress producer and built up to the point where she had the worst meltdown I've ever seen. This led to a stay in a psychiatric ward that at first she was ambivalent about but eventually led her to accept she had to do things differently in her life and that she couldn't function within a high stress environment. The fact that she kept creating high stress environments around herself was a major issue, and by the time she came home, she was actively working to stabilize and move in a new and positive direction. I never thought I'd see the day when this stubborn creature of habit would take to drinking tea and meditating.
Instead of running, which I spend a lot of time convincing myself and others I don't do, I stood my ground, as painful as it was to do so as I felt it was important. I had not invested myself fully in the situation, and knew I had become progressively more distant over the previous year. It isn't easy to recognize these things unless you truly look at yourself from the perspective of others. I then had to find a way to forgive this other woman for her betrayal of my trust without giving her the ability to continue to hurt me with what I saw as a series of deceptions and misrepresentations. I had made the mistake of trusting her by telling her where I stood and what I felt rather than talking directly to The Muse, and much of what I had told this woman had been used against me, twisted and retold in a different light.
Choose a Future Course of Action
There are many times when a person who has betrayed your trust or confidence can be packed out of your life, but at other times they have ties to other elements of your life and cannot be truly packed up and out. A former spouse with whom you share children is probably the strongest example. There may be very bad blood and a long history of hurt, anger and betrayal but in some way you need to find enough peace between you to minimize its impact on the children.
In my situation, minimizing the impact of what had become a Holy War between the other woman and myself while The Muse was in the psychiatric ward was realized as being important to me. I had to swallow my pride enough to present a united front in both wanting to help and support her and to prevent her from having one of us act as an enabler for her self-destructive behavior in order to "score points" in the Holy War ("You need to stop drinking," says one. "Here's a bottle of free wine," says the other). It was a lot of intense ugliness and it needed to stop before things got even worse.
The course of action I chose was to stay and to truly put forth my true effort and to stop avoiding making a real commitment. After all, I gave up my life in Florida to come here for The Muse, and once I did I found excuses to avoid putting forth my complete effort for her. Only if I truly give my full effort and dedication to her and to her recovery can I ever truly decide if leaving or staying is the best option in the future. Making decisions when it comes to things of grave importance when you haven't really given things your full effort and attention leaves the door open to future regret. I know I will never be at peace if I leave after a half-assed effort on my part, so the clock has been restarted and a new chapter is being written.
Our survival instinct leads us to believe in our perspective as the correct and pure perspective in times of trouble and personal danger. When things go wrong, we look to point the finger at others, encouraging sympathy and support. We need the support when things go horribly wrong in our lives, but we also need to find peace within ourselves, something that rarely comes when we are throwing around blame without examining our own role in how things fall apart.
It is easy to fall into the arms of regret and tell ourselves we made a mistake in trusting another person when that trust turns into betrayal. We are always recovering from the past, and regret is wasted energy. We must take from past experience what we can to learn from and to navigate into the future with greater certainty. Good things in life are a gift. Bad things in life are lessons someone is telling us we need to learn.