How to Manage Our Betrayal
By Dr. Robert Leichtman
Betrayal can create profound disturbances in our ability to think clearly and plan our future. We may feel that our reset button has been punched, and that we need almost to reinvent ourselves. This will be a time of vulnerability where the urge to seek revenge or give into despair can distract us from our recovery. It is important to be practical and take the steps that keep us on the path to our recovery.
The first step is to understand we must survive before we thrive
When we fully recognize the severity and ramifications of our betrayal, we may feel shattered and unable to mobilize ourselves. Yet, it is vital to understand that we must prioritize taking care of our everyday needs and tasks. Life goes on, and we need to go with it along with our routine activities and responsibilities that we can manage. While we may need to take it easy for a while, this does not usually mean withdrawing from most of our usual duties. Yes, some rest may be necessary, but keeping up with our regular routines can help us survive the adjustment period. This effort will incorporate many of our “normal” activities, and this will help us re-establish a stable lifestyle. Being involved in what is familiar to us helps compensate for the craters and deep potholes that are now present in our lifestyle.
The second step is to avoid the harm of overreacting to our betrayal
Victims of betrayal must recognize that they will suffer from two problems. The first is the apparent betrayal and profound disruption this causes. The second problem is our intense reaction to this betrayal. This second problem is often far more severe, especially for those with firm expectations and convictions about who they are and what they deserve. The more inflexible we are, the more shocked and shattered we may become.
At this point, we must beware of the attack of the four horsemen of disaster. These are fear, anger, sadness, and guilt. All four of them are likely to try to pound you to a bloody stump after a significant betrayal. We must be on guard to resist their influence, for our anger, panic, despair, or regret can destroy us. Many items may cause us anguish, but we cannot afford to waste much time in prolonged mourning for what might have been. Contrary to those who say we must “take time to grieve,” the danger here is that we will fall into a dark hole of misery and never come out. We will never recover if we surrender to extensive emotional negativity.
Some people find themselves in the precarious position similar to alcoholics who know that they will not stop if they take just one drink. Likewise, indulging in just one hostile rant about those who betrayed us or a brief orgy of self-pity can easily set us back to square one.
Those who praise the notion that venting our rage is wonderfully therapeutic should be cautious. They need to wonder why these people are still exercising their same complaints years later. Be suspect of those who recommend using “the hair of the hound” to cure them of anything.
So, we must practice self-control to restrain our dark impulses and keep our focus on healthy thoughts and feelings. This will enable us to remain in a state of mind capable of reason, order, and a constructive outlook. This effort will repel dark emotional moods where we can barely think or move.
We must be strongly motivated to avoid justifying and then participating in anger, despair, confusion, resentment, apathy, or self-pity. These are the psychological poisons we create, and they can destroy us. Others can trigger us into being angry or sad, but we create these negative responses. If we indulge them, they can consume all our energies and attention and delay or permanently prevent recovery.
For those who fear they may be suppressing their anger, this is how we replace our dark urges and moods with the intent to support our recovery. Instead of floundering in resentment and self-pity, we are trying to reactivate our capacity to be cheerful and confident about who we are.
Focusing on our survival in the present is a simple way to avoid drowning in our negative reactions. This means attending to the practical steps that support our immediate well-being and responsibilities. These concerns keep us invested in stable and familiar activities and restore normality to our lives.
The third step is to keep reaffirming a solid belief in ourselves
It is easy to doubt our ability to trust others or even our judgment after significant betrayal. We may begin to think that a big mistake means we are naïve, bordering on ignorant. But over-extending our trust and not doing proper due diligence is not a moral crime. It only proves we were not expecting to deal with gross dishonesty or exploitation. But we must now work to prevent a decline into bitterness and paranoia that can engulf us more thoroughly than this betrayal.
Seeking to “get even” with our betrayer only sucks us into the same behaviors that they used to victimize us. An act of successful revenge only puts us level with their ethics and conduct. This is not a good choice.
If we succumb to despair, anger, or defeat, we allow our adversary’s devious plans to succeed. We are handing them a victory over us! This is a victory we should deny them.
The sensible and healthy response to a betrayal is to recommit to believing in our innate abilities, to make sense of our world, and take care of ourselves. Yes, our capacity to trust our judgment may have been shaken, but we can still manage the basics. We may need to streamline some of our expectations and assumptions, but there will be a hardcore of people, resources, and convictions worthy of our trust.
If we are temporarily unable to feel secure about everyone and everything, then a least believe in our left foot and move on from there. Do not surrender to apathy and helplessness. Even if parts of our former world are missing, we still exist. Rely on the good elements that remain.
Trust in your capacity to figure out what is suitable to do right now. Getting through the day will be good enough for a while. However, try to do something to prove to yourself that you can still think and act responsibly to take care of yourself and your rights. If necessary, longer range matters can usually wait until you are thinking more clearly.
A fourth step is to draw a line on your past and start over
Professional advice usually stresses the need to process your traumatic experiences, but this is not necessarily effective as an early step. Reviewing our devastating experiences while still fragmented and confused will only deepen our uncertainty and despair.
It will be better to draw a line on our past and start over. This means we consider our past as “before the crash” and our present as “after our crash (B.C. or A.C.). This view will put a temporary wall between the awful betrayal and our new life. This figurative wall will create an effective boundary that will shut down the complaints, fault finding, and emotional bleeding that are so common after betrayal.
Our new focus will be to rescue ourselves from our complicated past. We can use the after-the-crash-time to gather our trustworthy resources and restart with fresh beliefs, priorities, and habits, plus a new alliance with the people we know we can trust. As we re-establish these relationships, we are entering the realm of cooperation and affection to restore our humanity.
Perhaps in months or years, we can look back on our betrayal as a time of learning and re-education about essential themes in our life. We can begin to view them as the master lessons in learning about critical thinking skills and the need to think for ourselves. This can lead to establishing better boundaries and greater self-reliance. We also can discover how to take care of ourselves when outer support fails us. These traumas are how we acquire great lessons in refining our individuality.
In the end, shock and betrayal can lead us to discover our innate strengths and resources. These resources can include a new collaboration with our higher human and spiritual potentials. This connection can produce permanent access to new guidance, love, and power to serve us well in all future endeavors. It is our reward for successfully surviving and then thriving after betrayal.