Healing after Betrayal

Is it Possible?

Betrayal is a breaking of trust and goodwill in a relationship that can take a long time to heal from and can leave us changed forever.  It has broken marriages, ended long term friendships and created rifts in families that can span generations.  It can happen suddenly and leave us feeling shocked, as in the case of an exposed affair. Or it can happen over time, involving a series of lies or indiscretions that deteriorate trust and respect.

Whether it’s our good friend, partner, work colleague, sibling or parent, many of us have experienced the specific wounding that is felt from betrayal.

How do we get betrayed?

Our betrayal could be caused through a broken promise, a breaking of confidentiality, not feeling loved or supported when we really needed family or friends, or someone else getting the long awaited pay-rise we felt we deserved.

These experiences can leave us feeling a mixture of emotions –hurt, bruised, angry, resentful, depressed and anxious. Some of the effects of a betrayal are:

losing a partner or close friend, lowering self confidence or self esteem, questioning your ability to trust and feel close to others, fear around opening your heart to others affecting intimacy and closeness to others.

It is a common experience for people who’ve been betrayed to say that they saw some of the signs beforehand. It may have been a felt sense that something was wrong, a gut feeling.

We can often diminish these because part of us wants to believe they’re not true.  We want to give our trust to the other person. Knowing this doesn’t necessarily stop the shock and hurt that happens when we are betrayed, but it may be a wake up call to listen to our inner guidance.

Why does betrayal happen?

Given that we are all dealing with our own motivations, blindspots, woundedness, ego needs, reactions and impulses it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that people will fail us. Or, that we may also have failed others in our lives. No matter how sensitive we might want to be it is part of our humanness, our growth and maturation into whole adults. Taking ownership of hurt we’ve caused is an opportunity for us to know ourselves better and create healing from our own pasts.

Most of us don’t consciously set out to hurt someone when they feel betrayed by us. It is often something we’ve done out of our unconsciousness.  The betrayal or ‘let down’ can be a wake up call around consciously looking at and taking responsibility around our behaviour and changing it.

Being betrayed by someone close  – Steps towards Healing

I had been working with a client around her feeling of betrayal by her mother. It deeply affected her ability to trust or be close to her mother and her relationships with her women friends.  Growing up, she never felt acknowledged or protected by her mother around her father’s explosive, abusive behaviour.  Her mother always seemed to dismiss or diminish her hurt and take her father’s side, no matter how poorly she was treated. This, in some ways, was more painful for her than her father’s abuse towards her.   Despite repeatedly feeling betrayed by her mother my client still longed for a close relationship with her and felt very sad that this wasn’t so.

Step 1 – Healing the Hurt

The first step for healing to occur was for my client to stop expecting her mother to behave differently – given that this was consistently her mother’s behaviour. Every time she attempted to have a conversation with her mother about past hurts she would become defencive, dismiss her experience and my client would feel betrayed all over again. When we really looked at this together, it wasn’t surprising to see that her mother had deep, unresolved issues around intimacy.  She had lost her own mother as a young girl and grew up with a violent father.  Much of what my client was taking on board as being unlovable was not about her personally but her mother’s own woundedness. In starting to really see the mother she had, rather than the mother she kept longing for she could start to make changes for herself.

Step 2 – Grieving, Feeling the Disappointment

To stop expecting her mother to change also helped her get in touch with the deep disappointment and grief she held around her longing. A longing for the closeness and understanding that women share with their mothers.  Allowing herself to feel her grief and acknowledging its presence took the focus off her mother and back to herself.  As she did this, she started listening to and giving loving attention to her hurts. Rather than waiting for her mother to change, she started to give herself the tender, loving, self-mothering that she needed and deserved.

Step 3 – Validating and Loving Your Authentic Experience

Getting better at listening to and validating her own needs helped my client take care of them better. She also started to catch the times when she would diminish or dismiss her  experiences or internally criticise herself.  Through visualisation, she imagined herself listening closely to the needs of her inner child.  She connected to her inner child by going deeply into her heart, where she felt her hurt.  Her inner child would speak to her from her heart. She showed her how to keep her heart soft and open to love even though she’d been so hurt. She regularly journalled conversations with her inner child and would do things that were fun, pleasurable and playful with her. Over time, she started to acknowledge her needs with greater empathy and kindness, greater generosity and ease.  She started to give to herself the mothering she had longed for. As she became more practiced at this, her need for validation from her own mother diminished.

Step 4 Forgiving and Letting Go

In the process of letting go of the type of mothering she was wanting from her mother, my client started to see much more clearly the mother she had.  This allowed her to appreciate some of her mother’s specific strengths and positive qualities. She also started to practice stronger boundaries around their relationship that made life easier for her. Knowing there were limitations in where she could go around their intimacy and this took time and patience. She practiced listening to her feelings, trusting them and responding to them.

Is there recovery after betrayal?

Getting over hurt requires recovery time. It is unrealistic to expect yourself to get over feeling your grief and hurt quickly.  Recovery time means listening to your heart and allowing it to stay soft despite having been hurt. Listening to your heart and allowing it to guide you helps us recover our trust in our inner knowing. When we are hurt we can’t make the pain go away or change what happened. We can, however, reach out and get support and comfort from people we love – friends or family members. It can also be a good time to reach out for help from an experienced counsellor.

What do you do when you’ve been betrayed?

Here are some key questions to help assess things for yourself:

Has the betrayal you’ve experienced been a shock, something out of the blue, or has there been an ongoing deterioration of goodwill, disrespect of boundaries, conflict, small lies. What, if anything, do you feel you need from the other person in order to gain some peace and closure.  If they are unable or unwilling to do this how can you seek this for yourself elsewhere? What support and guidance do you need for this to occur. Where might you be dismissing or diminishing your own feelings of hurt, anger, fear or caution?  In order to keep a balance between an open heart and a clear head. – Are you paying more attention to your feelings, thoughts and intuition? Who is around you that you can trust and speak to? Friends, family members or professional help through counselling, social work, naturopath or GP.

If you’ve recently felt betrayed by someone and want some help and support around your healing, it might be time to speak to someone professionally.

I hope this has been helpful. Please write to me with your thoughts and experiences.

Wishing you peace and happiness

Shushann xx

Posted on 01 June 2014 in - Library - Relationships

Shushann Movsessian

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