Betrayed. You know the devastating feeling of the proverbial stab in the back or being thrown under the bus. First, there is a wave of shock. Then, often, a deep wave of shame. This shame can feel confusing because YOU were the one betrayed. These experiences can emotionally scar, and when it happens at work, it can inhibit careers. Betrayals can happen from a friend, a colleague, an organization or from life circumstances. Maybe it’s a sabotaged work project, a team member who quits the day she finishes the company-sponsored MBA, a friend who speaks ill of you to others and smiles to your face. You could even feel like your body or life has betrayed you as you get a diagnosis or traumatic news. However, as with all challenges, it can be used to elevate and further us if we choose.
The Shame Game
We are conditioned to take responsibility at a very young age, so when betrayal occurs, one of the first questions asked is, “What did I do wrong?” or “How did I let this happen to me?” Our need to control and make sense of why this has happened often involves shifting responsibility. If I take responsibility for it, then I can at least create a bit of a feeling of control. We can also begin to internalize the betrayal and the harm felt as a personal failing. A contorted mindset of wondering what is wrong with me that would be deserving of this wrong. These dances with shame maim us, and do not advance us or protect us from future harm.
Betrayal comes with a sense of disillusionment and mourning. You begin to question what you understood. You may find yourself asking if your perception was accurate. Was everything I believed a lie? Not only is there the death of the relationship in the form you understood, but you may begin to question if any of your perceptions are accurate. This fosters a lack of self-confidence and victimization, because in order to preserve control in our sense of reality, we begin to wonder if in some way our own perceptions are not to be trusted. This lack of trust in ourselves can further erode our ability to move forward and use the experience for our betterment.
The first thing to do is to honor the truth. Even if you feel like you could have or should have realized this was going to happen, blaming or judging yourself for it will only leave you more damaged and unable to move towards healing. Be careful to talk with yourself like a loving friend. If you feel like you could have foreseen the situation, then honor the power of your intuition. If it came out of the blue to you, then appreciate your innocence. Acknowledging fully what happened, without judgment, is the first step that has to occur before further work can be done.
Then it is time to recommit to yourself as an act of self-loyalty. Self-loyalty is sometimes confused with selfishness, but it really means that you are in alignment with your values. You cannot practice or extend your values to others if you have not first given them to yourself. If you allow someone to be abusive towards you, then you would not only be lacking self-loyalty, but it would also mean that you are assisting someone with living a dishonorable value. The kindest, most loyal thing that you could do for the person would be to set a strong boundary that would aid them and limit their paths for unkind, damaging behavior.
Betrayal opens the door for us to examine our own self-loyalty. Upon reflection, we may see how the dots of this betrayal all connect, but be cautious not to begin the cycle of self-shaming and blaming again by understanding that hindsight is 20/20. Instead, release judgment and use the experience for building wisdom and as an opportunity to cultivate deeper self-loyalty. How can I be more self-honoring of my intuition about people or situations in the future? Is constructive dialogue about what happened with the other person a positive option for me? Is it healthy or beneficial for me to stay? These are hard, often uncomfortable considerations, but these kinds of questions begin to cultivate a deep sense of self-loyalty. And when we are first loyal to ourselves, we can extend and receive that from others more easily.
Sometimes you will continue to be around or work with the person, organization or system where you experienced betrayal. A new normal will need to be found in order to be effective. The great Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are, believe them!” If the betrayal revealed an inability to be truthful, respectful or loyal, then it would make a lot of sense to adjust the relationship to this reality. Even if the other person offers an apology or is contrite, trust can only be rebuilt over time by continuous displays of change. If reconciliation happens, that’s fine. However, if it doesn’t, your path forward isn’t inhibited.
Nix the Passive Aggressive – Forgive
This has to be done without becoming passive aggressive. Acknowledging what happened doesn’t mean that you get to be mean-spirited, cagy with your responses or hostile. It may simply mean that you are not willing to share your private thoughts or feelings. It doesn’t mean withholding needed work information or using the silent treatment as a cudgel. It also does not mean plotting a revenge strategy on any level. Ultimately, revenge inhibits your ability to move forward and ties you to that person or situation. Forgiveness is often misunderstood to mean that what happened wasn’t wrong. Forgiveness actually means releasing yourself from the energy of the situation. Finding forgiveness for yourself and others frees you to move forward.
This is the time to double down, triple down on your own integrity and doing your best work. When you’ve experienced deep pain, you can extend it or heal it. You can use betrayal as a crossroads to determine who you want to be and to further your values.
Truth has a way of revealing itself over time, but I wouldn’t recommend staying in a holding pattern until it surfaces. There is justice, but it doesn’t come in the form that we often prefer in the heat of our pain. Justice is always present because the Core Motivation of the betrayer lives within. If the motivation was based on a need to “get ahead,” to not take responsibility, to leverage information for gain or simply a lack of integrity, then that motivation is the one that is lived with until the person does their own healing work. These kinds of motivations are based in a sense of lack or fear. That sense of lack and fear is a filter for everything and cultivates the belief that the world operates as such. This becomes a paranoia that someone else will not be loyal, and this deep fear permeates all aspects of the person’s life, actions and relationships. We live the reality of our beliefs for better or worse.
This is why maintaining your own integrity, shunning passive aggressive behaviors and focusing on cultivating deep self-loyalty that extends outward is not only moving forward, but thriving and turning a painful moment into an opportunity for life elevation.