Most of us have experienced betrayal in one form or another. Our best friend picks someone else for a game on the playground, we catch the boy we’ve been talking to texting another girl, or we find out that our parents are splitting up the family. There are so many different levels and forms of betrayal. Unfortunately, many of us have experienced the gut wrenching pain of our spouse or partner cheating on us, or breaking the agreements we made on how our relationship was going to work. One of the worst betrayal I’ve seen is when a spouse cheats with a friend or someone the couple knew and trusted.
Why does betrayal hurt so much? Because it comes from people we respect, love, trust, and genuinely care about. In this day and age there aren’t many people we let into our inner circles. We are busy and on the go and just don’t have time to forge as many connections. We keep our circles small and manageable as we maintain the pace of life. This means the people in our circles are more important than ever. As humans we have to have connections to find meaning in life. Connection is necessary to function as a human. It is just the way mammals work. So, with our busy and productive lives, we find the few people we need to feel connected, happy and productive, and settle into the comfort that only having a tribe can bring. After working with women for over a decade, and helping them heal from betrayal, I have identified three themes that pop up over and over again. These are the core issues that we need to work through to heal from betrayal:
1. Trusting others
When someone within our tribe breaks the common agreements for how the tribe works, it threatens our sense of safety, it threatens our belief systems, and it causes us to question every form of truth we hold. When our world is operating as we predict, we feel secure and safe. When we find out something was happening that was off our grid, it paralyzes us because we immediately wonder what else is happening that we don’t know about. This translates to every area of life. If you grew up in unsafe situations or felt unsafe often growing up, then the sense of safety you curate as an adult feels vital to survival. If this is threatened, then it can cause us to engage our highest defense mechanisms that are difficult or seemingly impossible to recover from.
I found my ex sneaking around doing all kinds of things that were against our agreements. Taking extra spending money, sneaking around online, and refusing to see or meet my needs (while demanding I see and meet his needs everyday). All he could focus on was himself. He was so good at keeping me confused about what was going on, and this made me that much more heartbroken when the whole thing came crashing down. Once I accepted the truth that my marriage was a one-sided, sacrificial game, I began to question everything I thought was true, good, and for me. If I could feel so safe before among so many lies, could I ever trust myself again?
We realize we have been lied to for a very long time, possibly the entire relationship. Few of us get to hear real explanations for why the betrayal occurred, but in one form or another the person who cheated always says they had been unhappy for a long time. This is devastating to hear if you have poured your heart and soul into someone. You have sacrificed your own time and happiness. You gave all you had to ensure they were happy and committed, and your love and sacrifice was reciprocated with lies and withdrawal. Giving to someone who is truly not capable of seeing you and reciprocating is incredibly painful and causes us to close our hearts and fortify the walls of safety. We withdraw even further inside ourselves and vow self protection at all costs.
The day my ex told me he had never been attracted to me, I thought I would never recover from the blow. I had organized my whole life around someone who never saw me as anything more than how I can make him comfortable. I thought we had an agreement that we love and cherish each other first. When I realized that I was the only one holding up this agreement I immediately began to question everything I thought was true. Fear consumed me as I tried to navigate my next steps. I couldn’t even fathom thoughts of the future. The grief in these moments breaks us, at least it did me. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t know how I could ever recover. It is amazing what we are capable of, isn’t it? Can you look back at your hardest moments and send yourself love for finding a way through it, one breath at a time?
3. Trusting yourself and your instincts
It forces us to become conscious of how life is actually playing out versus playing out the roles and routines that we set up years ago. Almost everyone I have worked with in betrayal recovery can recall a few red flags. Things felt “off” but they couldn’t articulate exactly what. Many said something to their partner trying to make sense of what they were feeling, but were reassured that all was well (this is referred to as gaslighting). This makes the betrayal that much worse when it is found out, and everyone I have ever worked with struggles to forgive themselves for ignoring their own instincts. It is so understandable that we ignore ourselves. The consequences if we are right are huge. It is overwhelming to think about all the details of ending a marriage. The money, the house, the kids, the entire life we have set up. Not only do we not want it to be true, we need it to not be true so we can continue with the status quo. It is understandably so much easier to ignore our instincts and keep going. Keep spinning all the plates that make a family function. No one wants to lose years of investment. No one wants to give up just because this feels like a hard season. There are so many mixed emotions when it all comes crashing down. Of course there is pain and sadness but most people also feel a sense of relief and promise themselves they will never ignore their instincts again. The cost is too high.
This is definitely true for me. I was devastated. I had invested over twenty years and all my young years into a relationship that ended and wiped the anticipated future out completely. I couldn’t see. I remember saying to my therapist, “the future is black, I can’t see anything”. This was terrifying for a visionary like me. I lived to make the visions of the future a reality. I couldn’t believe all the ways I had compromised myself over the years. I knew something was wrong for years. I knew I wasn’t happy for years, but I had convinced myself it was because of all these different external circumstances. It was just easier to believe that at the time and I have had to work endlessly in therapy to forgive myself. I have deep compassion for women who are struggling to forgive themselves. I have yet to meet a woman who isn’t struggling with this. We just can’t believe we are one of “those girls” who were fooled.
Recovery from betrayal can be a long road for those who have chronically struggled with broken trust. It seems so cruel that those who have been violated continue to be violated over and over. While we are never responsible for the behaviors of others, I have discovered that there are a few areas where we energetically align with those who take advantage of others.
Healing means addressing these leaky energetics so you are standing on a solid foundation of love and loyalty to yourself. In The Courageous Woman Transformation Journey we learn how to use our voice without apologizing and without compromising our needs and wants. We learn to trust our intuition and instincts for what is real and what is actually happening in our relationships right now, not for the vision of the future or the potential we see in our relationships. We learn to check in with our bodies in how we feel so we can course correct before we get way down the road of disconnection and dissatisfaction. We learn to forgive ourselves, live in abundance, and celebrate life. We learn to live vulnerably again so we can receive all the joy and goodness life has to offer. We start dreaming and building toward those dreams with hope and self assuredness. We eliminate suffering by generating joy and pleasure.