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How Could You Do This To Me? Healing after Betrayal

Updated: Apr 14, 2018

Even small betrayals are felt deep in the soul. Big betrayals, betrayals by the people we care the most about or are the most committed to, can be soul-shattering. As is our nature as human beings, we try to create a meaningful story when we’ve been hurt. Ideally, the story provides us with an explanation that protects us in the future. Unfortunately, after a betrayal, many people decide that the moral of their story is that trust is a bad thing. Or they decide that the person who betrayed them or people in general are evil, or that they themselves are so bad that they deserved to be betrayed.

In my long experience as a counselor privy to stories of how cruel people can be to each other and to themselves, it’s clear to me that very few of these stories we tell ourselves are true. The truth is that betrayal happens. It happens for good reason and for no reason. It is an unfortunate, painful fact of life that people cannot live together without occasionally making horrible mistakes in their relationships.

The lesson to be learned, the true story to be told is this: betrayal is the awakening you get, hopefully very seldom, that reminds you to act with integrity. You can’t change the past. You can’t change the other person. You can be very sure that you keep your promises and treat those around you with respect.

If you have recently been betrayed and are wounded to the core, take the time to howl at the moon at how unfair it is, how wrongly you have been used, how deeply hurt you are. Don’t make excuses for the other person. Don’t forgive them. Cry it out, long and hard. Resist, though, the urge for revenge, which always, ALWAYS backfires. As time goes by, and it may be that a long time will have to pass, you may be able to start to see the situation with more distance. Some people can see and take responsibility for the pieces of the puzzle that they had a part in. Some people, at the very end of the process of healing, can come to at least a partial forgiveness. For those who want to work on this, I recommend the lovely book by Beverly Flanigan, Forgiving the Unforgivable.

It’s a sad truth that many people don’t ever fully recover from betrayal. Your life starts out with a shiny, smooth piece of aluminum foil. Betrayal crushes it. A great apology from the person who hurt you, or a whole bunch of positive experiences with other people, might straighten out that foil. But it takes energy and purposeful work to make it smooth again.

BETH PROUDFOOT, LMFT, is a collaborative divorce communications coach and child specialist in San Jose, CA. Permission is granted to reproduce this article in it's entirety, with attribution.

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