A face reader once told me that I had kind eyes, a strong jaw, a good forehead, in fact, an excellent forehead, an emotional nose, and, more pointedly, that I absolutely could not handle betrayal.
Really, though, who can handle betrayal? Its very name conjures up deep hurt and heartache. Betrayal is the stuff of great literature, pulp fiction, films, theater, romance novels, country western ballads, and the top 40. Even Harry Potter deals with betrayal. It’s a universal theme. Betrayal is part and parcel of the human experience. Hasn’t every card-carrying adult experienced betrayal of one sort or another?
Betrayal comes in many packages including lies, sins of omission, broken promises, hurtful actions, stubborn passivity, and choosing anew.
Betrayal is relational; it requires a connection. Betrayal happens across the board, from your neighbor, your colleague, your spouse, a family member, a professional, or a beloved institution. It is an equal opportunity offender; it cuts at the essential cord that attaches us to one another. It breaks a bond predicated on trust.
For the receiver, betrayal hurts. It’s the unexpected knife in the back, sucker punch to the gut, or dagger in the heart. It’s a devastating blow. You are left breathless and reeling in pain. How could you do this to me?
Betrayal is also unexpected for the receiver. It comes out of the blue; like a flaming meteor plunked on your door step, betrayal has not been anticipated. There are no rehearsed coping mechanisms or strategies in place. You are confused and unprepared. You never saw it coming.
For the giver, betrayal is premeditated; it is an individual choice that has been hatched in secrecy and, possibly, duplicity. The act of betrayal is a seminal moment on the personal journey.
That crossroad provides a choice, a choice that can be made out of fear or faith. A choice made out of fear can be a real or perceived easy way out, such as a friend who refuses to repay a business loan or someone who walks away from a sick relative. Whereas a choice based on faith can be a fearless act of courage, think of an Enron whistle-blower or a spouse leaving an abusive marriage.
The concept of betrayal can be slippery. There are times you may decide to betray another in order to be true to yourself. There is saying that comes from the 12 Step tradition that says “It’s not that I love you any less, it’s just that I love myself more.”
Clearly, betrayal is a self-centered act and, as such, there is rubble and damage left in the wake of betrayal. That said, whether good or bad, betrayal is a matter of context and perhaps, just perhaps, the good or bad piece is irrelevant in the long run.
Let me explain:
From my perspective, the root cause of betrayal -- whether viewed as right or wrong -- is emotional survival, a fundamental core drive for safety and protection to be in the world. This drive is based on life experiences, especially the early years. It is not rational; it is totally visceral.
The enormous magnetic pull of this drive is to keep safe and to keep safe at all costs. And safe is a matter of individual wiring. Safe can be avoiding abandonment, escaping a smothering situation, becoming the subject of adoration, or needing to be the most dependable.
Enormous hurt and pain notwithstanding, the primary drive of betrayal is not to hurt or harm you, unless, of course, the betrayer is a complete psychopath--and that’s a different kettle of fish all together. The drive is emotional safety and survival. You are not the target, per se, but have become the collateral damage.
Without a doubt, betrayal is crazy-making. There are always repercussions. What you do to me or I do to you has ramifications, be it mental, emotional, physical, energetic, or spiritual. Cause and effect, actions and reactions are the physics of life. Betrayal can trigger cascades of feelings and thoughts, such as abandonment and rejection or guilt and self-loathing. And, surprisingly, betrayal also offers alchemical properties. Out of the baseness of betrayal the possibility of self-empowerment, self-love, compassion, and increased consciousness can shine forth.
See, the light does get tricky. If you get down to it, each of us has betrayed someone and each of us has been betrayed. The betrayals may have been the major league life changing types or possibly the smaller, subtler, compromising, integrity-crumbling kinds.
Regardless, betrayal is a part of life and a requisite part of the spiritual path. It is a master teacher. Betrayal levels you; the entire playing field is gone. You are called to face yourself and choose how to respond, how to rebuild, and how to go forward. Certainly, you can hang out in victim mode; the choice is yours. Or you can transmute the dirt into greater clarity and step into the fullness of you with a kick-ass attitude.
Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D., is a psychologist and teacher who likes looking at life with the big viewfinder. She is the author of Balancing Act: Reflections, Meditations, and Coping Strategies for Today's Fast-Paced Whirl and a contributing author to the best-selling 2012:Creating Your Own Shift. You can learn more about Adele and her thinking at http://theheraldedpenguin.com and www.channeledgrace.com.