Betrayal can strike us fast and hard, a blow to gut and soul
Betrayal as a lens to look at eating disorders, PTSD, self-doubt and anxiety
Betrayal is a vast concept we may think of in limited terms. Betrayal causes such intense emotional and psychological pain the mind reels. Thinking moves to self-doubt and unworthiness. “If I were valuable and worthy I would never have been betrayed.” Betrayal can plunge you into a sense of abandonment at your most vulnerable times. You can be anxious, bewildered and unable to think clearly about your situation.
Betrayal is such an assault on your world view that you may not know how to grasp what can stabilize you. You may not know what is sturdy and trustworthy to hold for your safety, clarity and reasonable presence. You may not understand what has happened to you and reach for food, alcohol, drugs, exercise, retreat and other devices to stop the pain you feel that may seem to have came out of nowhere.
Recognizing Betrayal may bring you back to center and help you understand what has contributed to your pain and self-destructive protective measures you established in your life. Without understanding betrayal you may continue in a life of self-doubt and anxiety, wondering when the next inexplicable and painful shock to your self worth will occur.
What constitutes betrayal in a personal relationship?
Betrayal in a personal relationship refers to a violation of trust, loyalty, or mutual expectations between individuals involved in the relationship. It involves actions or behaviors that undermine the foundation of the relationship and cause significant emotional harm. While the specific definition of betrayal can vary depending on individual values and relationship dynamics, here are some common examples of behaviors that can be considered as betrayal:Infidelity or cheating: Engaging in a romantic or sexual relationship outside of the agreed-upon boundaries of the relationship, breaching the commitment of exclusivity. Vows and promises contribute to clear boundaries so the people involved know what is not okay. But what about long phone calls, long lunches, holding hands, sharing verbal intimacies, hugs? Are these acts of betrayal? Intention is the issue here. If these are your behaviors, do you feel like you are having an affair? Are you getting a sexual or romantic high from your behavior? Do you believe your partner would be hurt or angry or both if they knew the reality of your experience? Fidelity includes the understanding you have with your partner, not just physical acts. An ongoing tweaking of your mutual understanding will support you as you negotiate your relationships with others while respecting and honoring your committed relationship. If you feel uneasy, hurt, bewildered or ashamed of your doubts, your partner may be dropping clues of their infidelity that are too painful for you to allow yourself to recognize.
- Deception and lying: Deliberately withholding or distorting the truth, misrepresenting facts, or hiding important information from the other person. Deception and lying is an attempt to cloud over the reality of a situation so the other person lives in a fantasy of what is happening. Often the deception and lies will not be perfect. A stumble, an inconsistency will catch the attention of the partner. They choose to believe in the honesty of the relationship so will experience self doubt and confusion. They will question the situation which will often produce more lies and attempts to cover up the previous lies by the partner. The person being lied to will start to doubt herself. If she presses for clarity she might arouse anger in the liar and even physical abuse. She will feel guilty as she apologizes and acknowledges she is in the wrong unless she can hold to her center and see through the deception.
- Breaking confidentiality: Sharing personal or sensitive information without consent, violating privacy boundaries, or betraying a confidence that was shared in trust. This can happen between friends, colleagues, neighbors, relatives, spouses. Anyone you’ve shared intimate information with can betray you by not honoring confidences, not respecting privacy, not having empathy for your vulnerability.
- Emotional betrayal: Forming an emotional connection or bond with someone else that surpasses the boundaries of the committed relationship, leading to emotional intimacy with another person. This can be a genuine emotional connection that competes or surpasses the committed relationship. Or it can be contrived to make the person in the committed relationship feel weak, subordinate, hurt and eager to please and win back the other.
- Financial betrayal: Mismanaging shared finances, hiding financial assets, accumulating debt without disclosure, or engaging in financial activities that harm the other person's financial well-being. Someone may steal from you, or withhold money you need for essentials or promised expenditures. This is particularly painful when money was supposedly set aside for college or a junior year abroad or a wedding, but was spent earlier for indulgences. Raiding a college fund can be devastating to a young person not only in the loss of a college dream but in the loss of faith in the parents who exploited her without her knowledge or understanding.
- Violating boundaries and consent: Disregarding or violating established boundaries or engaging in non-consensual acts, whether physical or emotional. These violations can range from small to epic. However, tiny violations executed many times over years can destroy the soul of one person or the entire relationship if the victim becomes aware of the toll. For example, making a promise to take out the garbage or post the mail or clean up a counter or hang up clothes or wash the car and not following through can be minor or irritating. These violations can be irritating, but they can also be insulting. They can become endless proofs that one person disregards the value of the other. When these violations interfere with plans, like having a lovely setting for a celebration or guests at home the peson betrayed can feel defeated and humiliated. Ignoring the other’s preferences knowingly can be wounding. Trivializing an agreement and then breaking that agreement is wounding.
- Lack of support during difficult times: Failing to provide support, empathy, or understanding when the other person is going through challenging circumstances, thereby betraying the expectations of emotional support and care. When one person believes they are in a committed relationship that includes reciprocity they believe their partner other will, with love, caring and genuine concern:
- give time, caring and consoling during grief or stress,
- visit and offer care when the other is ill or hurt,
- give time and a compassionate ear when the other has experienced a loss.
When the other is absent during the partner’s pain, illness, loss, stress, grief the pain is increased because betrayal and abandonment are additional burdens. This can be excruciating and heartbreaking. It certainly can be damaging to a sense of self and destructive to a relationship.
7. Betrayal of confidence or loyalty: Sharing sensitive or personal information entrusted to them by the other person, particularly if it leads to harm or breaches confidentiality. Mocking a person, in private or in public, is a betrayal of loyalty. The mocker wants to highlight a perceived weakness or deficit in the other. This could be a little poke that is accepted, but it could be a breach of trust.
It's important to note that the perception of betrayal can vary from person to person, and the impact of different behaviors can be influenced by individual values, cultural factors, and the specific dynamics of the relationship. Open communication, mutual understanding of expectations, and establishing healthy boundaries are key components in maintaining trust and minimizing the risk of betrayal in personal relationships.
Yes, it’s possible to have expectations of your partner that are excessive or completely impossible to fulfill. Yes, it’s possible to need and want adoration where any discomfort on your part feels like the fault of the other person. Self-examination and self-reflection is essential when determining boundary crossings.
But, too often a person may feel terrible at being betrayed without understanding that he or she has been betrayed. Being too sensitive or not being able to take a joke, or having a poor memory or distorted perceptions are just some of the push back responses you may receive when you confront someone with your genuine response. Examining reality, holding on to your center, having confidence in yourself are essentials in coping with betrayal so you don’t betray yourself with self-doubt.
Too often, by the time you see and respond to betrayal it’s not the first betrayal you’ve experienced. Recognizing betrayal can feel like a sudden strike to your gut and your soul. Yet it may be a culmination of many little or disguised betrayals that you have accepted until you couldn’t accept them anymore. When your pain is too strong to ignore and when your vision is too clear to be denied you have come to a place where you need to deal knowledge you prefer were not true.
If you have been suffering from an eating disorder and or PTSD and anxiety symptoms your ability to recognize betrayal may have been severely impaired. Recognizing betrayal may means you are coming to a healing crisis in yur own self. What has been blocking your perceptions is fading. Your reality is coming through. This is an opportunity for you to live more free and whole than you ever have before. And this crisis involves shock and pain that needs to be weathered and resolved. The betrayer may have been active in exploiting you. Healing and recovery requires more growth to sturdiness and strength in yourself. With clear vision, self trust and self respect you can emerge from betrayals better than you ever were. This may be an excellent time for you to do deep and solid work with a psychotherapist who understands the experience of betrayal.
Joanna Poppink, MFT, is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in eating disorder recovery and adult development.
She is licensed in CA, AZ, OR, FL, UT. Author of Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder