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Betrayal – Part 1

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Betrayal is one of the most painful human experiences. Discovering that someone we trusted has deeply hurt us pulls the reality rug from under us. When we see the word “betrayal,” we may immediately think “cheating in a romantic type relationship.” But betrayal comes in many forms. Abandonment, vicious gossip, and spreading lies also may be experienced as betrayal.{{more}} A damaging aspect of betrayal is that our sense of reality is undermined. What felt like solid trust suddenly crumbles, our innocence is shattered. We’re left wondering: What happened? How could this happen? Who is this person?

Betrayal is probably the most devastating loss a person can experience. To be betrayed, the person must first experience trust in the betrayer. It is fairly impossible for you to be betrayed if you did not trust the individual in the first place. Therefore, the definition of betrayal involves the act of someone violating your trust in them. Notice I used the term “loss” to describe the consequences of betrayal. In our society, we have trouble understanding the concepts of loss and grief. We understand that when someone dies, we experience loss and grief, but frequently we don’t recognize the other forms of loss that we may experience in life. Loss can be losing a person through death. However, it can also be losing a part of that person such as through illness. When a loved one develops Alzheimer’s, for instance, the healthy loved one may experience loss of companionship or loss of emotional support.

Loss can also involve things that are less tangible, such as trust. When an individual is betrayed by someone, they lose trust in that person. In trusting another person, we believe that they won’t hurt us; when they do hurt us, we then have the awareness that this other person has the capacity to hurt us. Therefore, we have lost something very important to the relationship. The reason that betrayal is the most devastating kind of loss is because most often it is a loss that didn’t have to occur. It only occurs because of someone’s deliberately hurtful behaviour, or their carelessness, or their own personal weakness. Unlike a loss such as death or illness, there is usually some sort of choice involved. The person who was betrayed believes that the choice was wrong and preventable.

To be continued next week.

Dr Miller is Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.

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