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Betrayal or the absence of trust?

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Betrayals – large and small – appear to be endemic to the human condition. From playground bullying and taunting, through office back-stabbing, date rapes, extra-marital affairs and fraudulent business practices, there are many different ways in which people can abuse the trust placed in them.{{more}}

So, why do we sometimes behave so badly, in ways we know are hurtful to others – and usually to those closest?

One theory about the development of the persona is that, according to the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, all individuals pass through eight psycho-developmental stages from birth to death and each stage acts as a foundation for the next developmental stage.

The very first stage as a baby and infant is when the individual learns to satisfy their survival needs. If the mother of the infant is fairly attentive the baby learns to trust that his or her needs will be satisfied. However, if the mother is unreliable or negligent, the infant will learn to distrust and will see the world as a dangerous place.

This very early deeply unconscious developmental stage colours all later understanding of societal rules and responsibilities and the development of moral and ethical values. The child then evolves through the successive stages involving ‘hope’, ‘will’, ‘purpose’, ‘competence’ and ‘fidelity,’ according to accepted cultural and gender norms. Then, in adolescence the individual enters Erikson’s sixth stage – love – and this forces an engagement with others who may have vastly different schemas and where trust can be taken advantage of both professionally and personally.

Betrayals during this ‘love’ stage are thought to be particularly important because it is during this stage that we develop our sense of identity and our ability to sustain loyalties.

Some betrayals may be at the hands of narcissistic personalities who may be very manipulative and adept at gaining control over others who are either trusting or naive. Sometimes too, betrayals may have been perpetrated by someone upon whom you (may) depend(ed) for some aspect of your survival and the tendency in this case is to minimize the emotional impact of the betrayal in order to survive. This may happen with abused or neglected children, but these powerful repressed emotions will find expression at a later date in some physical or mental ailment unless safely discharged.

The other main motivation for acts of betrayal arises in the shadow side of the personality. These are the aspects of our personality we do not own and do not want to look at, but that will find expression either in sabotaging our own best laid plans or in hurting others – usually those closest to us. In short, we hurt each other from our unexamined suffering.

The shadow also means that none of us see others objectively; instead others provide a mask onto which we can project both the shadow aspects of our personality that we can then ‘hate’ or the owned aspects of our personality that we can project and then ‘love’ in another. We’ve all seen this in wholly unsuitable people coupling and then splitting some time later when the projection finally fails.

God’s Way of Responding to Betrayal

One of the most difficult things we will ever face is how we respond when we are betrayed. So, how are we supposed to respond when someone betrays us by walking out on us, lies about us, or gossips about us?

The common response is to return evil for evil, and to get really bitter and resentful. It is normal to feel anger and sadness, but to stay angry and bitter is poisonous. Staying angry and bitter will not change the fact that the other person has hurt you and it certainly won’t punish them. So, how are we supposed to respond?

The good news is that God has already given us instructions for how to respond to betrayal. God says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.” He also says, “When your enemy’s hungry, feed him. When your enemy’s thirsty, give him a drink. Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21). It’s very counterintuitive and it’s very difficult, but it works.

So, here’s the game-changer. Every day, begin the journey of praying for the person who hurt you. Choose to forgive them and ask God to bless their life and bring them to Christ. When you do this, God will melt the hardness in your heart. He will do a deep work in you, so that at some point your pain and resentment will be replaced by the peace of the Holy Spirit.

It is a difficult process, but you can enter into it expecting God to show up. Jesus, the one who died on the cross and was betrayed by his closest friends, understands our feelings of betrayal intimately. Lean on Him and He will give you strength.

“Anything may be betrayed, anyone may be forgiven, but not those who lack the courage of their own greatness.”

Ayn Rand

“Each betrayal begins with trust.” – Phish

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

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