Betrayal is one of those universal experiences that we all succumb to at some point in our lives. It can manifest in different acts and be done by various individuals. The initial sting of betrayal is all encompassing pain and it leaves us hurt, shocked and in disbelief — unaware of how to proceed.
Such was the predicament a friend of mine found herself recently in. I can still remember the anger in her voice when she recounted her story to me. She knew how she felt, but she didn’t know what to do next and confided in me for advice, and what I told her what this.
The framework on how to deal with betrayal will depend on what the betrayal is and who it was done by. Context will direct the appropriate solution but the first step is always forgiveness.
When I told my friend this, she was initially appalled and retorted to me that the individual who hurt her, didn’t deserve her forgiveness. But she was misunderstood because the point of forgiveness isn’t for the other individual, but for yourself. The point of forgiveness isn’t to excuse the hurtful act, but to release yourself from the pain. By choosing to forgive, you do not give the individual the satisfaction of seeing you wallow in pain. John Green once wrote that the only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive, and that is what you must do so you don’t continue to suffer and you can begin to heal for your own peace and mind.
Forgiveness also does not imply that you owe anything to the individual who betrayed you. The relationship you shared with this individual does not have to resume its prior state. Put simply, the relationship can cease.
How do we know though? How do we know if the individual is worth keeping? In my friend’s case, she was in a dilemma. On one hand, the individual who hurt her was someone she loved and she couldn’t imagine ending ties so quickly. Yet, the context of the betrayal was something she couldn’t comprehend how to let go of.
I told her to decide what the person’s worth was to her, how they correlate to her principles and to reflect on what she firmly believes in versus what she is willing to compromise.
For example, if it was a romantic relationship and infidelity was the act of betrayal, I would have zero tolerance. This is a personal choice because of my particular principles when it comes to commitment. Perhaps others would be more inclined to reach a compromise or pursue the notion of second chances, but I don’t. There are no exceptions for me when it comes to infidelity, despite what level this relationship is at or what other factors there may be like children or finances. While opinions may differ, the point here is to decide your own principles.
My friend’s response to this was mixed. Her thought process went back and forth. She couldn’t decide where she stood regarding her principles in this context, but she knew this person meant a lot to her.
I told her the solution then was simple, because once you decide this individual is someone significant to your life, then you begin the path of empathy. I told her, instead of reacting as why did they do this to me?, perhaps a more sound perspective may be, well, what compelled them to even do this? Since this is an individual you do see worth in keeping and continuing relations with, you have to at least try to conceptualize their perspective. This path of empathy should be taken carefully, because you do not want to mitigate their actions but rationalize their behavior to a level that lets you at least understand the reasoning behind it.
Now this wasn’t easy advice for my friend to conceptualize. She returned back to her initial anger and began to argue that there was no excuse or justification for what was done to her. I told her that empathy didn’t correlate to justification, but understanding. You just have to try to understand why, and sometimes you may not get a satisfying reason, and that’s okay too.
She also had an issue with letting go and was frustrated that if she chose to be empathetic, she was somehow letting the individual “off the hook,” allowing them to be unaccountable for their actions.
This was another fallacy because forgiveness does not imply that you cannot react. By forgiving, you don’t have to simply walk away and let go, but you can react proactively. While I am a firm believer in forgiveness, I also believe in justice and retribution. People often carry a negative connotation of retribution as an act that equates the betrayal but I believe in a type of retribution that is above the act of betrayal. One example of this can be personified in the quote, “success is the best type of revenge.” In other words, you do not welt in regressive emotions like anger or self-pity. Instead, you channel the hurt of this betrayal into proactive measures. You demonstrate to the individual that hurt you, your elasticity and your resilience. You reverse the tone from a story of loss to one of personal growth and accomplishments.
In my friend’s case, I told her to react. I told her to decide what the person owed to her and what steps they needed to take in order to gain her trust again. I told her also to not let anger hold her back, but to motivate her, to focus her energy on things and people that mattered to her. She asked me, what if she took all these steps, forgiveness, empathy and proactive retribution- and she still couldn’t move on.
If empathy doesn’t suffice, if the individual is no longer imperative to your life or if the act of betrayal violates your fundamental principles, then the final move is cessation. Burn that bridge, I told her, and never look back.