You’re feeling betrayed. Someone you care about, perhaps even love has broken the bonds of trust and done something that cuts deep at your heart.
What do you do? How can you get past this betrayal and heal? Will you ever be able to forgive them for what they have done?
Whether it’s a betrayal by a family member, best friend, partner, or someone else entirely, the steps you might take to get over the hurt caused are roughly the same.
1. Name Your Feelings
Betrayal is an act. The emotions that result from it are what we mean when we say we’re “feeling betrayed.”
In order to start recovering from the act, you must be more specific about the feelings it has given rise to.
Some of the more common ones you might encounter are:
Anger – you’ve been hurt and one of the most natural feelings in such situations is anger. “How dare they?! How could they?! They’ll pay for this!”
Sadness – you might become very low, weepy even when you discover a betrayal. This might be because you feel a sense of loss; a loss of trust, a loss of the person you thought they were, a loss of the happy memories you have of them, a loss of the future you saw with them.
Surprise – yes, you are probably shocked to find out that this person or persons have betrayed you. You might not have had any inkling that this was likely.
Fear – you may worry about the consequences of this betrayal. It might mean major upheaval in your life and these unknowns scare you.
Disgust – you can’t even bear to think about it or them because it makes your stomach churn.
Insecurity – you may question yourself and doubt whether you are worthy of love and care. After all, the person who betrayed you clearly felt you weren’t.
Shame – you may blame yourself and feel ashamed by what has happened and how others may now see and treat you.
Loneliness – this is your betrayal and nobody else’s. “How could they possibly understand?”
Confusion – you may simply not be able to comprehend what’s happened? None of it seems to make any sense to you.
It is an important step to identify what it is you are feeling at any given time. You may feel many or all of these after a betrayal – most likely a few at a time and swinging back and forth as you process them.
For instance, surprise and confusion might be the first things you feel, which then give way to anger and disgust or sadness and fear. You may then return to surprise tinged with shame.
There won’t be a clear or uniform progression from one to the other, but rather a turbulent maelstrom of emotion.
2. Resist Retaliating
With some betrayals, you may experience an overwhelming urge to retaliate.
You may be feeling angry about what happened and you may feel like they deserve punishment, but rarely is this ever a productive endeavor.
If there’s one way to prolong the hurt and delay the healing process, it’s by plotting and planning your revenge.
Consider the analogy of betrayal as a cut or gash in your bodily flesh. A scab soon forms over the wound, but there is often a desire to prod it and pick at it. It’s itchy, it’s sore, and you feel the need to do something about it.
Yet, you know from experience that the more you touch and pick at a scab, the longer it stays and the more likely it is to leave a scar.
Retaliation is a bit like picking a scab: it’ll only uncover the wound once more and cause you further pain. And the more you do it (even the more you think about doing it), the more likely you are to carry that pain with you for the rest of your life.
Resist the temptation to get your own back. The feelings will eventually fade and pass and you’ll be glad you held off from inflicting similar suffering on your betrayer.
3. Take Time Away
When you’ve been betrayed by someone, the best short term solution is to avoid them as much as physically – and electronically – possible.
That means not seeing them, not messaging them, not checking their social media every 5 minutes.
I know y’all love an analogy, so here’s another one for you: think of those feelings we talked about above as being fuelled by a fire. At first, the fire burns strong and the feelings glow white hot in the flames.
The most combustible fuel for that fire is contact with the one(s) who betrayed you. Thus, in order for the fire to burn out, you must stop adding fuel to it.
You must take some time away and break ties with that person.
Now, if they try to contact you (and they probably will), you can just tell them in a calm manner that you need some time and space to deal with what they’ve done. Ask them to respect your wishes and leave you be.
Your emotions will eventually begin to fade as the fire becomes mere embers. Now you’ll be in a much better position to think clearly and process the events and decide what to do next.
4. Examine The Betrayal
People do hurtful things for all sorts of reasons and it might help for you to think about how this betrayal came about.
Was it carelessness? Was it caused by weakness? Or was it a deliberate, conscious act?
We all sometimes say or do something in a split second and instantly regret it. A careless act of betrayal such as revealing personal information someone told you in confidence is no doubt hurtful, but it is somewhat forgivable.
It can be easy, when involved in a conversation, to not be 100% focused on the importance of what you’re saying and things really can “slip out” by accident.
Of course, the greater the significance of the information, the less easy it is to believe that your betrayer revealed it by mistake. Some secrets just don’t come out naturally in conversation.
The next level up from a careless betrayal is one that comes about due to someone’s weakness.
Some people find it incredibly difficult to control certain urges, even if they have promised you that they would.
Addictions are a good example of this. You may, for example, feel betrayed that a partner or family member has said they will give up drinking, only to find out that they’ve been doing it behind your back and lying to you about it.
Other people may find it almost impossible to keep what you tell them confidential. They just have to talk to someone about it, perhaps as a means of processing their own emotions on the matter.
It still stings when you find out, but perhaps you can have some sympathy.
Then there are betrayals that are plain and simple deliberate acts, either of malice or of heartless indifference.
Perhaps the office gossip overheard you talking about a particularly difficult time in your life, and they proceed to tell anyone who will listen about your private business.
Or maybe your partner cheats on you, a family member belittles you in front of your children, or a business partner reneges on a deal you had agreed.
These acts are taken consciously with little consideration of how you might feel.
Understanding which of these is most true in your case can help you to overcome the negative emotions and move past the incident.
Someone you care about has hurt you, but just how much emotional pain are you in?
It all depends on the closeness of that relationship. After a betrayal, you’ll probably find yourself asking just how much that person means to you.
Betrayal by a friend who you’ve drifted apart from and who you now see no more than once or twice a year is going to feel very different to betrayal by a spouse or parent who is very much a major part of your life.
How much you value the relationship will determine whether you choose to keep that person in your life or ditch them for good (which we’ll talk more about later).
6. Talk To A Third Party
In these situations, it can help to talk through the incident and the feelings you have about it with a trusted confidant.
The crucial thing, though, is to talk to someone who is able to remain fairly, though not entirely, neutral.
The reason for this is that they will be able to offer honest advice and constructive feedback about your plan for dealing with the situation.
What you don’t want is a yes man or woman who will gee you on as you bitch about your betrayer and add fuel to that fire we spoke about earlier. This may feel good at the time, but it will not help you work through your feelings.
7. Reflect On Things
When the dust has settled a little bit and your feelings are less raw, you might benefit from a period of introspection.
This is a time when you look inward and try to understand the betrayal, the aftermath, and the longer term consequences in your life.
You might want to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, immediately after you were betrayed and consider how you might try to avoid similar situations in future (or act differently if you do encounter one).
To get the most benefit from this, some psychologists suggest that you focus not on asking why-based questions, but what-based ones instead.
The theory, as summarized nicely in this article, goes that asking why something happened or why you felt or acted in such a way, keeps you trapped in the past, ruminating over events.
It may also instill a victim mentality whereby you focus on what has been done to you and who is to blame for it.
What, on the other hand, is a more proactive question: what am I feeling, what are my options, and what will really matter most 5 years from now?
These are all forward thinking questions that can lead you away from the betrayal and toward a place where you can heal and recover.
So reflect, by all means, but try to make it productive reflection that doesn’t dwell too much, but seeks to move on.
8. Speak To The Person Who Betrayed You
This is a big step and one that requires some guts and determination to take. But what do you say to someone who has betrayed you?
Well, when you feel ready, it is worth speaking to them and communicating how their actions made you feel then, and how you still feel about it now.
One crucial tip is to structure what you have to say in a way that focuses on you and not them. This way, you can avoid putting them on the defensive and keep the conversation amicable.
So, start your sentences with “I” and try to stick to the facts. Saying, “I felt shocked and angry when you…” is better than saying, “You betrayed me by…”
Be specific. You should have a handle on all the different emotions that you experienced if you named each one as we advised above; use these words to convey the impact this person’s actions had on you.
Not only that, but be specific about what it was exactly that hurt you the most. Is it that you no longer feel able to trust them, or have their actions caused repercussions in other parts of your life?
Put it all together and you might say, as an example, “I felt very ashamed, alone, and scared when you let slip about my pregnancy to our colleagues – it has put me in a difficult position with the boss and I’m worried about my future job security.”
If it helps you to put your thoughts and feelings into words, you might also consider writing a letter to those who have hurt you. You can either give it to them to read, or read it out to them. This is especially useful if you get flustered in situations where you have to confront someone face-to-face.
9. Cut Ties With Repeat Offenders
Whether you choose to forgive a betrayal and maintain the relationship will come down to a lot of things: the severity of it, how much you value the relationship, and the way the betrayal went down (see point 4), among others.
One thing to bear in mind, however, is whether or not this was the first time they have done something like this to you – or indeed to other people you may know about.
If someone has hurt you before, or if they have form that you are aware of, you should strongly consider whether keeping this person in your life is best for you (and best for other important people in your life such as children).
Generally speaking, the second strike will put so much more strain on the relationship and your interactions with each other that it is best to call time right then and there.
A third strike or more and you’re straying into the territory of enabling them. Reach this point and they will think they can betray you and get away with it.
When you feel betrayed, it’s not something that can be dealt with too quickly. You need time to process everything that has happened and this will vary depending on the specific events.
At first, you just have to do your best to cope with the storm of emotions inside while maintaining some semblance of a normal life. After all, you still have responsibilities to take care of.
In time, you’ll find you overcome the initial shock and start to heal your emotional wounds. As you recover from the ordeal, you’ll think less and less about it, and the emotions surrounding it will be fade.
Eventually, you’ll be able to consign the betrayal to your past… at least for the most part. You may never be able to let go of it entirely, but it will no longer affect your life in any great way.