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.
8 Steps To Dealing With The Immediate Aftermath Of A Betrayal
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.
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. 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.
It can be cathartic to express your emotions outwardly and tell another soul what is going on inside your head and heart right now.
The crucial thing, though, is to talk to someone who is able to remain fairly 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 rant and rave 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.
If you don’t have anyone you can talk to about this, we’d recommend speaking to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can offer the ear you need and the advice you are seeking. Chat to one right now to get compassionate and thoughtful advice.
5. 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, opportunism, or 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. They are often driven by selfishness.
Understanding which of these is most true in your case can help you to overcome the negative emotions and move past the incident.
6. Examine the relationship.
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).
7. 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.
8. 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.
5 Steps To Getting Over A Betrayal
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. There are certain things you can do to help with this.
1. Reflect on yourself.
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 on asking what-based questions instead of why-based ones.
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 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.
You may have to address any obsessive thoughts you are having about the act of betrayal itself. After all, you probably have lots of questions about what happened, how it happened, and why it happened.
But unless you can realistically get answers to those questions, thinking about them over and over will only keep you stuck in the emotionally painful state you’re in now.
Stick to questions about you and how you responded to the betrayal – you can find answers to those.
2. Try to be realistic about the relationship.
Avoid idolizing the past as some perfect moment in time when everything was well in the world. Be realistic and accept that problems existed in your relationship before the betrayal took place.
This softens the blow somewhat because you won’t feel like you have lost some idyllic life with this person. You will acknowledge that you were probably going through a rough patch when this happened.
Part of the process of getting over what happened is to grieve. In some cases, that might mean grieving the relationship that has ended. In others, it might mean grieving the future you had imagined for yourself and this other person, regardless of whether you have managed to save the relationship.
This will involve anger and sadness certainly, but lots of other feelings too. You may even slip into a temporary depression. You need to feel these feelings rather than suppressing them.
You’ll need to accept that what happened happened. This doesn’t mean you have to be okay with it, but you do need to acknowledge that the act took place and that it led to a great deal of hurt.
3. See if you can forgive your betrayer.
It may not feel possible right now, but you should try to eventually forgive the person who betrayed you. Forgiveness isn’t for them; it’s for you. Forgiving them doesn’t say that you are okay with what they did; it says that you wish to release your hurt surrounding it.
Forgiveness involves deciding that it is better to move past the hurt than to let it consume you and poison your future. It also requires you to release any ill-feeling you may have toward the person who betrayed you.
It will take work and time and it won’t always be smooth sailing. You may think you have forgiven them, only to find that you are still harboring anger or resentment.
An important part of forgiving someone is to try to empathize with them and see their flaws as a part of their being human. You might wish to reflect on your own flaws to bridge the gap between you and them. You might not have betrayed anyone like they betrayed you, but you have undoubtedly hurt others through your actions.
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. You may even be able to see it as an important moment in your life or your relationship that has benefits in the long run.
If you’d like more detail about forgiveness, you can read these two articles:
How To Forgive Someone: 2 Science-Based Models Of Forgiveness
17 Steps To Forgive A Cheating Partner And Get Over Infidelity
4. Take care of yourself.
‘Take care of yourself’ may sound like stale and tired advice that is given for every ill and woe there ever was. But it’s given so much for a reason – you heal much faster if you treat you body and mind with kindness.
By eating well, getting regular exercise, ensuring you get enough sleep, and spending time doing things you enjoy, you will feel better about yourself and about the situation.
That’s not to say that you can’t sit in your bed for a few days eating ice cream and chocolate, but don’t allow yourself to stay there. You have to say enough is enough and get back to your life and to doing the things that will generate those feel-good chemicals in your brain.
5. Get help.
If you find that you are unable to move past the pain or get thoughts of the betrayal out of your head, you may be suffering from betrayal trauma. This can happen in any kind of betrayal but is most common in betrayals that happen during childhood or that involve adultery.
If your behaviors have changed since the betrayal and they are affecting your day-to-day life in noticeable ways, you should seek professional help to overcome it.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What kinds of behaviors can feel like betrayal?
Not all betrayals look the same. Not all betrayals feel the same. Here are just some of the things that you might feel as betrayal:
Sexual infidelity: adultery is often the first thing that springs to mind when you think of a betrayal in a relationship. It’s a very difficult one to take.
Emotional affairs: even if no physical act took place, if your partner shares intimate feelings and vulnerability with someone else, it can be just as painful as adultery.
Lying: when you trust someone and they lie to you or conceal the full truth, it can break that trust and create feelings of alienation between you.
Breaking promises: much like lying, when a promise is broken, it can impact how and whether you can trust that person’s word again.
Siding with someone else on an important matter: you can have different views to someone and still love and care for them. But if they side with someone else on a matter where you thought you were one mind, where you thought they had your back, it can be difficult to accept.
Backstabbing: when someone you thought was a friend (that could also be a family member or partner) is kind to your face but then disrespects you behind your back, it will cut deep.
Not being present in the relationship: if you think you are in a relationship with someone but they do not act like you are, it can be confusing and very lonely. It can feel like they have broken the unspoken agreement you had for the relationship or even the marriage vows you spoken openly to one another.
Not being there when you need them: if you face a difficult time and you thought you could rely on this person to support you through it, and then they are nowhere to be seen or offer no help whatsoever, it can feel like a betrayal.
What are the possible consequences of betrayal on the person who was betrayed?
Experiencing a betrayal can have wide-ranging negative effects. It is good to be aware of these things so that you can link them to the betrayal when you work to overcome them.
These things include:
- trust issues
- jealousy in future relationships or the current relationship
- feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and self-worth, or an inferiority complex
- intrusive thoughts
- trouble managing emotions
- suppressing emotions
- attachment issues
- substance abuse
- eating disorders
- suspicion, paranoia, and hypervigilance
- guilt and shame
- betrayal blindness (overlooking potential red flags in current or future relationships in order to maintain that relationship)
How can I tell if the other person is truly sorry?
When a person has betrayed you, you will naturally expect an apology from them. But how can you tell if that apology is genuine?
It comes down to how that person acts and how they view the betrayal. If a person is truly sorry, they will:
- acknowledge their actions, share the full extent of them openly, and give a specific apology for them
- accept responsibility for their actions and not seek to justify them
- understand how they hurt you and why what they did was wrong
- demonstrate remorse through their body language and how they speak
- try to make things right in whatever way they feel they can
- try to improve their communication with you, which may involve being more open and vulnerable about how they are feeling
- try to make better choices going forward
The other person refuses to apologize. What should I do?
If the person who betrayed you offers no apology and refuses to take the blame for what they did – and you’ve given them plenty of time and ample opportunity to do so – you’ve got a lot of thinking to do.
If it’s a romantic relationship, you should consider breaking up with them, though it depends on the seriousness of the betrayal. Perhaps they will eventually come to accept the role they played in events and apologize, but they may not. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to be with someone who treats you that way and doesn’t even show remorse for it.
If it’s a friendship, you might also wish to consider whether this person deserves a place in your life going forward. Not all friendships need to last.
And it it’s a family member, you can still consider how much time you dedicate to that relationship. You can be civil and engage in polite conversation during family gatherings, but you needn’t put a lot of effort into repairing the damage if they aren’t prepared to take some blame for what happened. You don’t get to choose your family, but you do get to choose how you approach your relationships with them.
There are some people who simply cannot apologize or accept blame for any wrongdoing whatsoever. Those with narcissistic personality disorder, for example, will never be able to offer you the closure you need, so it is better to cut ties with them altogether where possible.
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- How To Cope When Someone Cheats On You
- 10 Telling Signs Someone Has Commitment Issues
- 7 Signs Of Fake Friends: How To Spot One A Mile Off
- How To Deal With Emotionally Unintelligent People
- Codependency Vs Caring: Differentiating Between The Harmful And The Helpful