Most everyone has had the bitter experience of being betrayed, when someone we trusted violated that trust.
After being betrayed, most of us want two things, usually at the same time. We want to get even with the person who hurt us or we want to rise above the situation and offer that person forgiveness. But neither of these impulses usually helps. Getting even with someone usually boomerangs and makes you feel as bad as the person you wanted to hurt. Forgiveness, especially if half-hearted, tends to come off as condescension.
What is really needed is emotional intelligence, which works in two ways. First, you realize the probable outcome of what won’t work — as we just saw, the impulse to get even or to forgive predictably won’t work. It’s good to know this in advance, but emotional intelligence also has to tell you what will work, and why. That’s the second step if you want to recover emotionally after being betrayed.
There are actions you can take to heal yourself. Every hurt has its own story, and so does every healing. But we can say this: You can heal yourself when you’ve filled the hole left behind by a betrayal, and you can heal the other person when you sincerely drop the need for revenge.
Why does betrayal create a hole inside? The only betrayals that inflict seriously, lasting damage are the ones where an intimate bond has been torn. Intimacy leads to empathy, and empathy makes you merge with another person, able to feel their emotions as keenly as you feel your own. So when an intimate bond is ripped apart, it’s as if you’ve lost part of yourself.
So how can you get out of torment and heal this hole inside?
- Don’t indulge in emotions you cannot afford. Don’t act worse than you really feel, or better.
- Make a plan for emotional recovery. Look at your hurt and feel it without self-pity.
- Do this only a few times, just to assess how persistent the hurt is. Now set out to heal these feelings. Don’t rely simply on letting time do the healing for you.
- Be positive about your role as a healer. Feel the hole inside and grieve over it, but promise yourself that it will be filled with self-love.
- Seek a confidant who has survived the same betrayal and has come through to the other side.
- Don’t fixate on the past or what might have been. Work toward a tomorrow that will be better than yesterday.
- Counter the tendency to self-pity by being of service to someone else. Counter regret by seeking out activities that build your self-esteem.
It requires a good deal of objectivity to set about these seven steps. Nothing is easier than doing nothing, but the cost of inertia is high. Wounds fester unless healing is brought to them. In the absence of emotional intelligence, it is also easy to do things that are guaranteed not to work.
So here are seven tactics you should discard immediately.
- 1. Dwelling obsessively on how you were wronged. Feeling exultant in your self-righteous pain.
- 2. Turning your pain into an ongoing drama.
- 3. Acting erratic and scattered, with no plan for getting better.
- 4. Mourning your loss forever. Not looking honestly at the emptiness inside yourself because it is too painful or you feel too weak.
- 5. Talking to the wrong people about your pain. Only listening to those who keep agreeing with your grievances and amplifying your resentment by egging you on.
- 6. Idealizing the past. Obsessing over the good times that are gone.
- 7. Telling yourself that time heals all wounds, which is just a way of denying responsibility for your own emotions. Leaving everything to the passage of time is a recipe for denial.
These are all self-defeating behaviors that only make a betrayal linger.
If you find yourself in the position of being the wronged party, sit down with the seven healing behaviors and the seven self-defeating behaviors in front of you. On a piece of paper write down all the ways you are following the healing program. Then write down all the ways you are sticking with self-defeating behaviors. Be candid and objective. It is healing in itself to write down these things, because the key to psychological healing is self-awareness. You can only change what you are aware of.
The two lists are in stark contrast, but real life is blurry around the edges. One day you are on the right track; the next day you are an emotional train wreck. The key is to keep being kind to yourself. You are being kindest when you begin to feel better toward the person who betrayed you.
I know this sounds impossible when your pain is acute, but you can’t heal yourself unless feelings of ease, acceptance, tolerance, and non-judgment extend beyond your own self-interest. Otherwise, pretending to heal is simply a mask for egotism. The idea of “I’m getting better, and I hope he rots in hell” is an unresolvable contradiction. The same is true for “I’m totally fine, and I’m glad if she gets what’s coming to her.”
In the end, when you reach the stage of being healed, you will see how fortunate you are. The role of self-healer is invaluable. It shows that you have reached a state of emotional intelligence. As horrible as betrayal feels, forgiveness belongs to those who know how to love in the first place, and how to return to love after being wounded. Healing is just another word for the return to love.
Deepak Chopra MD
DEEPAK CHOPRA™ MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization.
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