I have suffered betrayal several times in my life, but I am not asking for your sympathy. You have likely suffered betrayal as well; or at least someone has let you down by failing to meet your expectations. The reason I mention my own experience in the matter is simply to let you know that I have experience. I want to share a discovery with you to see if it rings true.
The most painful aspect of betrayal is not the discovery of how a betrayer is willing to treat me. It isn’t learning what they really think of me. It isn’t finding out how they really see me. Rather, it is the pain of having my eyes opened to how they DON’T see me. The treachery lies in the sudden shock of realization that the betrayer does not feel about you the way you thought they did. Betrayal uncovers the self-deception we practice when we habitually tell ourselves how important we are, or how loved we are, or how valued we are, to the person who eventually betrays us, and thereby disabuses us of those mistaken notions.
“I told Althea, that treachery
was tearing me limb from limb.
Althea told me, slow down boy.
Settle back, easy Jim.”~ Grateful Dead: Althea
This is the hard part. It is impossible for a stranger to betray you. A stranger’s opinions of you are completely insignificant. You harbor no ideas or concern about what the stranger thinks of you; whether he likes you, whether she agrees with your opinions, or anything of the sort. We neither crave nor expect the faithfulness or love of strangers. We do develop those expectations and yearnings with those to whom we become attached.
The attachment turns a friend, or a brother, a spouse, or close companion into a different kind of relationship all together. In those, in the best ones, you get glimpses of yourself through the eyes of another. You see yourself, at least in part, the way they do. At least, this is what you tell yourself. The frequency, constancy, and intensity of interaction causes this feeling to grow. This person really knows me, you think to yourself. And knowing me, they’ve chosen to keep me in their life for this amount of time. They have done so because they obviously think well enough of me to keep me around. Being liked and valued feels really good. So good, that we can convince ourselves that we are. Who doesn’t want to believe that?
Those feelings shatter when the shoe drops and the betrayal comes. Then, you face up to the difficult, sometimes gut-wrenching reality that the one who betrayed you did not feel about you the way you had convinced yourself they did. In the final analysis, you just weren’t all that to them, no matter how much or how long they acted like you were.
It is hard to admit to being so wrong about how sure you were of the betrayer’s regard for you. I have never been betrayed when I have not been totally shocked by the comparison of my own inner assurance of importance to the betrayer, compared to the reality of my worthlessness demonstrated by the betrayal. And that feeling, of distrusting your own judgement about your worth in the eyes of another is a hard one to overcome. No wonder some of us have trust issues and detachment disorders.