Wikipedia defines betrayal as “the breaking or violation of a presumptive contract, trust, or confidence that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals, between organizations or between individuals and organizations.”
Simply put, betrayal is a shock. In the life of a couple, it involves lying, cheating, stealing, breaking promises or revealing a partner’s secret. Betrayal is a violation of trust.It lays bare every relationalvulnerability,fear and harbored weakness between them. The shocked partner is essentially forced onto a rollercoaster of emotions alone, unable to trust his or her partner to ride along or to really be there for them when the ride is over.
When we see the word “betrayal” we may immediately think “affair.” But betrayal comes in many forms. Abandonment, vicious gossip, and spreading lies also may be experienced as betrayal. Betrayal is an unavoidable human experience — one that may help us move toward deeper wisdom and maturity.
5 Stages of the Betrayal Experience
Dealing with and overcoming a betrayal is similar to the grieving process and involves several stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. Frequently these stages overlap, or one may be experienced more intensely than another. However, the most important part of this theory is that it is not possible to reach the final stage of acceptance without having moved through the prior stages. Sometimes people will get stuck in one of the early stages, which prevents them from moving on. It is even possible for someone to be stuck in one of these stages for years, thwarting their progress in healing and getting on with their lives.
STAGE 1: Denial
Disbelief, devastation, humiliation, and the wish to retaliate are all natural and expected reactions to betrayal. A very important point in this stage is to contain and manage the expression of your feelings and to learn how to deal with this wave of emotion in a constructive way.
STAGE 2: Anger
“Why is this happening?” Yesterday you had someone in your life that you cherished and trusted. Suddenly, there is a realization that it was not the relationship you thought you were living. Once the betrayal is fully acknowledged, you are very likely to feel intense anger. It is critical to recognize that the emotion of anger is perfectly okay, but the actions that are influenced by anger may not be okay. What is okay is to tell the person “I am really angry right now, and I need time to think and process this.”
STAGE 3: Bargaining
“If only …” You may find yourself making deals with yourself or your higher power about what you could have or should have done to have prevented the situation from happening. What is important to realize, however, is that the person who betrayed you made decisions that were out of your control. While the pain in this stage is still intense, you must appreciate your worth and recognize that the reasons for the betrayal had more to do with them than you.
STAGE 4: Depression
In this stage, you begin to realize and feel the true extent of the betrayal or loss of the relationship. Common signs of depression in this stage include difficulty sleeping, poor appetite, fatigue, lack of energy, intense sadness and crying. You may also feel lonely, isolated, empty, lost and anxious.
STAGE 5: Forgiveness & Acceptance
When you decide the betrayer doesn’t have any more power or control over the way you feel, you will begin to let go. This is the stage where you have learned from the experience and no longer blame yourself or feel compelled to “fix” the other person. Forgiveness does not mean condoning the offending behavior and it does not mean that one should open themselves up to being hurt again. Forgiveness also does not mean that you forget. It is not healthy to forgive someone who is still actively hurting you. You need to feel emotionally safe in order to forgive.
Throughout your lifetime, you may return to some of the earlier stages of grief, such as depression or anger. Because there are no rules or time limit to the grieving process, each individual’s healing process will be different. If you are dealing with a betrayal or are in the process of grieving the loss of a relationship, please contact Susie for more information.