Beyond the Betrayal

Beyond the Betrayal

Betrayal – the breaking of trust – can rock our sense of who we are and our convictions of what’s true in our world more than anything else in human experience. Confronting and repairing that betrayal, joining with others to redress that betrayal, are hallmarks of skillful resistance, reconciliation, and resilience.

This post is just the beginning of suggestions for recovering from the deep shock and unraveling of the safety net that holds us steady, the disappearance of the ground beneath our feet, when we experience betrayal of trust, betrayal of the common values, expectations, agreements, rules, ethical codes of conduct by the people closest to us, the people we depend on for that safety net. Unfortunately, always relevant, always timely, in the complexity and sometimes duplicity of human relationships.

Betrayal can happen so suddenly, in so many layers of connection with others, and reverberate in so many layers of our being. A “simple” betrayal of trust: a promise broken, an agreement not kept, an expectation neglected can rock our sense of ourselves and our world. The first exercise below suggests tools to repair a rupture when there clearly still is the goodwill needed to repair.

More challenging when there is a disparity in power, parent to child, boss to employee, teacher to student, clinician to patient. The betrayal of a deeper layer of integrity-universal morality, the common “rules” we as a community, culture, society agree to live by to hold the fabric of our belonging together.  Violations such as those addressed in the recent post A Bombshell Too Close to Home and that give rise to movements of people banding together to re-create the safety, respect, courage and power needed not only for reconciliation but for accountability and justice. The second exercise below offers tools to move from isolation and victimhood to support and empowerment.

Perhaps the most difficult of all is the fear that one has betrayed one’s self.  “How could I have let this happen to me? Why didn’t I see this coming?  Am I crazy wrong here?”  The third exercise below offers tools to address the shame and self-blame that any betrayal by another can trigger.

Awareness is the beginning of the beginning.  It can even take a while for an awareness of a betrayal to percolate to consciousness.  Disbelief, denial, loyalty to the other person, protecting the security of the relationship, can distort or delay the clear seeing.  “Waking up” and taking in a new truth is not easy.

Taking action based on that awareness is even less easy.  “You can be right or you can be in relationship” applies to every level of relationship, and it takes a lot of clarity and grounding in a “truth sense” to risk the security of the relationship.  What can make the process of moving from awareness to action easier is to anchor that awareness in common humanity. “I’m not the only one.  I’m not the only person this had ever happened to or is happening to right now. I’m not alone.”  The conscious compassionate connection with others in the same boat, or joining the “we” of having been dumped out of the same boat, can reinforce the clarity and strengthen the courage to stand up and take action.

Exercise #1: Repairing a Rupture

Even in “good enough” relationships – both people are trustworthy and resonant in shared values – we spend about one-third of the time in actual relating (attuned connection) about one-third in rupture (mis-attuned or disrupted connection) and one-third in repair (recovering the attuned connection.)  Repair is the most important phase of this cycle. Repair actually strengthens the ability to take risks by deepening the trust that we have the willingness and capacity to repair.

1.  Acknowledge to yourself and ask the other person to acknowledge that a rupture has occurred.  Trust has been broken and the safety of the connection has been disrupted somehow.  This is not about shame or blame. It is about not sweeping the truth of the betrayal and the pain of disconnection under the rug.

2.  Choose to focus first on recovering the commitment to common shared values as the foundation of the relationship and the motivation to do the repair.  Prioritizing re-weaving the fabric of the relationship as much as individual preferences and differences.

3.  Take turns sharing and listening to those preferences and differences, sharing and listening to each other’s experiences and reactions to those experiences. Be careful not to get bogged down in shame-blam or judgment or opinions.  Emphasize common values and acknowledging the other’s reality around any violation of those values.

4. The truly hard step: Each person takes responsibility for their own part in the betrayal or rupture and practices mindful empathy to understand the other person’s (often unconscious) choices of behavior.  Taking responsibility creates the safety that can rebuild the trust. Demonstrating empathy and compassion for the need or hurt or fear behind the other person’s behavior contributes to that safety as well.  Learning from the mistakes that caused the rupture and acknowledging the costs of the betrayal to the relationship can further help rebuild the trust.

[Sidebar: I have often found each person needs to trust themselves that they can protect themselves from the impacts of the other person’s behavior, regardless of that person’s behavior, before they can risk trusting that other person again.]

6. Reiterate or re-negotiate the shared values (expectations, rules, codes of conduct, etc.) the relationship will anchor in going forward.

[Notice: this exercise is not so much about apology as it is about empathy, taking responsibility and return to shared values.]

Exercise #2: Moving from “Me” to “We”

We can feel overwhelmed, powerless, immobilized by the prospect of standing up, speaking out against any injustice or betrayal if we feel we are the only one, alone, easy to dismiss, easy to punish, especially if the violation of morality we have experienced seems sanctioned by the larger culture (family, community, government, society).

It’s essential to search out and join others who have experienced similar betrayals (sexual harassment or abuse, economic exploitation, racial discrimination or injustice), not simply to gain the power to effect change but to en-courage one’s own actions.  I wouldn’t necessarily advocate “lynching by Twitter” but the #MeToo Movement attests to the efficacy of finding like-minded, like-experienced fellow travelers through social media and the en-courage-ment that is born from knowing you’re not alone.

And to learn from the lessons of history that often people acting together in concerted purpose and action is the only effective way to return the needle to protecting shared values and universal integrity.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

– Margaret Mead

Exercise #3: Forgiving One’s Self

It can be crazy-making when we have been betrayed by another and then we are blamed by that other for what has happened.  As though their behavior, their breaking trust, their violation of shared values-expectations-codes of conduct – was our fault.

We check out our own behaviors, our own choices for sure.  Taking responsibility for anything that is truly ours moves us from victim to empowered advocate for self and confronter of immorality in others…  And we need the strength of self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-appreciation to push responsibility back across the net where it belongs.

R.A.I.N on Blame is an elegant and effective meditation by Tara Brach to come to terms with one’s own part in any rupture and offer one’s self the compassion that can re-open the heart to courageous action.

1.  Come into a sense of presence; let your senses be awake. Let go of any tension or tightness in your body. Open to sensations of aliveness inside of you.

2.  Identify someone you care about but with whom you feel distance, conflict, tension.

3.  Recall one particular incident that went awry with this person. Evoke the visual memory, the words expressed, the tone of voice expressing them.

4.  Shift your attention to your own inner experience.


Recognize what is happening inside of you as you recall this incident. (Anger, blame, judgment)


Allow your feelings to be there. They are human, part of normal human experience. Let them be rather than ignoring or trying to fix.   Let your attention deepen.


Spend some time noticing and inquiring into thoughts that bubble up around these feelings.  “They don’t respect me…. They don’t care….  I’m not safe.”

Identify what’s the worst part of this experience: disturbing, hurtful. What longing didn’t get to happen?

Identify the felt sense in the body of this experience.  The felt sense is the essence of this experience.  Express this felt sense in posture and facial expressions.


Focus on the most difficult part of this entire experience.  Identify: what is the unmet need? To feel cared about, respected, important, understood, appreciated, safe?

Call on your wiser, loving self, your witnessing self. (Notice the change in posture and facial expressions as you shift.)

Let your wiser self offer to your inner vulnerable self exactly what is nourishing, comforting, soothing to that part of you.  (Placing your hand on your heart to evoke the felt sense of loving presence and comfort.)

Bring to mind someone who knows you and loves you.  (This step is very similar to the Compassionate Friend exercise in the Mindful Self-Compassion protocol.) Receive the understanding, protection, and care of this compassionate friend.

5.  Notice any shifts within yourself from doing this R.A.I.N. practice.  Notice any deeper sense of presence, any more spaciousness of heart.

And then go kick butt. – L.G.

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