The cruelest lies are often told in silence. —Robert Louis Stevenson
A friend asked me recently what I mean when I use the word betrayal. Since I have written a book on the subject, I thought I better sort out a reply. I wrote particularly about betrayal in a love relationship or marriage—a shattering of trust by the one you have been most intimate with and relied on to be there for you.
I had always assumed that we betray when we fail to keep our promises and agreements. I had done that. I knew how bad it felt to be unable to keep your word and to hurt another person as a result, sometimes even for the best of reasons.
After my long-term partner left me shortly before our wedding ceremony, I felt blindsided and betrayed by the broken promises, that was for sure. But the uncharacteristic panic, tears, rage and despair that set in for months, then years, seemed way disproportionate to the event.
I had always been a strong, resilient, competent person and was bewildered to feel so broken for so long. I kept asking myself over and over, “What has happened to me?”
In trying to understand what did happen, I wrote Love and the Mystery of Betrayal and realized there are many shades of betrayal and the distress it causes. Betrayal annihilates trust. The more trust there is to begin with, and the more deception is involved, the more damage is done. That is why we betray, perhaps most egregiously, when we act as if we are someone we are not, pretend to feel a way we do not, or play out commitment and loyalty when we are not committed or loyal.
In little ways, we all do these things to manage our interactions with others. We tell “white lies” in certain situations to save a person’s feelings or our own self-images—but the stakes skyrocket when hypocrisy infiltrates love and loyalty.
A Soul-Shattering Shock
When the person you trust withholds the truth after having promised to honestly share their thoughts and feelings with you, they create two worlds: theirs, in which they are aware of their opinions, judgments, and struggles concerning you and the relationship; and yours, in which you are not. Meditation teacher Susan Piver said we are betrayed when promises, overtly spoken or implied by actions, have been broken—without our participation or even knowing a decision was being considered. Professing devotion and love while carrying on with someone else or planning to exit the relationship are just two examples.
The word betrayal even comes from the Middle English word bitrayen — meaning “mislead, deceive.” Letting someone believe something that is not true—even for what seems like the best of reasons, e.g.,”to protect them”—produces the same result as saying something false: It is the passive version of lying. Being lied to chips away at your soul. This variation on betrayal is not always about infidelity, though it often is. But it always involves deceit, manipulation, exploitation, and the slow undermining and erosion of your self-confidence and identity that goes with them.
In this way, what looks like an everyday breakup or divorce from the outside can hide months or years of half-truths and withholding. The moment when you finally discover the truth becomes the epicenter of a soul-shattering shock, after which you will never be the same. You need to take special care to recover yourself. Reach out for the help you need to find your way to the deep spiritual healing waiting in the depths of the betrayed heart.
Adapted from “Love and the Mystery of Betrayal” —now available in print and ebook.
The 5 Stages of Emotional Triage for the Divorced, Betrayed…and Discarded: by Dr. Andra Brosch
Understanding Relationship, Sexual & Intimate Betrayal as Trauma (PTSD): by Robert Weiss,LCSW
A Medea or a Saint: by Cheryl Fuller, Jungian Analyst
Why Lying Broken in a Pile on Your Bedroom Floor is a Good Idea: by Julie (JC) Peters, Yoga teacher
Pathological Lying: A Psychopathic Manipulation Tool: by Healing Journey