“When it comes to abrupt endings related to love, the experience is very similar to being the victim of a blunt force trauma. The symptoms are the same, and your functioning drops to the level of someone who needs to be hospitalized and treated for injuries.”—Dr. Andra Brosh, The Huffington Post
Several years ago my long-time partner left me shortly before our wedding. Blindsided, I went reeling from the loss, but primarily from the deceptions and betrayal of trust involved. For a long time afterwards, I was hurt, angry and pretty dysfunctional. Later, I learned I was in shock and did not know it.
During those dark days of bewilderment, and post-traumatic stress, I felt more lost and alone than I had my entire life. Nothing made sense anymore. The unbelievable pain, betrayal outrage, and shame blew my world apart. After years of psychological and spiritual work, I thought I knew myself. But now, I could not figure out why I could not get over it and pull myself together. What was going on?
A Culture Blind to Betrayal
It took a long time to realize that we live in a world that is blind to the traumatic impact of betrayal. How many times did I hear from well-meaning friends and family: “Surely you saw it coming,” “You chose him, after all,” “Just get over it!” “Move on!”
In time, I learned that such platitudes that blame you for your pain and brush off the emotional abuse you have endured barely hide a contempt for powerlessness in any form. In our culture, we not only reject emotional pain, but we revere power and control, and disdain the powerless victims and losers.
These common attitudes also reveal also a wish to “exorcise the specter of the rejected individual.” (A. Carotenuto, To Love, to Betray, 1996, p.95). As mortal beings, specks in this vast mystery of time and space, we seem wired to avoid acknowledging our essential powerlessness. We tend to turn away or “blame the victim” when we see powerlessness so blatantly revealed in abandonment and betrayal.
This atmosphere of denial encourages us to downplay and to hide what has happened to us. The fact is that it is natural to be stunned and outraged in response to betrayal. You have every right to respond with anger and disbelief. When someone you have deeply trusted turns overnight on you, going from devoted partner to contemptuous or indifferent stranger, it violates you to the core.
Regardless of the intentions, childhood wounds, needs, defenses, or other excuses of the betrayer—you have been psychically assaulted. Such an abrupt turnabout shatters your native trust and renders you powerless, with emotional injuries that will impact the quality of your life going forward. As you would after being hit by a bus, you will need time and likely professional help to regain your ground, your trust, in yourself and life. (See my post “Rejection in Love,” or M. Laskley’s “This Is Your Brain on Heartache”).
In time, as you can work through this shock to your body, heart and soul, the pain may lead you into a deeper, more compassionate spiritual life. But first, you must recognize your injuries! They may be invisible, but they are just as debilitating, if not more so, than a physical blunt force trauma. Be kind to yourself, talk primarily to others who have lived through it. They will understand.
Learn more: “Love and the Mystery of Betrayal” —now available in print and ebook.