Betrayal - Surviving Abuse
by Carmen Renee Berry
Bruce stared out the window, blind to the view in front of him. All he
could see was the blisteringly clear scene in his mind of a woman's
hands touching him, caressing him, molesting him. For years, a blurry
image of these hands had come to him in the form of a repetitive
But he had always been jarred awake before he could see the face
attached to those intrusive hands. Last night was different. Last night
he awoke from the nightmare knowing who exactly this woman was. Bruce
cried in the darkness, "How could my mother have done that to
"I knew the moment I saw that guy he wasn't good for you,
Jill," her friend's voice bounced out of the phone receiver,
cutting into her heart. "The signs were all there, the slick charm,
the swagger, the pieces that didn't add up. I say good riddance. You're
too good for him anyway. Who needs men, right Jill? Jill?. . .Are you
still on the line?" Dan couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"I think my wife heard it from Margaret" one of the assistant
pastors informed him. "But how?" was all Dan could say. Dan's
face and hands tingled as he realized that George, Margaret's husband,
had violated his confidence. "I trusted George," Dan
whispered. "I thought I could confide in him."
In the past several months, I have suffered the searing pain of
betrayal. Some days I hurt so intensely, I could only visit the truth
for short periods of time. Unable to find a comfortable resting place, I
rotated through feelings of embarrassment, disbelief, self-doubt, rage,
loss and sadness. My body mirrored the emotional suffering by
contracting flues and infections. Sick in body and spirit, I rolled
myself up in blankets on the couch, not letting even God comfort me.
"Why didn't you warn me?" I asked God in anger, unwilling to
listen to the answer. Betrayal is a form of death that can reach down
and shake our hold on reality. We often respond to betrayal as we do to
the death of a loved one, with shock and disbelief, tears and grieving,
anger and despair. Questions fill our minds: Why didn't I see this
coming? What did I do to deserve this? How can I face the loss? Why
didn't God protect me?
Why Didn't I See This Coming?
Why don't we see betrayal before it happens? The answer is simple: we
aren't looking. Dangerous people arouse our suspicion. We keep our
vulnerabilities covered, our radar alert for warning signs, and make
sure we know the location of the nearest exit door. But we do none of
these things with someone we trust. That is the great thing about
trusting someone - we don't have to be on our guard. So there we are,
relaxed, at ease, and unprotected when the horrible surprise occurs. A
wife finds a receipt in her husband's coat pocket and realizes he's
having an affair; a business partner reviews the accounting and finds
funds missing; a young woman excitedly says yes to a date with a man she
admires, only having the evening end in rape; a son finds a bottle of
gin hidden in his father's desk after being assured his dad is sober.
Betrayal is hurt that comes in many forms - a promise broken, a
confidence violated, a boundary crossed, a lie exposed. Being hurt by
anyone is painful. But when we are hurt by someone we love and trust,
the pain seems more intense because it takes us by surprise. We are hurt
when we least expect it by those we rely on to be on our side.
What Did I Do to Deserve This?
When we're hurt, it is natural to look for someone to blame. If you're
like me, my first response is to blame myself. I say things to myself
like, "If I were stronger, I wouldn't get hurt" or "See
what a failure I am? I get what I deserve." After pounding myself
to a pulp, I often swing to the other extreme and blame the person who
hurt me. "She is insensitive. It's all her fault" or
"He's cruel and self-centered. He is totally to blame for this
mess." Blaming ourselves or others is a trap which keeps us from
healing by consuming our energy in ill-defined accusations and
overstating the negative. Blame makes reconciliation impossible.
However, when we hold ourselves and others accountable for specific
behavior, we can be clear about the hurtful actions, recognize what can
be learned from the situation, and identify what steps can be taken to
make amends. When we hold others responsible for what they have done,
rather than blame them for all of our self-doubting feelings, we
re-instate confidence in ourselves. We can begin to heal our damaged
self-esteem and our trust in others.
How Can I Face the Loss?
Betrayal signifies loss - loss of trust, loss of safety, loss of
predictability, and maybe even loss of a relationship. The grief can
seem overwhelming. I've found that grieving the losses of betrayal are
often compounded by the reactions of my friends. Angry of my behalf,
I've had many well-intentioned friends try to keep me from feeling sad
by pressing me to "not care" anymore. People have said things
to me like, "Who needs someone like that in your life? Just forget
about it and go on" or "Are you still sad about this
situation? Why don't you go out and meet someone new?" While the
intention is kind, these statements further alienate the person who
grieves. Whether the betrayal happened yesterday or in childhood, loss
is involved and grieving is a necessary part of healing. Recovery from
betrayal can not be rushed by pretending it doesn't hurt or by
diminishing the importance of the person you once trusted. Grief takes
time and sets its own pace. It's important to take all the time you need
to let the healing be complete.
Why Didn't God Warn Me?
Perhaps the most disconcerting consequence of betrayal is the spiritual
wound that can result. My relationship with God suffered a serious blow
from my recent experience of betrayal. I was angry that God hadn't
warned me or given me additional insight so that the ordeal could be
avoided. I not only felt betrayed by a trusted friend, I felt betrayed
by God as well. I raged against God with accusations and blame. Tears
flowed but I refused God's comfort. I yelled, I cried, I criticized and
I pontificated. And through the entire process, God loved me and
listened and waited until I could once again hear God's comforting
voice. Throughout this difficult experience, God has been a constant
companion. I still wish God had spared me from this experience
altogether. I doubt I'll ever be "glad" it happened. But I
have learned a great deal about myself, about the frailties of other
people and how to be more discerning in my expectations of
relationships. Most of all, I've learned that God is faithful.
The only sure-fire way to avoid betrayal is to refuse to care about or
trust anyone ever again. This path may seem wise when the pain is the
most intense, but it is not a long term solution. God's love for us is
the foundation upon which we can rebuild what is lost through betrayal -
a sense of safety, the ability to trust, a willingness to risk, and
vulnerability to life's important, though sometimes painful, lessons.
Regardless of the risks, love draws us back to try again.
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