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 nightmare.

man-mirror.jpgBut 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 me?"

"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.

Trusting Again

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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Go to Carmen Berry's Articles in STEPS Magazine.