Each of us has been betrayed. We have all trusted someone or something or some company and that trust has been misplaced. We learn quickly that some betrayals are bigger than others, and some betrayals are harder to recover from. Learning to recover from betrayal requires learning to trust again. Sometimes that learning to trust just takes time to put distance between you and the betrayal. We see this in regular break-ups, when we are left reeling but within a year or two life moves on again, we trust ourselves and start to branch out and trust others again. Sometimes learning to trust takes a bit more work.
As said above, betrayal comes in all shapes and sizes. What happens when these betrayals are bigger, and it takes more than 6 months of pizza, beer and Hagen Daaz? How do we learn to trust that the world can be safe, that there is good in the world?
Believe it or not, eating healthy, drinking water, and exercising is key to recovering from any kind of life difficulty. Our body is our temple, and if we aren’t treating our body with respect our mind will have difficulty working toward recovery.
We need to find someone we can be safe with or even someplace anonymous, and tell our story. There is power in telling our story when we are heard without judgment. This can be a counselor, a friend, a parent or even just a letter than gets thrown away. It is important to use very careful judgment about with whom you disclose to. Sometimes parents and friends can be the most judgmental, and sometimes they are even more invested than you may have been in keeping the betrayal secret. They can be harsh and cruel in if this is the case. Words like “liar” can be just as traumatizing as the initial betrayal. Counselors are often a safe place to disclose because they have no emotional attachment to the betrayal or the betrayer, or even to you.
We have to learn to trust ourselves. The first instinct when we have been betrayed is to believe that we are at fault for the betrayal, that we should have known. This is tricky, because even if we did know, there are times that knowing would have been dangerous or we would have lost more than we gained by seeing the betrayal, so being able to forgive yourself for not seeing or not doing anything about the betrayal is important. We have to begin to pay attention to when we have made good judgments about people and situations (usually this is more often than not) and start to trust in our own ability to judge something or someone.
In addition to trusting yourself learning to care for your own heart is crucial. Other may people have taken your heart and played badminton with it. You may have had people that expected you to manage the pain in their hearts. The truth is the only person that can manage the pain in your heart is you. Learning to look at the hurt you feel without judgment and give it the care and comfort that you wish you could get from others will be a big step. Knowing that you can recover your own heart when it is broke makes it easier to trust others.
Start to learn your own trigger levels. Begin to understand where you are at in general, and work to bring your level down to a consistent green. It is more difficult to trust others when you are consistently activated, as we are always ready to be attacked. The levels of distress are:
Subjective Levels of Distress (Melissa Bradley-Ball, MS)
Neutral or low activation
At this point you feel calm, centered and grounded with diaphragmatic breathing. Even if slightly annoyed or anxious things are good.
You’re “on alert”. Either through anxiety or frustration your more focused on what’s going on around you and your breathing has gotten shallower.
You’re running on adrenalin. You’re in fight, flight, freeze or fold and your breath is shallow and fast. You have scattered or impaired concentration and are more prone to paranoia.
When you are yellow or red you are less likely to trust because you are more alert for threats around you. This means you may start to see threats that don’t exist, start to feel betrayals that didn’t happen, and stop trusting your own judgment. Knowing when you are triggered is the first step to being able to soothe. If you can’t even recognize when triggered you aren’t able to put your coping skills in to practice to begin with. When we don’t know we are triggered we often try to get other people to soothe us instead of doing it for ourselves, and become hurt, feel betrayed, and ultimately feel more miserable when they ultimately can’t.
The final step is to trust someone else again. There is a level of vulnerability in trusting someone. It leaves us open to being hurt. Fides tamen quin – Trust but Verify. Begin to see what characteristics generally mean people are safe, and take time to get to know them. Allow yourself to move slowly in to relationships and friendships to allow yourself to know that while no one is perfect, there are safe people out there. They won’t always be able to keep from stepping on our emotional (and sometimes physical, believe me) toes.
When we are betrayed as young children or teens, repeatedly betrayed, and betrayed by our supposed rescuers this has a strong effect on how we build trust. It can also affect how we process and understand other people’s actions, at times causing us to feel as though we have been betrayed when there has been no betrayal. Examples of this are:
- Parents setting limits
- Friends setting limits
- Friends not liking pictures / posts on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
- Parents / friends / partners giving painful feedback
- Partners saying hi to friends of the opposite sex
- Partners spending time with co-workers / friends of the opposite sex
- Partners / friends having their own hobbies that exclude you
- Partners / friends not being interested or invested in an event in your life
- Partners / friends not understanding triggers
- Therapists giving painful feedback / setting limits
- Situations in which you have to set limits with parents, friends or partners (If they loved you they should just know what your limits / triggers are, right?)
These situations often feel just like the betrayals of the past, and we often react to them in a similar fashion. This often confuses our parents, partner or friends and creates cracks in relationships. There are often fights in which both you and the other party go back and forth, probably neither knowing what the true problem is.
To be clear, these are not betrayals. They feel invalidating and attack the parts of us that hold our deepest fears. This often includes fears of worthlessness, being un-loveable, having done something wrong, and not being enough.
Being able to understand the difference between a true betrayal and what feels strongly of betrayal is an integral part of developing trust and intimacy.
Being able to tell the difference between traumatic betrayal, self-care betrayal, and non betrayal will increase your own self esteem, you own feelings of worth, and your ability to open yourself to vulnerability in healthy relationships.
Self-care betrayal is when our parents, friends and partners ignore our needs to take care of their own. This is not selfishness, this is self-care. At times this is going to make us feel abandoned, hurt, invalidated and unloved. We have to learn to do this ourselves. Not make our partners feel hurt, abandoned, invalidated and unloved of course, but to be able to see ourselves as valuable enough to put other’s needs, wants wishes and would-likes to the side to take care of our own.
Trust is an integral part to building intimacy. We have to be able to not only be able to keep someone else’s heart safe when they let us in, we have to let people in to our hearts. This means finding people that are safe to be let in, knowing how to manage our own stress and distress levels by understanding your triggers, and most importantly trusting your own judgment. Recovering from betrayal trauma is a series of steps, some of which are life long. The results are worth it.