F. Scott Fitzgerald: "It is in the thirties that we want friends. In the forties we know they won't save us any more than love did." Perhaps F. knew what it is like, when the inner world speeds up while the clock slows down. When the hours become mud and tremors pass through the body. That bomb in us which only loved ones can detonate. Whether in romance or friendship, how do we live with betrayal?
Trust holds us together. It creates that unity which is togetherness. Family, friends, community. It also enables that unity which is a self, for we hold one another in being. "No man is an island." The love we have for each other is often the glue which holds each person together. When trust is broken deeply, the cracks move in many directions. When it is profound we can lose our grip, not only on each other, but on ourselves. For trust is the earth beneath our feet. Betrayal is so terrible because it undermines our very sense of reality.
What fills the void where confidence in truth previously stood? Often it is anger. Anger of a sort that can burn away any joy we once had, the spring in our step that once a seemed a part of us. The anger is natural. But it gains an extra life by the secret, confused hope that we must not let it go. Otherwise the meaning of what was done and what was lost will disappear. There's a superstition in anger: that we can undo the past. But the truth is that we are empty-handed in the face of some violations and losses. That feels like it's too much. It's not, of course, we are more powerful than we realise, and life always offers more than we see, but for a time betrayal is like a total loss. That is why it also feels so much like fear.
What do we do when we come to a place in life where, aside from pain and anger and fear, we seem to be left with nothing?
We perform a miracle.
We create something out of nothing.
In the face of betrayal we grow and build and create something where the other apparently made a nothing.
We make life. We make sense. We create meaning. We create value.
Betrayal is a denial of value. "What we had means nothing." "You are not worth that much." At its worst, "You are worth nothing." That last is the place where many men hang themselves. Value is regained through establishing where this is not so - where we do matter. Perhaps we were blind. Perhaps you have a true friend in your brother or sister, or in that mate you've slowly lost touch with. Now is a time for re-evaluation and re-investment. But now, too, is the time for creation of a new life. That may unfold over months or years - it doesn't need to happen all at once. Grief is a dual-process: slowly digesting the loss, and after a while, slowly and at the same time, creating new growth.
So we make life. And through that we regain value, we make meaning. To do requires that other part: making sense. We need to make sense of what happened in ways that are truthful, just, healing, and good. We need to practice geometry, the art of proportion and placement: giving things their proper names, understanding what has actually been done, and balancing the juxtaposing truths and contradictions such as the experience from our point of view versus the other's, so that we hold them to account but objectively so. We need to be clear on what we are responsible for, and what others are responsible for, avoiding the common tendency to mix these up, which typically prolongs our pain and poisons our emotions. To do all of this we need scaffolding, a framework to help keep us upright and capable of the work, despite our fractured or broken state, and so we need friends, family, those who care about us. Perhaps you also need silence. Perhaps also nature. I tell such people lie beneath the trees and sink their fingers into the earth every day..
How can somebody that you loved and trusted and shared so much with, betray you? Maybe the relationship was dead and you would not acknowledge it. Or perhaps the other is indeed flawed. People can close their eyes to what matters, in order to allow themselves to fulfill their desires. The more wrong the desire, the more they close their eyes. After that initial choice, everything else follows according to a kind of psychological mechanics. Such a person may not be able to stop the process once it is in motion. Perhaps they plead innocence (at least to themselves) because of this. They are like a tile blown off a roof, taken up by a force more powerful than themselves. However we are human beings. Their responsibility lies merely in the initial consent to become a tile.
We suffer throughout life from this consent of others to become obedient to their desires no matter where that leads and what it violates. Others suffer from us making tiles of ourselves. Of course, some people consent so quickly, and to great things. They betray others in appalling and callous ways. A few of them will afterwards struggle with conscience. Many will blind themselves with self-righteous narratives, shame being an emotion too powerful an emotion to tolerate. Some will suffer in life due to their flawed character. Others will appear to flourish. Make no mistake, though. There is a price to pay for everything you do. Life has laws, and if you are keen minded and subtle and pay attention you will see them. For one thing, people who treat others badly have poor inner lives. People who blind themselves rather than face their shame become stiff inside, robotic, or secretly terrified. Don't believe outer appearances. And you, perhaps you are quite the victim in this, but look and ask whether in some way your avoidance of life set you up. That's harsh, I know, but life is harsh. And posing hard hard questions to yourself is compatible with a compassion and a sense of justice about the wrong done to you. Such courage is an act of kindness to your future self, who needs to learn whatever lessons it can to become even smarter and stronger before it sets some new future in motion.
I have seen people, initially crushed by betrayal, even to the point of attempted suicide, rise and create a life that is far better than before. You'd have to say in hindsight that their terrible ordeal was also a gift. They become people they otherwise never would have been. They have burned away old parts of themselves which needed burning, like rubbish in the forest, preparing it for a new life. Like a terrible flood which clears the river of all that rubbish and debris which clung to it but chocked its life. Old fears are gone now. The person is new, courageous life they never were before. Wise like they never were before. Before you were betrayed you trusted others out of innocence, out of hope in a world, and hope in people, which you can never regain. You are changed. This may feel terrible. But it is good. You were naive. The world is as cruel as it is kind. There are many people who are happy to ruin your life and to care nothing about that. People previously who seemed good and kind like any other. You can no longer trust out of naivety. You can no longer love in that way. What now? Now you love and you trust out of courage. As an act of will. As an assertion of strength. You have a wound, but now you love as an assertion of all that is powerful in yourself, from a different place. "I don't need you. I love you." And my love has boundaries. My heart is stronger now, and my eyes are always open.