“She did the worst thing to me that anyone can do to anyone else–Let them believe that they’re loved and wanted, and then show them that it’s all a sham.”
― Agatha Christie, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side
Understanding the power of betrayal is part of the healing process for women who have been rejected, estranged, and shunned by their biological families. Naming their behavior for what it is, betrayal, allows us to more clearly focus our healing treatment. We have to recognize and understand our wounding before we can recognize and understand the medicine.
“We say, ‘It wasn’t that bad. It was all my fault. I’m making all this stuff up.’
All my life, I spoke bitterly of my mother’s treatment of me as a child.
Friends asked, “What did she do to you?“ I couldn’t really describe it, and in frustration would say, “Well, she didn’t lock us up in closets.” In fact, my mother behaved much worse than that, but by focusing on the empty closet, I avoided looking at what waited beyond it.” ― Sarah E. Olson, Becoming One: A Story of Triumph Over Dissociative Identity Disorder
Healing betrayal is about recovering our inner self that trusted people who are supposed to be, by historic, religious, and cultural concepts of family, those who are fundamentally infused with the charge of trustworthiness above all others. When they willfully and unapologetically fail us, it can be incomprehensible. Regaining our sense of stability and our trusting, not just of others but of life itself, is the needed antidote to the biological family’s poison.
Wikipedia offers a definition of Betrayal as “the sense of being harmed by the intentional actions or omissions of a trusted person. The most common forms of betrayal are harmful disclosures of confidential information, disloyalty, infidelity, dishonesty. They can be traumatic and cause considerable distress. The effects of betrayal include shock, loss and grief, morbid pre-occupation, damaged self-esteem, self-doubting, anger. Not infrequently they produce life-altering changes. The effects of a catastrophic betrayal are most relevant for anxiety disorders, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder in particular. Betrayal can cause mental contamination, and the betrayer commonly becomes a source of contamination.” However, with mindful awareness practices, that contamination can be reduced and extinguished over time.
Julie Fitness of Macquarie University writes “Throughout recorded human history, treachery and betrayal have been considered amongst the very worst offenses people could commit against their kith and kin. Dante, for example, relegated traitors to the lowest and coldest regions of Hell, to be forever frozen up to their necks in a lake of ice with blizzards storming all about them, as punishment for having acted so coldly toward others. Even today, the crime of treason merits the most severe penalties, including capital punishment. However, betrayals need not involve issues of national security to be regarded as serious. From sexual infidelity to disclosing a friend’s secrets, betraying another person or group of people implies unspeakable disloyalty, a breach of trust, and a violation of what is good and proper. Moreover, all of us will suffer both minor and major betrayals throughout our lives, and most of us will, if only unwittingly, betray others (Jones & Burdette, 1994). Essentially, betrayal means that one party in a relationship acts in a way that favors his or her own interests at the expense of the other party’s interests. In one sense, this behavior implies that the betrayer regards his or her needs as more important than the needs of the partner or the relationship. In a deeper sense, however, betrayal sends an ominous signal about how little the betrayer cares about, or values his or her relationship with, the betrayed partner. In particular, and as Gaylin (1984) noted, when those on whom we depend for love and support betray our trust, the feeling is like a stab at the heart that leaves us feeling unsafe, diminished, and alone. Psychologically, then, betrayal may be conceived as a profound form of interpersonal rejection with potentially serious consequences for the healthy functioning of the betrayed individual.”
Dr. Fitness dos not specifically do research on the damage of a parent who betrays a child, but, of course, this is the most profound betrayal of all. Why? Because parents are, by their very definition, meant to protect and love their children. Though all parents make mistakes (even serious ones!), to willfully harm a child via shunning is reprehensible because of their organic biological and psychological power as parents. Since children look to their parents for their self-worth, there is no type of shunning that is as immeasurably wounding as a parent shunning a child. In other words, parents have great power over their children, even their adult children, and their use of that power to wound via shunning is especially exploitative.
“No failure in Life, whether of love or money, is ever really that simple; it usually involves a type of a shadowy betrayal, buried in a secret, mass grave of shared hopes and dreams.
That universal mass grave exists in a private cemetery that most… both those suffering from the loss, but especially those committing the betrayal, refuse to acknowledge its existence. When you realize you’ve been deeply betrayed, fear really hits you. That’s what you feel first. And then it’s anger and frustration. Then disappointment and disillusionment. José N. Harris, Mi Vida
“Betrayal is the breaking or violation of a presumptive contract, trust, or confidence that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals and families. Once the family decides we are no longer part of them, the cutting off is far-reaching and complete. Denied information about relatives is common. We become a persona non grata–a non-person–dead to people who previously declared their abiding love for us.” Someone who betrays others is commonly called a traitor or betrayer. It can be hard to accept that a beloved sibling or parent is now a total traitor to us. But it is my belief that we can still honor the love we had with a former family member who betrayed us, and keep fond memories of them as a person we once valued, separate from the crushing ugliness of the betrayal. I believe that this is part of the healing journey and that it allows us to respect ourselves and honor the love we shared, no matter what the other person did.
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are