Now, betrayal is not something I have thought much about. Then a few minutes into this TED talk, and a light goes off for me. Therapist Holli Kenley brilliantly describes betrayal, its terrible impact on our lives, and how it affects our sense of self. Different from grief where our loss is another person or thing. Betrayal initiates a loss of self – what we believed about ourselves, in relationship with another person or persons. It can be devastating, and yet, there is a way forward. Always, a way forward.
Often we think of betrayal as applying to infidelity in marriage, but betrayal can include many more situations. Kenley offers 4 definitions of betrayal:
- an investment into someone or something that is met with rejection or abandonment
- a profound trust that is profoundly violated
- a belief that is shattered or a truth that becomes a lie
- when someone who is important to us but is unable, unwilling, or incapable of showing up in the role they have been given and to carry out the responsibilities of that role (parent, spouse, mentor)
Betrayal is a broken trust. When trust is violated, it brings waves of shame and guilt. Why?
We don’t expect it. We especially aren’t prepared by the assault betrayal perpetrates on who we are as people.
Kenley describes 3 states of being that occur with betrayal:
- Confusion – we lose our balance. “Why did this happen?” “I didn’t deserve this.” “It’s not supposed to be this way.”
- Worthlessness – The confusion then spirals into a sense of worthlessness. “It must be me.” We question our own worth [which is a terrible consequence of betrayal].
- Powerlessness – Lastly, as we try to correct the situation by pushing for someone else to make it right or fix it, we find no path forward…or more pain than healing.
Healing is possible, but it won’t be from the outside. We have to right ourselves, Kenley observes. I love how she points us toward the opportunity for healing within the betrayal…through the betrayal.
- With the confusion, we reinstate what we know to be true.
- When worthlessness washes over us, we redefine who we are.
- When powerlessness paralyzes us, we do what we need to do to reclaim our voice and recover our power.
I get that all this sounds too simple when it is extremely complicated…but doesn’t it resonate?! For me, it was a huge encouragement.
If we were having coffee together, we would be able to recall betrayals. Some may not have capsized us. Praise God for that. However, there are those betrayals that require us to right ourselves. To choose not to live under the cover of shame (or denial if it’s too painful) when someone rejects us or destroys our dreams. If we believe the only way we can have healing is if that person makes things right, we put way too much power into their hands. Also, it is a mindset that keeps us powerless.
I’m very thankful for Karen Swallow Prior’s own handling of her life betrayals. If you read her story, she takes a wrong and works something beautiful out of it. The healing isn’t complete but it gives me great hope. As for Holli Kenley’s helps, it’s like being in a wise and kind therapist’s office. It’s a beginning.
Don’t let betrayal have the last word. You matter. Your life. Your worth. Your legacy to next generations. Generational trauma in the family, in the workplace, and in culture can be confronted and stopped…with us. We may not be able to correct betrayals in our past, but we can right ourselves…and demonstrate to our children and grandchildren how beauty can indeed come out of ashes.
[Many of the notes above were captured from the Holli Kenley TED Talk above and the video below.]