How to Heal After An Intimate Betrayal
Almost everyone faces betrayal during their lifetime, usually several times over.
Betrayal might come about due to the disloyalty of a parent, a child, a sibling, a partner, a friend, a boss, a teacher, or a spiritual mentor. But an intimate betrayal can especially devastate you to the core.
How do you soothe the immediate pain of betrayal, and how do you survive and thrive on the long term?
4 Ways to Soften the Initial Impact of Betrayal
Let’s start by looking at some ways to help yourself through the initial days after the revelation. Often that's when the sting may feel stronger than you could ever bear. You might find yourself overcome by hurt, sadness, anger, and fear.
You need deep self-care in these moments and skillful ways to manage your emotions so you don't perpetuate the pain. Here are a few suggestions.
1. Try to stay in the present moment
The more you dwell in the past, revisiting the harm that has occurred, the worse you’ll feel. The more you anticipate the future, indulging fears, feeding illusions, or rehearsing your case, the more you’ll suffer. It can be helpful to think and feel through what you would like to express to the person who hurt you, but rehearsing it again and again will only keep you in a never ending cycle of disturbing emotions.
Understandably, it’s not easy—at all— to stay in the present moment when tumultuous emotions pound you again and again. It will get easier with practice. I suggest following your breath, placing your attention on the sounds in your environment, or repeating a mantra or positive affirmation. You could also place your hands on your heart if you find this soothing.
Every time your mind or emotions get carried away by the pain, anger, or hurt, bring yourself back to the object of attention you’ve chosen or to the hands on your heart.
Especially in the beginning, intense waves of pain may still come from time to time. The aim isn’t to suppress expressions of pain, but if you fuel them they may overpower you for long periods of time. Each time, as soon as you can, guide yourself back to the present moment, external sounds, or your mantra or positive affirmation.
Here’s the science that explains how the observing mind brings your brain and body back to calm, from The Best Brain Possible:
You have to interrupt the current brain state by activating different neural networks in your brain. You do this by consciously shifting your attention to an observing self. When you actively focus your attention on something besides the thoughts in your head, your brain’s task-positive network (TPN) gets activated. The TPN is made up of the lateral prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, insula, and somatosensory cortex. The TPN is engaged when you’re focused on the present experience, which ismindfulness. Stimulating the TPN calms other activity in your brain.
Is this easy? Not for most of us. But it works if you keep with it. You’ll begin to find moments of peace and relief between the pain. Gradually, over time, the pain will diminish.
Learn more ways to work with strong emotions, read: How to Calm Stormy Emotions and Reclaim Your Peace
2. Soothe Yourself
Betrayal can trigger an avalanche of self-destructive stories and self-criticism like:
I’ll be abandoned.
No one likes me.
I’ll never get ahead.
I need someone to love me.
I’ll never get respect.
I’m scared of being on my own.
Maybe I should disappear.
I’m not good enough.
This world is too much.
If I was thinner, more beautiful, younger, smarter, or ___________, this wouldn’t have happened.
What do you tell yourself when you feel betrayed?
Telling yourself these stories repeatedly will bring you way down, making the impact of the betrayal far worse than it has to be. Almost all of us have these kinds of stories, so you don’t need to feel bad. Just see this as an opportunity to clean up your self-talk so you don’t amplify the pain you already feel. After all, the betrayal may be more about them than about you, so don’t automatically make it a story about yourself.
Counter deceptive messages with soothing and encouraging positive statements like these:
I will be okay.
I can figure it out.
I can take care of myself.
I’ll make it through this.
This won’t last forever.
I will move on.
I will heal.
I’ll feel better in time.
Everything is in divine order.
Whatever happens is for a higher purpose.
I have a choice.
I’m a survivor.
I’m not the only one who this has happened to.
I will have a good life, even if it’s different from the one I anticipated.
You’ d be surprised how quickly switching to a positive story can move your body and being from emotional collapse to a sense of strength. But again, you’ll have to do this repeatedly if you want to feel better.
Also be aware of the stories you tell yourself about the other person. You don’t necessarily know the true intention behind their action, unless they’ve told you. You don’t necessarily know what will happen in the future. You only wound yourself further by fabricating stories that are untrue or may never come true.
3. Take care of yourself
What do you need right now that doesn’t involve self-harming or self-medicating with food, alcohol, or drugs? What helps you?
We’re all different. Some may need time off from responsibilities and rest, others may need connection and support, while others may need to stay active to keep their mind off the hurt.
If you don’t automatically know, tune into your heart and ask the question, “What do I need right now?” You might receive an immediate answer or it may come to you in a few hours, the next morning, or over the next few days.
Then give yourself what you need without hesitation.
4. Make promises to yourself
If you spend your time hoping someone will suffer the consequences for what they did to your heart, then you are allowing them to hurt you a second time in your mind. - Shannon L. Alder
Betrayal can bring out the worst in you if you engage in self-punishing talk or actions or aggression towards the person who has harmed you.
Betrayal also takes away your power. So take back your power and try to stay in the light by deciding how you want to be in all this. You can do this by making promises to yourself about how you want to be in relation to what has occurred. For example:
I will not let this destroy me.
I will do my best to not obsess about this. I know I will to some extent, but I will try to keep obsession in check.
I will try not to make myself suffer more than I have to by adding my own stories and self-criticism to the hurt.
I’ll try not to be too distracted from my work.
I will try not to have anger and hatred in my heart and instead come from a place of compassion. I know that people harm because they are hurting in themselves, though their pain may not be obvious to me.
I will not binge.
These are just examples. Your promises need to fit you. So take some time and reflect deeply on how you really want to be in this situation. Then write out some promises to yourself.
4 Questions to Ask After Betrayal
Once the initial shock dissipates, you’ll want to continue the self-care and self-awareness practices listed above—the ones that fit for you.
When you feel ready, it’s time to dig deeper. Use questions like these to understand what has happened, and to help you heal and move forward.
1. What would you like now?
A betrayal can spin you around so strongly that you only think to react or feel victimized rather than to consider that you have choices.
Instead, ask: What is it that you really want? Was this job, relationship, family connection or situation truly satisfying to you? What needs to change in this situation for it to work for you? Do you want to stay, negotiate, take a break, or leave?
Don’t get so caught up in the betrayal that you lose site of what’s important or relevant for you.
2. Have you betrayed yourself?
Take time to look within at ways you might have betrayed yourself in this interaction or the time leading up to it. Outer often reflects inner.
Did you have weak boundaries? Were you dependent on another person for your self-esteem, self-worth, and love and therefore let unacceptable behaviors go? Were you codependent? Have you been too forgiving? Were you clearly communicating your needs? Did you trust someone’s words instead of looking squarely at their behavior?
Don’t blame or judge yourself. Just make a realistic assessment of how you might have contributed to the conditions that brought about the betrayal. After all, you put yourself in this situation, how did that come about? Understanding these factors will provide important seeds for your personal evolution.
The spiritual teacher, Sri Prem Baba underlines the importance of taking complete responsibility for wherever we find ourselves:
“Self-responsibility is the most needed value at this time in humanity, because it disarms the blaming game, which is one of the most insidious and destructive instruments of our lower nature. Understanding that we are exactly where we put ourselves is the foundation to creating a better destiny for ourselves. If we are in conflict, regardless of the mountain of defects we see in the other, we need to look at the grain of defect we can see in ourselves. It is this grain that is causing us to be bothered by whatever is happening.”
This does not excuse hurtful or harmful behavior.
It’s simply being aware of any part you’ve played in allowing this to happen. You need to know this because you don’t want to repeat the same pattern in other relationships — at home or at work.
Consider what you need to adjust within yourself.
3. What good can come out of this?
When you consider the above questions, you may begin to see that something good can come out of what has occurred.
Whether you decide to remain or leave this particular relationship, job, family or community alliance, you can gain a tremendous amount of valuable self-knowledge if you are willing to look within and take responsibility for your response to the disloyalty. This self-understanding will help you make better choices now and in the future.
When you feel ready, ask yourself, “What good can come out of this?” It may not be obvious at first so come back to the question every so often. More may be revealed with time.
4. What does this teach me about life?
We humans have a strong tendency to believe everything and everyone will stay more or less the same, when, in fact, everything and everyone changes. Because we are attached to the status quo, we’re shocked when unexpected and unwanted change comes about due to betrayal. But this is simply the truth of what it means to be alive.
Betrayal always reminds me of the truth of impermanence. I know the more I can align and flow with the truth of change and impermanence, the less suffering for me.
No one likes to be betrayed. It’s usually one of the most painful events that occurs in one's life. But you can use the experience of betrayal to propel yourself forward in self-understanding, self-awareness, and self care.
Use these suggestions to help you regain or retain your sense of self-worth and wholeness, whatever kind of betrayal has taken place. My heart is with you.
What has helped you when you've felt betrayed? Please share with me in the comments.
Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious! Don’t forget to sign up for Wild Arisings, my twice monthly letters from the heart filled with insights, inspiration, and ideas to help you connect with and live from your truest self. May you be happy, well, and safe – always. With love, Sandra