Definition of betrayal

1: the act of betraying someone or something or the fact of being betrayed violation of a person’s trust or confidence, of a moral standard, etc. the betrayal of a friend, a betrayal of trust, a betrayal of one’s principles.

2: revelation of something hidden or secret a betrayal of one’s true feelings

Betrayal is such a tricky thing. The definition is seemingly straightforward; yet the experience of betrayal is often murky and emotional. For me, I often feel betrayed, get angry, and then don’t stop right away to go back to figure out what it was that upset me so much. I’m not good at identifying a betrayal in the moment. Is anyone really that good at it?

No betrayal is easy to handle, despite what some people say, and I can’t tell whether a known or expected betrayal is worse or better than a surprise. Maybe the time to adjust to the idea or expectation of a betrayal makes the experience of it less horrible? I’m not sure if that is true.

What I do think is that the amount of betrayal one feels is directly proportional to the importance one placed on the relationship. For instance, a betrayal by a spouse or someone else close to you would be felt more deeply; at the same time, a person who continues to betray you over and over, yet you accept it, that betrayal might sting a little less. Maybe it all goes back to expectations, another subject I’ve been thinking and writing about lately.

But all betrayal hurts and reveals something about the relationship betwixt the betrayed and the betrayor. To be hurt by another’s behavior, to take that behavior personally, I believe reveals that the betrayor has some sort of power over the betrayed; I believe we give away that ability to hurt; to wound; to betray us. Even if the betrayal is just over a social contract, a “rule” that is accepted societally, it still hurts.

Taking the argument to its logical conclusion, would one be able to reduce or eliminate the sting of betrayal if one just doesn’t care at all? In other words, would eliminating expectations of anyone else mean that one is safe from these feelings? A seductive idea, certainly.

Yet, to care about the ideas and feelings and actions and behavior of others is what creates human connection. If the actions of others has no impact on us, are we really connected? If the hurt of others doesn’t affect us in some way, do we really know that person, do we truly care about them? What do we lose when we close ourselves off from being hurt, from giving another the power to hurt us?

The answer for me, overall, is that the value of human connection trumps the possibility of being hurt. Or, put another way, grief is the price of love as I’ve learned over and over. When we open ourselves up to care, truly care, about others, we are opening ourselves up for hurt, for betrayal, for having our expectations trampled on. When we open ourselves up, we are giving others the power to hurt us.

I’ve recently been struggling with feelings of betrayal in several relationships. Since loyalty is a core value of mine, there are some specific markers/behaviors that equal betrayal to me. There are relationships where I know there is a lack of personal care (like a business relationship) and I know that I must protect myself and not show vulnerability so as not to be taken advantage of. However, in more personal relationships, when I’ve let down my guard and don’t seek to protect myself, I leave myself open to betrayal and to hurt. The concept of “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” really resonates with me. I’m not a person who easily leaves myself open to being hurt again once someone has betrayed me the first time, in fact it truly rarely happens that I can.

And so, while I do believe that the connection to others is worth the potential cost of leaving ourselves open to be hurt, I am also a huge proponent of listening when someone reveals who they are. If someone isn’t safe, if betrayal is something they do without remorse or with a focus only on themselves rather than seeing what they’ve done, listen and take a step back.

I’m doing my best to listen and adjust; at the same time, struggling to understand how best to move forward and grieving.

31 thoughts on “Betrayal

  1. I great meditative post. I’ve also been journaling (but not posting) on this theme. I think your point about expectations chimes with my experience. Thanks for sharing. It’s always so useful to hear someone else’s reflections!

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  2. Definitely can identify with this, in so many, many ways. I’m sorry you’re dealing with it. It just adds insult to injury, literally, when you’re busy trying to stay alive and then you get a virtual smack in the face by someone you trust. 😞 Hopefully you have enough good eggs supporting you to make up for the bad ones. ❤️

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  3. I feel like this was written just for me. Letting my guard down and not protecting myself often allows a betrayal of trust. It’s tough to keep that wall up with some people, especially with family members. Growth, perhaps a synonym for grieving here, is a constant process.

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  4. Your post hit the nail on the head for me. I have someone in my life who betrayed me and I’m somewhat dependent on them so I don’t feel like I can cut them off entirely and it would be easier to just keep the peace and be cognizant of the betrayal. Of course I’m angry that the onus is on me.

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  5. Excellent post Abigail.. betrayal is also something that we often don’t acknowledge as if it somehow our fault.. and certainly those who betray us will more often than not pin the blame firmly in our court. It is more difficult when it is someone you love and expect to be loyal.. and I know that when I was young and impressionable I allowed someone to be a repeat offender because of that. 40 + years on and having been happily remarried, I still am wary of a certain type of person.. usually a narcissist who from the get go charms and manipulates whilst doing their own thing. It pays to be wary..

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    1. Agreed! It’s that balance of being wary yet staying open to the possibility of connection that can be hard. I also had a disastrous first marriage before meeting my current husband and value his commitment to loyalty. ❤️

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  6. So much food for thought here. I am naturally loyal, and do not back away from, or discard, relationships easily. If you are open, genuine and loyal you keep forgiving and keep acting as if you can put the past behind you and still have a healthy relationship with pretty much everyone. That makes it very hard to accept that there are people who pull you into their games, work out their own issues on you, and don’t care too much about hurting you (or even being cruel to you.) I like your suggestions for self–protection at the end of your post … because we DO need to protect ourselves!

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  7. Betrayal sucks and you can even begin to blame yourself and look internally. Yes, you gave that person something of yourself to be able to hurt. But be strong and know that some people just lack ability to be honest or loyal because of their own shortcomings. And know you’re probably not the first or last that the person will betray. My therapist heard stories from me that started out painful and devastating and then gradually became simply a source of my life’s story. My story and our family’s was of a husband who was never a friend and father who often wasn’t there. But a couple weeks ago when my kids and I told stories of the man to make another person laugh and not for sympathy or out of anger, I knew he had no power. He was lesson learned that hadn’t embittered us or caused us to turn away from others. He changed all of us but I think it may have been in good ways, and his betrayal was turned on him because he had lost those who had been undeservedly loyal to him. I always think of my ex-husband with Maya Angelou’s quote “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time”. Often people show you early on what you choose to ignore or explain away. When I read your post, I asked what asshole would betray you when you have so much pain in life, but of course no one is immune from being hurt and betrayed. And even the betrayer can be betrayed. Is it wrong to hope to see that one day? In the beginning you feel like that, and one day you don’t care at all. Writing about it lets others know we share feelings of pain and grief about betrayal. Great post about the emotional suffering that hurts as much as the physical.

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  8. “Grief is the price of love.” As one who experienced long term betrayal in my marriage and who now suffers from betrayal trauma, I will have to think more deeply about that. Sadly, betrayal shatters trust and makes it difficult to open oneself up to the potential of healing within a relationship or to future relationships. Thank you for this thought provoking post.

    Elaine @ Following Augustine

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    1. Such a great perspective — thank you for the term, “betrayal trauma,” that really puts words to how hard it is in the aftermath of a betrayal to know what to do. There’s no real “moving on” from something this hard, this intense. Appreciate you commenting so thoughtfully.

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      1. There’s an online ministry called Renewal By Grace that might be of interest to female readers who’ve experienced sexual betrayal in their marriages. It’s a series of short devotional style lessons that offer encouragement and hope through the stories of real wives who’ve experienced many of the same thoughts and feelings. Each participants is assigned a prayer partner to walk the journey with her.


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  9. Thanks for sharing this, Abigail. Betrayal isn’t something I’ve thought about in years… probably a good thing. It was definitely a feeling experienced in my earlier life, but less so as I’ve gotten older. I’ve either become better at choosing relationships or recognizing that betrayals are more revealing about the other person than they are about me. Journaling is a great way to sort through feelings. Have a lovely peaceful weekend. ❤

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    1. Yes, journaling is a great way to sort through feelings. Good for you on your ability to select good relationships and I’m so glad you’ve not recently experienced the pain of betrayals. Thank you for reading and commenting!! ❤️

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  10. Great post, Abigail. I just read this on Sally’s Smorgasbord blog. Betrayal shakes us to our core, especially when it comes from a spouse, significant other, or close friend. I’m glad that you made the point of “fool me once; shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” as some people continue to be victims when put in this situation. The notion of staying with an abuser or trusting someone again who has divulging personal secrets in the past comes to mind.

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    1. Your example is exactly what happened to me recently. A family member felt it was ok to share private info with others when she’d never made an effort to talk to me. It was devastating. Glad my musings resonated with you. Thank you for reading and commenting!!

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  11. Oh Abigail. How many of us feel the betrayal of loss of loyalty. Loyalty we need now with our lives in the balance of a disease we cannot predict nor necessarily control. We need our friends and family to support us now more than ever in our lives. I do blog on this topic from time to time and put a big post in my timeline on Facebook-a social network I stay far away from due to my problems with the treatments of private data. But it had to get off my shoulders as it weighed me down. I’m sorry you’re dealing with it. It does feel like it should not be the case but the reality is quite a different story,

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