The theme of betrayal is in the air. Most people that I see in psychotherapy report betrayals. Betrayals from parents, siblings, spouses, children, government, political leaders, friends, co-workers, fellow citizens, and news media. The term “Ghosting” is used when one person disappears from an intimate relationship leaving the other person with no explanation for leaving. Alexandra Bracken writes that “familial betrayal is, … the most heartbreaking kind – because if you can’t trust your family to love you and protect you, who can you really trust?”. Very true. Recovery from family betrayal is very difficult. People sometimes talk about betrayal by life, a series of unfolding events that leave you in a place that you did not intend to be. People with mental and physical health issues talk about their bodies or minds betraying them. Betrayal can happen when loved ones die when we need them most. There are also ramifications of historical betrayals where one group engaged in oppression of another group. People have also said that they have been betrayed by God. The list is long. I have had my share of betrayals from people. Bishop T.D. Jakes once stated in one of his sermons that betrayal is part of the human experience. The God-man, Jesus, also experienced betrayal by the most intimate act of a kiss by Judas Iscariot for thirty pieces of silver. The pandemic in some ways is a mass betrayal. How could this beautiful planet we live in be struck with his horrible, contagious and virulent virus? Why is this pandemic not over yet? Articles discuss the anger and depression related to the pandemic.
Betrayal can be seen as a wound in the mind, body and spirit. Wound is referred to as trauma. I have heard betrayals portrayed as “punched in the gut”, “knife stuck in the heart” or knifed in the back”. In betrayal, something deeply painful happened that was not supposed to happen. An invisible virus is not supposed to shut down a planet, destroy people’s lives, lead to multitude of deaths, economic havoc, homelessness, food insecurity, mental and physical health issues. Another effect of betrayal is regarding the people’s distrust of each other and the world around them. Mass distrust is dangerous in a public health emergency. The scientific fields of public health and virology are politicized. There are debates of masks, social distances and vaccinations with various camps having very passionate arguments. Wear a mask or not wear a mask? That is the question. For me, I am a believer in science.
Betrayal may carry different themes, such as, groundlessness in our understanding of the world, anger, sadness, fear, tears, loneliness, surprise, loss and grief of a relationship or person we loved. Love and trust are intimate companions. Groundlessness refers to a loss of what we thought was true. Feelings of groundlessness when we lose what we relied on in the past can be extremely anxiety provoking. It often shakes us up and threatens our sense of safety, such as, the pandemic. In some cases, perhaps we assumed that someone we thought was always going to be there for us and loved us actually left, perhaps, leaving a note or no note. Betrayals may lead to various strong emotions, such as extreme anger, frustration, loss of trust and trust and deep sadness. Betrayals may include grief and loss because what was once thought of as safe and trustworthy is unsafe and even dangerous. People feeling betrayed also sometimes question themselves about their feelings (“Am I over reacting or overthinking?”). Perpetrators often engage in gaslighting which is invalidating the betrayed person’s feelings with statements, such as, “Nothing happened and it is in your head”. Escalation of feelings in the person experiencing betrayal in relationships may be labeled as “over reactive” by other people who do not understand the nature of the relational trauma of betrayal. Betrayals are almost always marked by an element of surprise because we are betrayed by friends or loved ones who are close to us, who are supposed to be there for us. We do not talk about betrayals from enemies. That is expected. Betrayals cause an unsettling and disturbing feeling that we need to reassess our assumptions about life. Who do we trust? Who is not a safe person to trust? How did this happen? Why did I not see the red flags before the betrayal? What are my blind spots? Sometimes people with betrayals in early childhood may find themselves picking people in their lives who betray them again and again. Another layer of betrayals include the judgement that other people may place on us and we place on ourselves. Many people are quick to judge the person betrayed. Statements like, “I do not see how she/he did not see this coming”. People often judge themselves even more harshly, such as, “I am so stupid/ dumb/ to let this person do this”. People use also unkind words to berate themselves. People tend to blame themselves for what happened disregarding the context of the circumstances which contributed to the wounding. Hindsight is 20/20. Perfect 20/20 vision does not happen in perplexing, stressful and confusing set of circumstances. It is always hard to see the path when walking in a fog. Betrayal is often facing a reality, one did not envision. This loss of vision that you have for what was supposed to be like may lead to grief and loss feelings. One of the greatest casualties of betrayal is loss of trust in self and others. Martin Luther ‘s statement, “Each betrayal begins with trust” is spot on. It takes a long time to develop trust but trust can be broken in seconds by a betrayal. Regaining another person’s trust is difficult. How do we regain public trust after the collective trauma of the pandemic is a relevant question. I do not have definitive answers. I do believe that trust is critical to the harmonious functioning of societies. The topic of trust and betrayal is a vast topic. This post addresses only some aspects of this grand topic. This post is about reflections on the trust process, and trust after facing a betrayal. This post reviews two very seemingly different things, courtship of eagles and Steve Jobs, to explore issues in betrayal and trust.
I love eagles. They are powerful in flight, bold in reaching incredible heights, often fly solo and are majestic creatures. One of the features of eagles that I learned in my youth is that eagles, unlike other birds such as pigeons, fly into the storm and use the energy of wind currents to reach greater heights until they are above the storm. Then, they glide to greater heights above the storm. Eagles appear fearless as they seem to trust that the storm will carry them to greater heights. However, pigeons hide until the storm subsides. Eagles may be perceiving the storm clouds as how high can I go? It is like looking at trouble in life and seeing what do I have to learn here and become better?. Another aspect of eagles that is fascinating is that they mate for life. Eagles have a courtship ritual where the female eagle picks a male eagle and both fly to great heights. The female eagle carries a stick or twig and drops it. The male eagle dives down at high speed to catch the stick before it falls to the ground. This exercise is done repeatedly by the female eagle until she decides the male is worthy as a mate. The rationale is that the female tests the male eagle to see if she can trust the male eagle to help her as eagles build nests and hatch eggs in high places. When eggs hatch into eaglets, eaglets learn flight from dropping through great heights. Before eaglets learn how to fly, the eagles have to catch the eaglets who have not learned to fly. The courtship of eagle reminds me of trust tests. Trusting others may involve little trust tests, where we give some information to someone and see if they betray it or honor its privacy.
Then, I apply this courtship ritual to the relationship between God and people. Perhaps the greatest aspect of trust and faith is that God will catch us before major falls. Or that God will guide us up after a fall. It is better to stumble and balance oneself than total falls. Faith and trust grow over time as one looks back of how God Or Universe picked us up from very difficult situations. Regardless of one’s faith, falls, betrayals by people and failures happen. Many people of great faith have suffered. The key is getting up after the pain of betrayal, fall and suffering. I wonder if that is what faith is about: get up, keep moving and trusting that things will work out . In the Bible, there are references of God raising you to majestic heights, as eagles fly high with their strong powerful wings. I love Nelson Mandela’s statement. “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
STEVE JOBS: “You have to Trust Something” even after a betrayal
The question of trusting God in difficult circumstance is a tough one. I have no definite answers. Trusting God is a personal choice and a leap of faith. However, I will share my thoughts about the late Steve Jobs ‘s very insightful and brilliant graduation speech in 2005 at Stanford University. In my opinion, Steve Jobs demonstrates “eagle like” features. He started the speech about his philosophy of connecting the dots. He talked about his adoption, his dropping out of college because he did not feel he was learning anything and he was wasting his parent’s money. He said “I dropped out of college trusting that everything will be Ok”. Interestingly, he dropped out, but, he stayed on campus, often sleeping in friend’s rooms, and took classes that he was interested in. He talked about taking a calligraphy class. Ten years later, he developed the Macintosh, where he used the typography that he learned in the calligraphy classes at college. He stated that he did not know that his calligraphy class would impact the development of the Mac and its success. He stated that connecting the dots happen when moving forward and then, looking back. He said “You have to trust something” that dots will connect in the future. In other words, things happen for a reason. Things that seem horrible and make no sense happen for reasons that are unfathomable in difficult times. It is only later that a reason or purpose for events emerge.
Steve Jobs narrated that at age 30, he was fired from Apple, the company that he created. Apple’s Board of Directors picked his partner to run the company when Steve Jobs and his partner had a major disagreement. Talk about big time very public betrayal. This was shocking to me because I never knew that he got kicked out of his own company. He reported that he was initially devastated by the Apple incident . He discussed experiencing a sense of deep rejection and thoughts of running away from the valley. Then, he realized he loved his work and he can start over, even, if it was outside Apple. . He trusted himself, his love for his work and that everything will work out. He started working and created Next Inc. and Pixar, which became super successful enterprises. He stated that Apple bought Next Inc. and the Next Inc. became crucial t0 the “technological innovation at Apple”. He also talked about meeting his wife, falling in love, marrying her and had a family. After a public betrayal, he trusted, loved another person and married her. He connected the dots by saying that “Getting kicked out of Apple was the best thing that happened”. Without that, he would not have developed newer technology and met his wife. This reaffirmed his belief in connecting the dots and trusting that dots will connect. Jobs’ being kicked out of Apple, which was devastating for him at the time, lead to much greater accomplishments. I think of connecting the dots often when I question the loyalty of God. Bad things happen which are painful and horrid. But new opportunities arise. You can only connect the dots moving forward after bad things and look back. Not easy. But connecting the dots is powerful.
Steve Jobs stated that ” You have to trust something”. God, Universe, Higher Power, Love, Karma, Values or Code of ethics. I agree that you have to trust something. Trust after major betrayal is difficult. What I loved about Steve Jobs is that after a major betrayal, he picked himself up and kept moving, trusting that everything will work out. Steven Jobs exemplifies resiliency, reaching greater heights after adversity. The important aspect of betrayal is developing healthy coping strategies for the painful feelings and moving through the grief and loss process until there is acceptance of the new reality. Then, there is work of building effective strategies to navigate the new reality. There is also the search for a new or renewed purpose and meaning, which can be a journey also. This is something that is perhaps applicable to both mass betrayal and personal betrayal. Learning from a betrayal is important. Dealing with the pain of betrayal with helpful strategies, acceptance and navigating a new reality and finding new purpose is all painful, and arduous. More self-compassion, the better.
I also love Sister Mary Kent Corita‘s rule #1 for students (also applicable to everyone) which is ” RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while”. Sister Corita was a teacher, artist, social justice advocate and a sister in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She was a very inspirational person.
I will end with a quote from Emily V. Gordon:
Keep the faith and move forward. One day at a time. One step at a time. One breath at a time. If you find yourself struggling significantly with betrayal, please consult professional help. This material is not a substitute for mental health services.