Dealing with Betrayal and Hurt
QUESTION: I have felt betrayed in my love life and also at work. Can you help me to get over
these feelings of hurt? . . . Patricia in Goleta
Thank you for your question, Patricia. It is an important question and a large topic. You have
given me very few details of either situation, so I am going to have to write in general. I am not
going to address betrayal at work in this column, but perhaps in another, as it is a broad topic and
deserves one of its own.You have caused me to think deeply about my own life and the betrayals I have faced. Certainly, betrayal is very painful, and it can undermine trust and color our experiences for a
I am going to start by telling you a story about an experience I had in the past.
I was doing an interview in the bar at the Montecito Wine Bistro for a radio show I had at that
time. My producer and I moved indoors because the weather was becoming a problem. The
woman I was interviewing was producing a play in Los Angeles for the first time in her life, and
at the age of 72. While we were discussing her life, she mentioned that some of her friends felt
betrayed by her because “you are always so busy.” She said: “I find that some of the women are
succumbing to being old. I feel embarrassed about pursuing other friendships, they are still my
friends, but I tend to avoid them. I feel embarrassed because I’m doing a lot of stuff and they
What people feel as betrayal can be as simple as that. It’s what came next that amazed me.
One of the men in the bar had been listening to her life story and, when the word betrayal came
up, he just lit up. “I’ve been betrayed,” he said. His reaction was so strong to the word that I was
curious and invited him to join us. One of his close friends had betrayed him and he was still
upset by it.
Five others joined and story followed story around the bar with great intensity and speed. Half
the stories were of friends and half of lovers that betrayed them. What made this experience so
remarkable is that all this emerged spontaneously from a single word – betrayal – and that there
was so much intense feeling involved in the telling. No one wanted to be denied in telling their
story. Obviously, it is a very common experience to us all.
But what is betrayal? The word betrayal implies a violation of trust. To have our trust violated by
someone hurts and the deeper the friendship the deeper the potential hurt.
Also, I understand that we all have hurts from the past that make us wary and the tendency is to
run, not walk, to the nearest exit. But are all hurts betrayals? Let’s look at the definition of
According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of betray is “to lead astray; especially to
seduce”. Additional definitions are: “to deliver or expose to an enemy by treachery or
disloyalty, an act of deliberate disloyalty," like when your friend told other people all your
It seemed to me that some of the stories were about hurt, not betrayal. Being hurt does not imply
any intent or malice. Being betrayed does. People can be hurt by misunderstanding,
miscommunication, thoughtless acts or other “innocent” differences. When people feel hurt, as
with the friends of the lady doing the play because she is busier than they are, it is to feel hurt by
someone having different needs than they do. People’s needs change all the time, from day to
day, week to week, and year to year, and are heavily influenced by circumstances. To nurse hurt
over someone else’s autonomy and needs is to set yourself up for disillusionment and
disappointment. That perspective on life hardens your heart and leaves you with less friends and
can result in isolation and bitterness.
Romantic relationships have an enormous charge and early on are largely governed by a fantasy
of who the other person is. Having said that, let’s take a common situation of betrayal. A man or
woman choses someone to date and falls for them. They are highly sexually alluring and the ride
is high. Then the person betrays them by dropping them or sleeping with another. This is a kind
of painful betrayal that can cripple us.
So, given all that, what should you do?
1. Enter trust slowly . . . Look before you jump. Hard to do when you fall in love quickly.
2. Let your intuition be your guide – Many people, when I talked to them, had an intuitive
sense that something wasn’t right but denied it.
3. When you feel betrayed ask yourself the following questions from Katie Byron’s work:
Is it true that I have been betrayed or meanly hurt?
How do I know it’s true?
What if the opposite is true? I have betrayed them and theirs is just a response?
4. Talk out that hurt with the other person if possible.
If you have truly been betrayed, I am going to enumerate a three-step process to consider.
Step 1: Forgive – Most people misunderstand forgiveness. They think it is letting the offending
person off the hook. Staying angry and continuing to nurse hurt after some point is fruitless. It is
the equivalent of punishing someone else by putting yourself in jail. Often the person is gone and
doesn’t even know or often care what you are feeling. Draw the energy out of the experience by
forgiving them and the world. That doesn’t mean that you would trust them again. Do yourself a
favor and get over it.
Step 2: Comprehend – Try to understand the bigger picture of what happened. See your part in
the whole. Let’s say you are a man or a woman who choses sexy partners with whom you have a
great time in bed. However, these relationships are short lived because the partner leaves or is
unfaithful. Often the most alluring partners don’t have the need to commit because there is
always someone else around the corner. Your desire is fostering the choice of people that will
betray you. Own it.
Step 3: Choose Wisdom – Understand what you would have to give up and change to diminish
future betrayals. Maybe you need to let go of some of the allure and passion, despite
Hollywood’s fascination with it, and choose more kindness and ability to handle conflict and
understand individual difference. A real relationship is based on friendship.
Thank you, Patricia, for your email. I hope others will write more specifics.