Trust and Betrayal
In my recent blog post on “Crisis“, I indicated that one of the gravest things that can happen to people is the experience of betrayal in those close relationships with others whom they trust deeply, and upon whom they depend. I feel strongly that this is an area worth exploring further, and some of my readers have indicated to me that they felt that this was an important topic.
Please consider for a moment the story of Jesus in the Christian New Testament, but with a psychological, rather than a religious perspective. A prominent feature of that story is the betrayal of Jesus by his own disciple, Judas Iscariot. This element of the narrative clearly functions to show us that Jesus went through one of the very bitterest things that can occur to a human being, that this was one of the most appalling torments that a human can undergo. To me, this just seems psychologically accurate. It doesn’t get much worse than being betrayed by someone that you love and trust.
We can experience the awful bitterness of betrayal in a great variety of ways, and at very different stages in life. When it is a real betrayal, it undercuts the individual in such a radical way that it can sometimes lead people to even question the worthwhileness of living.
In our culture, we often associate the terms “trust” and “betrayal” with lovers, whether married or not. Betrayal can appear in the lives of couples through infidelity, through physical, sexual or verbal abuse, through addictions, or through allowing a family to fall into a vulnerable and/or seriously damaging financial position — among various other ways. When it occurs, it can deliver wounds to the one whose trust is breached that are not at all easy to overcome.
It is perhaps less frequently realized, but, within the family of origin, there are many ways that the family can betray a child in his or her vulnerability. One of the greatest fears for the child is the fear of abandonment. This can occur in purely physical ways, that is, through actually leaving the child in his or her helplessness. It can also occur in emotional ways, through rejection, or withdrawal of love.
There are other areas where children or young people can have the experience of betrayal. Many have the experience of religious leaders and institutions in which they have put their faith, that become associated with physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Educational institutions can do the same things, along with other gravely negative things, such as labelling or humiliating the individual in such a way that he or she feels fundamentally violated or devalued as a person.
It is essential to respect the impact of betrayal, if we encounter it in our lives. It is very likely that it will impact the degree to which we can give ourselves in trust in other situations in our lives. It may even have an overall effect on what we call “basic trust“: the capacity of individuals to trust that life is good, and to trust that they can make their way and find what they need from their lives.
To come to terms with betrayal can be one of the greatest challenges that an individual will ever face. It can be a fundamental part of the process of becoming oneself, the process of individuation. Often the difficult road to moving beyond betrayal passes through the journey of therapy. At its best, therapy in depth can be a way of renewing the trust in the other, and simultaneously, the trust in myself.
My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness — especially to those who at this time wrestle with the dilemmas of trust and betrayal. If you would like to share any part of your journey through a comment or email, I would welcome it.
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst
PHOTO CREDIT: © Eszawa|Dreamstime.com © 2010 Brian Collinson