Why We Avoid The Truth in Love and Life Through Betrayal, and How To Do Better
I’ve been hurt — as we all have in life — in tiny, paper cut ways, and in massive life and death ways. But there’s a particular sharpness to the pain of betrayal. Maybe because the shock of the truth rips you inside out, leaving the soft parts of you fleshy and exposed to be bumped and bruised. Betrayal is so painful and one of the scariest parts of being human, that a massive amount of our tv shows, entertainment, music, media, conversations, and academia revolve around it. Mary J. Blige made an entire career out of it (don’t act like y’all don’t remember No More Drama being a banger hit for all the pained folks to two-step and nod their heads knowingly to in the shower/living room/car/club).
If betrayal is so incredibly painful, and mirrors the pain we feel when of losing a loved one to the finality and shadow of death, why do we inflict such pain on one another? Why do we create stories of deception and projection that can wound and scar those we love? Why do we weave fragile, false narratives and stories about ourselves, our desires, our wants, our abilities, our truths?
I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate these questions in my measly 30 years on this rock, especially when it comes to love. Not just romantic love but love of self, love of our neighbors, our friends, our communities, our families. But that romantic love, that good good, is the type of love that’s fetishized as the ultimate achievement, the one type of love we must cherish and work on the most, so much so that a majority of the chatter in pop culture and society about love is centered in romantic love — how to get it, how to keep it, how to flip it and reverse it, how to bottle it, manipulate it, share it, why you want and need it, how you gone lose it — the list goes on.
To love is to be human, yet love strikes immense fear in all of us because of the vulnerability that is a requirement to love. When we have romantic love we’re terrified of losing it, and when we don’t have romantic love (which honestly is debatable if we ever truly “lose love”) we are bat shit scared of being able to access it again.
Life can feel performative and at all times we’re projecting the image we want the world to see, and betrayal happens in the Grand Canyon space between the core truth of who we are and the false stories we’re projecting and telling about ourselves to the people we love and interact with everyday. I’ve learned through my personal experiences that betrayal is an extension of avoiding conflict, an act of self-centered preservation, a cry for help, an unhealthy disdain for the self, a dysfunctional coping mechanism and result of broken communication patterns that form this massive gap between truth and projection.
Is there a way to stop this? To fully insulate ourselves to the painful realities and fallibility of human beings? To discern who is trustworthy and has integrity? To discover and separate the people who are deeply comfortable with the discomfort of honesty and transparency? Not entirely. Yet, there are ways we can work at it and get better at trusting ourselves and others. Trust is the cornerstone to a functioning society (and our trust is at basement level currently) yet healthy, happy humans need deeper connection as much as we need air -- which in turn requires trust. And trust begins with the stories we tell ourselves and others.
First, if you HAVE been betrayed (no matter the type of betrayal be it infidelity, being lied to or about, being stolen from, being used, being abused etc) - you’ll go through stages of grief. You’ll be mad, blame yourself, want revenge and to inflict pain on the person that hurt you. You will want to protect yourself from feeling the heart-wrenching darkness of the pain again, which is an evolutionary knee-jerk reaction to danger (trust me, I have been and continue to dip into that territory at times). My truth to you is to remove the burden of someone else’s bad decisions. To sympathize yet hold bad behavior accountable, because the inner pain and insecurities of the perpetrator is the genesis of betrayal, but isn’t a pass for their shitty behavior (there’s also a small portion of people who inflict pain on others solely because they enjoy it, and I say fuck sympathizing with them). I encourage you to privately write and get your feelings out in a healthy way, to not completely numb your feelings or sex/drink/eat/work them away. Know that you need to sit with and honor your feelings, but to also know that feelings aren’t facts and shouldn’t become anchors that completely drown you. Do the things you love with people you certainly love and trust. Examine your own truths and if you’re living in and advocating for your needs fully. Create healthy boundaries from perpetrators who have inflicted the pain (which can mean a number of things —from a restructuring of your relationship, to that person no longer being in your life). Know that the pain hurts like hell, and even if it doesn’t feel like that pain will end, the pain is impermanent and will pass. Seek therapy for guidance in your process of healing. Try your best to not punish others and future loves for the pains inflicted by people who have nothing to do with them.
If you’re a betrayer. First, own up to it and be as honest as you can about your transgressions, whatever they may be. If you truly love the person you’ve wounded, your truth is the antidote to the poison you’ve spread. Examine what pain you’re operating and making your decisions from (ideally in therapy, every person can use and benefit from therapy, betrayer or not), because inflicting damage on others in the hopes to soothe the pain you face just cements your pain deeper down and creates a wedge between you and emotional freedom. Try to improve your communication with yourself and with others about what you really need and want, because there’s very little wiggle room for failure if someone gives you another chance at their trust again. If they ask you to leave their lives, or to reimagine boundaries, respect that, own the consequences and try to forgive yourself so you don’t wound another again.
For both betrayer and betrayed, and to anyone who wants to deepen their trust -- know that it is a common act to fall in love with projections of people. We present projections because we’re afraid of pain, and rejection, but real love and connection begins when the masks are off and we have a full knowledge of self that we trust we can vulnerably share with another person, no matter how gritty, allowing ourselves to fall in love with who we really are and who they really are at the core emotionally, spiritually, and mentally when that is shared and revealed.
I challenge you with an experiment that you can try below -- a series of conversation starters and reflective questions you can share with someone you love and trust, as well as work through them by yourself solo to get clarity on where you are in your life and truths about your life. I was inspired to create them from past experiences, reflections, and reading. I am no relationship expert, and do not claim to be, but I know the stories we tell ourselves and others are some of the most powerful tools we have for personal and social change, and am sharing these conversation starters from a place of lived experience. These are a series of questions, that you can fold and experiment with in the conversations you're having with friends, family, and romantic partners. The goal of these types of conversations is to deepen your trust and honesty, not only with others, but ultimately with yourself. Ask them all, or ask the ones you’re comfortable with, and work on the ones you are not comfortable sharing or talking about:
How do you currently feel about your life? What do you love about it and what would you change?
How do you approach goal setting and getting the things you’d like to achieve?
How do you approach fixing problems that you’d like to change in your life?
What do you like about yourself? What do you wish you could change about yourself?
How do you Iike to spend your free time?
What are you most passionate about and driven by in life?
What does success look like to you? Success in love, work, health, emotions?
What kind of friend are you? How do you define friendship? Is friendship important to you in life? How many friends would you say you have and what roles do they play in your life? Describe your happiest friendships.
What do you like currently about your social life? What would you like to change and how are you currently approaching changing those problems?
How do you feel about your mental health? What would you like to change and how are you currently approaching changing those problems?
What do you feel about your physical health? What would you like to change and how are you currently approaching changing those problems?
How do you like to take care of your physical health? Your mental health? Your spiritual health?
What are your thoughts on therapy? Have you tried it before, and if so what did you gain?
Who do you currently turn to when you need advice and emotional support? How do you feel about sharing your deepest and most vulnerable emotions and needs with that person(s)?
Who do you trust the most in this world? In your life? Why?
How do you feel about platonic friendships and how do you create and maintain them?
What have been some of your biggest struggles in life? How did you deal with them?
What are you most proud of that you’ve done?
What’s your family dynamic like? What was growing up like? What is your relationship with your parents like? How do you feel about your relationship with your parents? How do you feel about your relationship with your family?
What has been the biggest issues you’ve faced in previous relationships? Why? Why did these relationships end? What did you gain from these relationships? What did you learn about yourself or love in these relationships?
How do you deal with setbacks and failure? How do you cope with a very painful experience or loss when it occurs in your life?
What has been your spiritual and religious journey? How do you feel about it?
What do you do when you’re angry?
How do you handle conflict? What do you do when an issue arises that makes you upset in a relationship/friendship/family?
What helps you to trust and feel secure with your partner? What expectations do you have of their communication style and their emotional/physical needs? What makes you feel loved and supported? How do you show your love and support?
What turns you on?
How do you like to approach sex?
How often do like to have sex? What are your beliefs about sex?
What do you like about your sex life currently? What do you wish would change about your sex life?
What keeps you up at night?
What are your beliefs around gender and how that affects how people operate in the world?
What are your beliefs about social issues (racism, poverty, violence etc) in this world and how they affect people?
What are your deal breakers when it comes to building a romantic relationship with someone?
What are your thoughts on monogamy? Non-monogamy? What are your thoughts on infidelity?
What specific behaviors would you define as cheating? How have you dealt with infidelity? How would you want to deal with it if it occurred?
This list is a great starting point for having conversations that build trust, intimacy, and honest connection with yourself and others that you trust (this is important to note). Of course you can't share every part of yourself willy nilly with every person you meet -- it can be burdensome and emotional artillery to yourself and others if it's not the right space and person who can honor that truth in you. As you build connection and trust, you can begin to traverse the more intimate parts of yourself. Brene Brown put this nicely in her book Daring Greatly, stating:
"Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them… We don’t just lead with “Hi, my name is Brené, and here’s my darkest struggle.” That’s not vulnerability. That may be desperation or woundedness or even attention-seeking, but it’s not vulnerability. Why? Because sharing appropriately, with boundaries, means sharing with people with whom we’ve developed relationships that can bear the weight of our story. The result of this mutually respectful vulnerability is increased connection, trust, and engagement."
These conversations are not about being perfect, or having every area of life figured out, but about discovering the truths and vulnerabilities within yourself and others. If you’re afraid of rejection from speaking truths in these very intimate areas, know that who you repel creates space for your real tribe to show up and accept and love the real you. These are areas every person on the planet is working on at a constant basis. Knowledge and honesty of self is key to knowing what you want and need and imperative to building healthy, loving, open connections with other people.