What do you think of when I say the word ‘betrayal’? Maybe you know personally what it means to be betrayed, and you’ve had a terrible experience. I think many people have felt the sting of betrayal—even in the family there may have been domestic violence, or unfaithfulness in a marriage, or someone has let you down and lies have been told about you.
The list can go on and on—and some people never really get over being betrayed. It can have a devastating effect. When someone else betrays us, we feel deeply hurt. I have a feeling that almost everyone has had to deal with betrayal. Either you have been betrayed, or you have betrayed someone else. Or maybe, you have been in both situations.
When you were young attending school, and you were told something by a friend who asked you to keep it in confidence, and soon, it was over the whole school. Maybe you had an idea about how things could be done better at work, but the friend that you told it to used your idea to get the promotion that you deserved. Or maybe the vow of complete faithfulness that you made to your spouse when you got married has not kept you from straying into territory where you did not belong.
What does it feel like to be betrayed—to be abandoned? What does it feel like to have someone that you trusted suddenly turn on you? Do you know that feeling? When we find out that someone has betrayed us, it makes us angry. It makes us feel vulnerable. Betrayal—it’s a powerful word that evokes strong emotions. The sting of betrayal leaves a bitter feeling; its victims end up full of resentment and hurt. And it leaves us looking up from the bottom of a pit.
Betrayal happens when our understanding of trust or confidence in someone has been violated or broken. We thought we could trust someone—and we couldn’t! They let us down—and it suddenly changes everything in our relationship. We might think of the person or the organisation as a traitor—and that’s what we feel they are!
The Emotional Impact of Betrayal
Being betrayed carries with it tremendous emotional impact. Generally speaking, the greater the trust that you had placed in the other person, the greater will be the emotional impact upon you if you feel betrayed by them. And I don’t know that we can ignore our emotions at this point—we’ve got to own up to them and deal with them. We’ve got to be realistic about our emotions, and yet we can’t afford to ‘stay parked’ on unhealthy emotions.
But I do want to say that with God’s help, we’ve got to work our way through them without allowing them to destroy us from within—and they will, if we let them! They can work like a cancer within us. The emotion most felt with betrayal is anger, though there may also be an accompanying fear of loss of the relationship and repulsion at the lack of integrity of the other person.
One of the other side effects of betrayal is that it’s harder to trust again. And it not only makes it harder to trust that particular person or organisation again, but our lack of trust is likely to carry over to others as well—who don’t deserve our prejudice of mistrust! The man whose wife left him for another man may conclude he could never trust another woman again! The person who felt ‘abused’ by their church may feel they can never trust another church again!
Betrayal is such a personal thing—because it’s a violation of a relationship! There are those who have concluded that betrayal can only happen if you love—and there are those who, once betrayed, promise they’ll never love again and keep everyone at arm’s length. Because the reaction to betrayal can be so intense, it can almost destroy hope in our lives.
The playwright Tennessee Williams concluded, “We have to distrust each other. It is our only defence against betrayal.” One of the early leaders in American democracy, William Penn, warned, “Only trust thyself, and another shall not betray thee.” It’s a shame to go through life not trusting others—but I can understand the feelings.
Sometimes time alone can bring healing. An old Chinese proverb says, “Be not afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid only of standing still”.
Ask God to bring you renewal of mind and spirit, and he will do that. In the next part I want to tell you how Jesus handled betrayal by one of his friends.
(Read The Sting of Betrayal – Part 2)