Betrayal & Recovery, Part 2 of 4

Why Is Betrayal So Painful?

By Holli Kenley

We are discussing Betrayal.  In week one, we discussed Feeling Stuck in Betrayal? Please read week one and then join us in our discussion here.

None of us plans for a betrayal.  Perhaps, if we could, it would be less painful because we would have the opportunity to prepare for it. However, that is part of the insidious nature of betrayal. It is completely unexpected, unimaginable, and undeserving. Thus, not only are we blindsided but we feel lost in its upheaval. What is going on? Why Is Betrayal So Painful?

3 States of Being*

Many folks have heard of the “Stages of Grief.”* When we experience loss of any kind, we move through the stages of grief: anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, when we are betrayed, we move through three States of Being.* These three States of Being  describe not only what we are feeling and experiencing but also define who we are. They are extremely debilitating.

In order to understand why betrayal injury is so painful, let’s explore the three States of Being.

State of Being One – State of Confusion

When a betrayal occurs, the first few thoughts and words which immediately surface include the following:

  • Why? 
  • How could this happen?
  • I don’t understand.
  • This just doesn’t make sense!
  • How could he/she/they do this?

In the State of Confusion, we desperately try to make sense out of something which does not make sense. We can’t find any answers. We are not able to reason or rationalize the behaviours of others. And, we feel lost in the chaos of confusion. Because our lives have been turned upside down and we aren’t able to make any sense of out the destruction which has taken place or continues to take place, we experience a number of debilitating emotions and symptoms including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety, anxiousness, or general sense of panic
  • Sadness or moodiness
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Resorting to compulsive or excessive behaviours to cope
  • Returning to or relapsing into unhealthy patterns thinking, behaving, or feeling

There is no specific time period or length of stay in the State of Confusion. Each person’s betrayal experience combined with other forces relating to the betrayal injury along with an individual’s support systems and recovering tools all factor into its longevity. However, shortly after an person experiences the State of Confusion, she will enter into the State of Worthlessness.

State of Being Two – State of Worthlessness

The State of Worthlessness is horrific because it injures us at our core.  The State of Worthlessness robs us from what we had, redefines us from who we were, and relinquishes to a lesser place than what we knew before. In this well of worthlessness, we come face to face with several new realizations.

  • We are not as important or valuable as we believed.
  • We are not as important or valuable as another person, place, thing, opportunity, need, or desire. 
  • We are not important or valuable at all

Thus, when our role, identity, and purpose have been stripped away, we don’t know who we are. Our beliefs have been shattered, our truths have become lies, and our trust has been profoundly violated. In this weakened place, we experience either onset or exacerbation of painful emotions and serious manifestations including:

  • Depression, feelings of isolation and withdrawal
  • Anxiety and anxiousness
  • Physical ailments or disturbance of current illnesses 
  • Anger and bouts of rage
  • Relapse into unhealthy patterns of behaving, thinking, and feeling
  • Using unhealthy coping mechanisms
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness 
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Extreme guilt, self-blame, self-doubt, and shame

When we enter into the State of Worthlessness, our defence mechanisms kick into high gear as an attempt to mitigate our pain. Not only do we find comfort in our denial, but we hold ourselves responsible for the betrayer’s actions. We find ourselves saying things like, “If only I had. I should have done….  If I could, I would have…Maybe if I, perhaps he will….”  We may even reach out to the betrayer, trying to convince him/her/them of our worth. Many times, this invites additional betrayal injury and lengthens our stay in the State of Worthlessness.  Depending on each person’s unique circumstances, as individuals begin to climb out of the well of worthlessness, they enter into the State of Powerlessness.

State of Being Three – State of Powerlessness

The State of Powerlessness is both polarizing and paralyzing. One minute, we feel completed controlled and changed by our betrayer. And we feel powerless to change our circumstances. The next minute, we want to do everything  and anything in our power to change or control our betrayer. We find ourselves volleying back and forth between extreme emotions of vulnerability and volatility. With these prison walls of powerlessness, we are filled with frightening emotions and often present with a myriad of serious symptoms including:

  • Increased depression, anxiety, anxiousness, panic, anger, rage, fear, hopelessness, helplessness
  • Extreme self-blame, self-hatred, resentment, bitterness, shame, guilt
  • Complete loss of worth and esteem
  • Increase in use of substances or other self-soothing behaviours 
  • Relapsing or returning to inappropriate or unhealthy behaviours to regain a sense of control or to release yourself from being controlled
  • At risk of harming self and/or harming other 

Being thrown into the prison wall of powerlessness is crazy-making.  And, it is during this time that rational, reasonable, and right-thinking individuals find themselves in a desperate place. As is the case for the State of Confusion and the State of Worthlessness, our natural instinct is to want the betrayer, or someone or something else to make it right, to fix it, and to ease our pain. Do we deserve that? Yes, we do. But, in most cases that is never going to happen.  And even it it does, having someone else try to repair the damage will rob us of the opportunity to do the recovering we need to do and heal the deep hole in our heart.

In closing, part of healing from any injury is understanding what we are feeling and why. Betrayal is no different.  Gaining insight into your injury by becoming acquainted with  the three States of Being, learning that what you are feeling and experiencing is completely expected and “normal,” and knowing that you are not alone in your suffering is a step in moving out of your pain-field.

The next step involves working through the three States of Being. This takes time and it will require a strong commitment on your part. A recovery process is outlined for you along with activities and exercises in Breaking Through Betrayal: And Recovering The Peace Within 2nd Edition.*  

  • Section I “Knowledge and Awareness: Chapter One – What is Betrayal? And Chapter Two – What am I Feeling and Why

*Stages of Grief – Kubler-Ross, E. & Kessler, D. (2005). On grief and grieving: Finding meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. New York: Scribner.

*States of Being – Kenley, Holli (2016). Breaking through betrayal: And recovering the peace within. Ann Arbor, MI: Loving Healing Press, Inc.

Publisher’s Note: Holli Kenley is an American Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of “ Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers: Moving from Brokenness to Wholeness” and “Power Down & Parent Up!: Cyber Bullying, Screen Dependence & Raising Tech-Healthy Children”