Betrayal & Recovery, Part 3 of 4

How Long Will I Hurt From Betrayal

By Holli Kenley

We are discussing Betrayal. In week one, we covered Feeling Stuck From Betrayal Injury? And in week two, we dug into the meat of betrayal discussing Why Is Betrayal So Painful?  If you have not already done so, please read those posts and then join us here as we discover How Long Will I Hurt From Betrayal?

Before we dissect the anatomy of betrayal to understand how some individuals are able to recover from betrayal injury in a relatively shorter period of time while others carry their wounds with them for months and even years, it’s important to remember two factors:

First, as we discussed in week one, many folks get stuck in the traps of  betrayal.

Secondly, each individual’s betrayal injury in conjunction with surrounding circumstances and  his/her unique personality; ego strength; underlying disorders, illnesses, or vulnerabilities; and access to support systems and resources greatly play into victims severity of symptoms and duration of manifestations. 

Thus, it is important not to compare one person’s situation to another person’s.  In doing so, we tend to beat ourselves up for not being able to move through the betrayal as quickly as someone else, adding layers of shame and self-blame onto our wounded souls.

Let’s get started – How Long Will I Hurt From Betrayal?  Three Principles 

Principle #1 – Degree of investment, trust, or belief. *

The first principle is common sense.

The degree of investment, trust, or belief we place into someone or something is directly proportional to the degree of injury from betrayal.

As we think about the word degree, it is important to acknowledge its many connotations:

  1. Length of time
  2. How much we gave and/or what was taken from us (trust, beliefs, truths)
  3. What was lost: personal, relational, material, spiritual, financial, professional, or inner-personal (innocence, reputation, identity, privacy, etc.)

In other words, the longer we have invested into someone or something which was met with rejection or abandonment, the level of trust we have developed for someone or something which was violated, or the depth of our belief in someone or something which was shattered along with all the various accompanying losses are predictors of how deeply we will experience betrayal injury. 

A good example of this principle is with children. Innately, children trust and believe their parents/guardians will protect and provide for them in the ways we associate with healthy parenting. When parents/guardians are unable, unwilling, and/or incapable of showing up for their children in healthy ways, and when children continue to reinvest into their parents hoping and believing things might change, their degree of injury from betrayal is deeply internalized and deeply destructive. 

When interviewing daughters for Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers: Moving From Brokenness To Wholeness,* all of the daughters wanted to believe that their mothers loved them. However, in almost all cases their mothers did not nurture them, provide unconditional love, protect or keep them safe, or in some cases did not provide for their basic needs of belonging, acceptance, or food and shelter. Over the years, many of the daughters tried to earn their mothers love in different ways, only to receive additional rejection and adding layers upon layers of injury to their brokenness.

Principle #2 – Degree of betrayal occurrence is a reliable predictor to the degree of injury*

This is a tricky principle to discuss. It can be misunderstood. Let’s take a look at it. The degree of  betrayal occurrence  is a reliable predictor to the degree of injury. In breaking down degree of occurrence, it too has several connotations:

  1. Acute or short term
  2. Chronic or ongoing
  3. Recurrent or episodic
  4. Multiple betrayals

If a betrayal is a short term or one time occurrence, it is possible that recovery from it may take less time and may be less painful.  The explanations for this include the following: there has not been much of an investment; there was not a large degree of trust developed; or there wasn’t a deep belief in or attachment to the person or thing.

On the other hand, acute or short term betrayal can be horrific. An employee is assaulted or harassed. A partner or spouse is attacked, beaten, or raped.  A family member is belittled or berated by another family member. These abusive acts may have been short term in nature, but their degree of severity with their ensuing injuries are reliable indicators of the level and span of pain incurred.

One of the most significant findings in Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers was that all the daughters experienced chronic or ongoing betrayals.  For a few of the daughters, there were short reprieves from the betrayals, but often unhealthy family members sided with their betrayers – their mothers. The daughters’ chronic betrayals were internalized in their life messages such as:  

I was not enough.

I am not lovable.

I do not matter.

I do not feel important. 

I do not feel valuable.

I felt invisible.

When the betrayals are ongoing (chronic), recurrent or episodic, or if there are multiple betrayals (by other family members and/or those who support the betrayer), the degree of injury can be horrific and it requires a strong commitment to ongoing recovery work.

Principle #3 – Degree of exposure to the betrayer or to the betrayal environment is a reliable predictor the degree of injury*

Principle #3 is extremely important when it comes to understanding why some individuals are not able to move through their betrayal injury and/or continue to experience further betrayals.

The degree of exposure to the betrayer or the betrayal environment is a predictor to the degree of injury.

Because betrayal injury falls into the categories associated with abuse, trauma, harassment, exploitation (an intimate assault on one’s being or character or a profound violation of one’s truth, belief, and trust), there is constant risk of re-injury and the triggering of health related symptoms. When victims are exposed to the betrayer or betrayal environment, many report the presence of symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, experiencing flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks. Others report depression, anxiety, and a variety of mood disorders.

For victims who willingly or unwillingly stay in relationship or in contact with the betrayer or who remain in the betrayal environment, it is far more difficult to move through the 3 States of Being: confusion, worthlessness, and powerlessness and to sustain  healthy ways of being. It is not impossible; however, it requires tremendous commitment towards one’s recovery work as well as a myriad of support systems in place.

In the Daughters’ study, all of the daughters moved away or chose to remove themselves from their mothers and their betrayal environments as their circumstances permitted. Most were able to do so after finishing high school. Although the daughters faced years of recovering work, their decisions to distance themselves from their betrayers provided them with the necessary conditions to begin moving From Brokenness To Wholeness.  

For individuals who have been able to distance themselves from their betrayers and their betrayal environments, their recovery is still hard work.  However, without the constant threat of further injury and with the ability to create a safe space for healing work to take place, victims are not only able to tend to their wounds but they learn how to set boundaries and implement a myriad of supportive structures.

In closing, by understanding the principles of degree investment, degree of occurrence, and degree of exposure, we can move forward knowing that there are sound reasons why some individuals heal from their betrayals – perhaps not more easily – but more quickly than others. And, we can give ourselves permission to take the time we need to move through ours given our unique circumstances. What is not negotiable, it is to keep moving, recovering one step at a time. One day at a time. If needed, one breath at a time.

* Principles of degree of investment, trust, and belief; degree of occurrence; and degree of exposure are excerpts from Breaking Through Betrayal: And Recovering The Peace Within 2nd Edition. Holli Kenley. (2016). Loving Healing Press, Inc.

*Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers: Moving From Brokenness To Wholeness. Holli Kenley. (2018). 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”