Ask anyone who’s been betrayed, and they’ll tell you that the “knife in the back” is not only a metaphor but an actual physical sensation. It’s been over ten years since I felt double-crossed by a business partner and walked away empty-handed from what I had believed was my purpose in life. The experience broke something inside me, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when I realize that what broke was my naive and innocent belief that a good, honest conversation and mutual compromise could overcome any conflict. Sometimes, nothing can.
Mistrustful of everyone
In the immediate months following my betrayal, I felt suspicious of everyone. I wondered: if someone could encourage me to open up to them only to use that information against me later on, couldn’t anyone? I started to wonder if promises and agreements were nothing more than ruses to hide ulterior motives. Was I a fool? Was everyone out to get me? These dangerous questions threatened to put all my relationships under a dark cloud of mistrust.
Incessant suspicion was an uncomfortable mental place to be in. I had always prided myself on my trusting nature. But this meant I had often shared intimacies with people before they had earned the right to hear them. I had believed that a strong, reciprocal relationship could always outweigh personal ambition. I hadn’t considered that often, blind ambition is precisely the energy that destroys personal relationships.
With time and deliberate inner work, I uncovered the hidden gem inside the pain of my betrayal: a richer connection to my intuition, which then helped me establish confidence as I stepped out to build better relationships, and trust, once again.
Here are the steps I went through to heal from betrayal and trust myself and others again.
1. Understand that it’s not about you
Betrayal feels very personal, but it’s important to remember that other people’s actions have more to do with their inner landscape than with you. They might be trying to prove something to themselves or others. Or, perhaps your energy reminds them of a previous relationship, and they are acting out of habit, insecurity, fear, or protection. Really, none of this is your business. When someone betrays your trust, understand that they would do that to anyone in your shoes. No amount of wondering why they did it helps with the healing, so if you can, let those thoughts and ideas go.
2. Understand that it’s completely about you
Wait, didn’t I just say that it wasn’t about you? Yes. But also: it’s entirely about you. Meaning this: betrayal of your trust by someone else reflects a betrayal of yourself by yourself. For example, in my situation, my body had tried to warn me in a hundred different ways that something wasn’t right. But, I dismissed the headaches, insomnia, and nightmares. So—where was the real betrayal?
None of this is to transfer blame from the other person to yourself. It’s more practical than that: becoming aware of where or how we have wronged ourselves is how we ensure we don’t do it again. As author Byron Katie says, “As long as you think that the cause of you problem is “out there”—as long as you think that anyone or anything is responsible for your suffering—the situation is hopeless.”
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates
3. Forgive…or not
Many people believe that forgiveness is an important part of healing from betrayal. I agree that it can be, but forgiveness is a complicated thing, one that we often misunderstand. Often, we offer it too soon, trying to pretend that we’re “above it all” before we’ve fully processed the hurt.
For forgiveness to be freeing, it needs to be an act that is all about what it does for you, not the other person, not a bystander, not even a well-meaning advisor. And forgiveness doesn’t mean allowing that person back into your life again at any level. When forgiveness works best, it resets your boundaries—the same boundaries that were violated in the relationship. And, it helps you reclaim space in your heart and mind that was transgressed.
4. Cut ties
To effectively heal from a betrayal, you have to put yourself in a protective bubble. The best way to do this is to cut all ties, whether this is on social media or leaving in-person friend groups or social circles. For the time being, you need to put your well-being ahead of everyone else. While this can feel like extra punishment, wrapping yourself in a protective bubble means that you won’t suddenly see a picture come across your phone that reopens wounds that were just about to heal. Yes, you’re strong, but being around people who remind you of the offender will only slow your healing.
Don’t forget the energetic ties, too, and cut the “chords” that were created between you. This can be done via journaling or meditation, where you visualize these connections and imagine taking scissors to them. You will be amazed at how quickly this simple practice frees up space in your mind and heart.
5. Renegotiate your relationships
This is the step where you get to renegotiate your relationships—starting with the one with yourself. Can you see the signs you missed? Can you make peace with your emotions and body for their efforts in the situation? And, will you commit to listening more closely to the still, small voice within you that might point out something you don’t want to see? While we can’t always heal the damage betrayal does in a relationship, we can develop a deeper reliance on our body’s signs and signals from now on.
You know you’re healing when…
You know you’re healing when you can look back on a person or an event and not feel your heart race or your palms sweat. You’re healing when that person doesn’t take up so much space or time in your life, or when hours or days go by without thinking of them. And, after enough time goes by, you know you are healed when you can look back with compassion for yourself while also recognizing how much wiser you’ve become. One day, you might even thank that person for making you who you are today. I know that sounds crazy, especially if you’re fresh off a betrayal. Ten years ago, I would have agreed that the idea of thanking my ex-partner was bonkers. But here I am, and I have nothing in my heart left around this situation except gratitude and understanding.
No one ever wants to experience a betrayal. But, if you do find yourself with the proverbial knife in your back, you can use these steps to melt that knife into wisdom, discernment, and a more intimate, trusting relationship with yourself, which will translate into healthier relationships with others going forward.