Betrayal, which can be defined as an action or series of actions that violate a deeply held agreement, promise, or understanding, often triggers feelings of profound anger, pain, and confusion. Betrayal can only come from a person or entity we have trusted, and it usually strikes at a point of extreme vulnerability or counters our most sacred beliefs or values. Regardless of whether a betrayal is expressly malicious, purely selfish, or just accidental, it is one of the most painful emotional experiences we can undergo, frequently leading to self-doubt and deep mistrust of others.

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An Introduction to Betrayal

By Beth Hedva, PhD

What is betrayal?

Betrayal is an unexpected violation of trust that shocks mind, body, and soul. Whether you have suffered through an abusive childhood, have been shattered by global events, were let down by your lover, or were stabbed in the back by a coworker, the intensity of personal pain taps into a deep archetypal wound. Even broken promises, unmet expectations, or disillusionment, or feelings of having been purposely deceived or misled become conduits for this universal experience—the collective pain of every person who has ever felt betrayed.

Common Reactions to Betrayal

People typically react to betrayal in the following ways.

  • Obsessing about the betrayal: self-righteous resentment and a desire for vindication, vengeance, or retribution
  • Demonizing or dehumanizing the betrayer: projection of the shadow, judgmental attitudes, gossip
  • Generalizing the negative to others: stereotyping, cynicism, prejudice, and bigotry
  • Self-betrayal: paralyzing self-doubt, abandonment of the soul’s desires and vital dreams
  • Suspicion and fear of future betrayals: self-protection, control, manipulation; contracts and agreements to influence outcomes

What happens psychologically and spiritually?

When someone in pain feels threatened or anticipates their needs will not be met, visceral fear reactions that can automatically add to their trauma are triggered. Instead of seeking inner healing, they let their emotions take over and they act out. Next, they rationalize and justify their behavior, betraying themselves and others. Betrayer and betrayed are two sides of the same coin.

It may feel very personal, but betrayal is not personal. It stems from the fact that all of us are works in progress—flawed human beings and not fully enlightened spiritual beings embodying our eternal divine nature, our archetypal Self.

Through soul searching, a person can connect with a profound source of healing within, an expanded awareness that guides them to an “inner truth,” which then sets their soul free from the pain of the past. 

The History of Betrayal

Betrayal is archetypal. Archetypes tap into intense, transformative energies that have the power to change our consciousness. Ancient and indigenous cultures often used betrayal as an opportunity—a catalyst for a trauma-induced spiritual awakening. In rites of passage, five stages of personal growth are intentionally evoked in a ceremony of initiation as a person confronts five spiritual tests: 1) separation, 2) purification ordeals (physical, mental, and emotional challenges), 3) symbolic ego death, 4) receipt of insight (‘new’ knowledge), 5) spiritual rebirth and return, when a person demonstrates lessons learned and incorporates their new skills into their lives and shares them with the community.

We go through those same five stages of initiation and personal growth as we heal from betrayal. 

How can I rebuild trust after betrayal?

Stop blaming yourself and your betrayer for what happened. Asking, “Why did this happen to me?” only feeds the betrayal fires. Instead, recognize betrayal as a spiritual test and ask, “What positive learning is my soul gaining? What am I learning about myself and the human condition?” Intuitively track and observe energetic patterns as they arise—emotional reactivity, sensations, unconscious beliefs, and intergenerational trauma hidden in the recesses of the soul. Ask for support from both inner resources and helpful outer resources.

Reframe feeling hurt and isolated as sacred separation, a call to a ceremony of initiation for your soul. Turn your attention inward and connect to your inner Creator using creative process, meditation, and prayer. Use the T-R-U-S-T contemplative meditation to deepen soul searching.

T-R-U-S-T Contemplative Meditation for Embodied Awareness

T — Take Time-Out. Turn Inward for Truth. Turn inward to discover your deepest truth. To thine own Self be true.

R — Relax, Release, and Receive. Breathe to relax body and mind. Release fear; then receive intuitive guidance.

U — Use Intuition to Understand. Use the tools you have, both inner and outer resources. Track the energy in your body’s sensations, emotional feelings, thoughts, and subtle intuitive perceptions to gain Self-awareness, insights, healing, and guidance. 

S — Speak, Share, Stand Up. Speak the truth. Share your dreams. Take a stand.

T —Try Again and TRUST. Trust the process that guides you to return to your Source within.

The Benefits of Betrayal

Every personal injury is a gateway to transpersonal healing:

  • Mother wounds train you to connect to the archetypal Great Mother who nourishes intuitive knowing. Connect to the One within who knows what you need to convert injuries into Self-trust.
  • Father betrayals train you to connect to the archetypal Father’s inner authority, who converts injury into Self-direction, meaningful life purpose, and wise action to inspire you to take risks.
  • Relationship issues become part of one’s spiritual path, reminding you to return to the inner Self who knows (Mother) and directs (Father) healing; and to convert childhood wounds into emotional and spiritual maturity by partnering with your compassionate, Transcendent Self who is in loving union with your ordinary ego-self. This inner One extends true love to oneself and others.
  • Body betrayals (accident, injury, addiction, illness, and aging) highlight limitations and disability. This trains us to convert willful control into willingness, surrendering to co-operating with Divine Will.
  • Self-betrayal becomes a gateway to Self-forgiveness, converting injury to commitment, to give forth your soul’s gifts, to be true to your Self.

Healing personal betrayals trains us to trust our inner knowing and purpose, to be compassionate, forgiving, and able to cooperate with Divine Will, so we may begin the work of healing collective injuries:

  • Society’s betrayals (racism, classism, social injustice, ethnocentricity, war) become gateways to the Family of Humanity calling us to heal ancestral wounds.
  • Betrayals of the planet (environmental disasters) become a gateway to a New World, calling us to honor our interdependence, to live in harmony with the Earth and all her creatures.

About the Author

Dr. Beth Hedva, author of Journey from Betrayal to Trust and the award-winning Betrayal, Trust and Forgiveness, is an internationally recognized counselor and teacher. She made her reputation blending ancient and indigenous cross-cultural healing practices and spiritual traditions, with modern psychological best practices to promote an integrative approach to both personal and community health and wellness.  

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