I once described the feeling of being betrayed by my boss the priest as if I was travelling at 90 miles per hour and hit a tree. There had been so much emotional turmoil and anxiety and confusion inside of me and once I was fired and sent home, it was a feeling that is hard to describe. Unless you have been betrayed. And we all have been betrayed at one point or another. But to be betrayed by an institution you should be able to depend upon for well being….that is a betrayal trauma.
I had no way to vent my feelings. And although the metaphor of the car I had been in had suddenly come to a complete halt, the feelings were still travelling at the speed they were used to. But suddenly, there was “no problem” to fixate the feelings upon. I was just supposed to go away neatly. People were uncomfortable talking to me about it and trying to find someone who could tell me that what had happened was anything but my fault was kind of hard to come by.
Even my best therapist, who kindly took my phone calls had to admit that it wasn’t the brightest idea for me to send the priest emails which he could use against me. Emails which made me look complicit.
Someone said to me recently that I was so much “more healed” if you will…more than they. But that’s not true really. Because life is continuously unfair and because being betrayed affects how you view your relationships and the risks you are willing to take and how you feel about yourself.
I saw a conversation thread on Facebook the other day. The topic was about the cult Nxvim. If you have never heard of this group, basically, there was a somewhat charismatic “leader” who ran a business and executive training workshop to help people with their careers and personal development. You can look into this more on your own, but it was like Charles Manson in the suburbs. I believe the workshops involved some mind play which posed as getting in touch with yourself but were really intent on breaking down the ego and getting people to think less for themselves and to not question anything that was going on because it was all “for the best”.
Not surprisingly, woman who had joined the workshop, seemed to end up in bed with the guy who was running the show, and he even had a number of “top ladies” recruiting other women to join. Once they were really brainwashed, some women even allowed themselves to be branded with a hot iron with a symbol containing initials of the leaders of the group. And some, I learned, became victims of sex-trafficking.
Well, these people on Facebook were discussing this group and how could anyone have fallen for that. They must have had very low self esteem, it was determined. That would never happen to me, others said.
That is what makes me angry. Not just that people betray people and use them and hurt them for their own gain, but it’s the judgmental folks who claim it could never happen to them and that these people must be of a lower stock of human beings to fall for this. Okay, there may be some pity, but there is also a definite separation and a feeling of “my group is better than your group” going on. We would never. And we all do that. And it is a very dangerous way of thinking. It could never happen to me.
We are all just one step away from something like that happening to us.
First, by saying you could never be duped and that nothing like that could happen to you….well, the truth is, anyone can be gaslighted and any of us could have their lives changed in a moment by someone we thought we knew.
I was talking to a group of survivors recently and the point was made….would you continue to date someone who punched you in the face on your first date? No, of course not. But there are times in our lives when we are more vulnerable. Perhaps our family has deserted us in some way or our spouse has cheated on us with our best friend…and then a person comes along and makes us feel good. The pain turns into joy in their presence. We feel special. And that feeling makes us want to block out anything that doesn’t seem to sync with that feeling.
Are you stupid for feeling that way? I just described what it is like for anyone who is falling in love and who has ever fallen in love. When you fall in love, that chemistry, those hormones, that joy being in their presence….that is normal. That is what is supposed to happen. But why do some of us seem to fail to see the red flags that may be glaringly obvious to other people?
I guess we all have ideas of what it means to have a good friend, a beloved family member, or a person we would want to spend our lives with. And if you are like me, you have been betrayed by all of these plus a priest. So, what is going on?
Well, I think that once we have allowed bad behavior of any kind either in the belief that everyone has issues or that nobody is perfect or we have to forgive in life, we have already gone off the right path. Honestly, whenever I have thought that about someone and put excusing them before how their actions made me feel, I’m already in trouble. But that is how I was raised. In my home and in my school and in my church. Forgive others. And the longer I live, the less inclined I am to believe that is the right course of action.
The thing is, just like being in that car going 90 miles per hour, if that tree ahead of us is the red flag, even when we are forced to face the truth, our emotions just can’t stop as easily. If you look upon the feelings you are feeling when you are in love or when you have a good friendship, you are being rewarded by being around those people. You are feeling the rush of endorphins in your brain. Just like when you get “likes” on your Facebook posts or someone tells you that your eyes are amazing or that your hair feels good as hell when they run their hands through it. It’s a drug. And we keep going back for more. And the more we identify that person with good feelings and rewards, the harder it is to back away and to realize that the rewards are conditional or mixed with pain, or confusing. We form a bond with that person. Again, I don’t know why perhaps you or I are more susceptible than someone else or even if we are so. I just know that being rewarded by attention from others feels good and having that taken away or needing to step away from that feels like a loss and it feels not so good.
And so I think that we sometimes bargain. Such as…
Since I have two children and a house with this man and I will be all alone if I tell him to leave, I will not ask him where he has been until 4am with his old friend who happens to a woman.
He seems like a nice man. Just because he was late for our first date and showed up after I paid the bill, well…it happens, right?
So he tells me we aren’t going to have sex anymore unless I make more of a commitment….we can still be friends, right?
He had to back away. He’s my ex-husband’s friend.
His motives are pure…he is a priest.
It’s okay that he hurt me. He was doing the right thing. I’m sure he loves me, but he couldn’t hurt his wife. I understand.
So he asked me in confidence what was going on so he could help me and advise me and then used what he knew to tell everyone we know…and everyone that I love….what I have done in my sex life at a very young an impressionable age….after basically pimping me out to his friends and telling me what was expected of me.
I’m sure she just forgot to invite me. She invited everyone else and we’ve been friends for over 30 years, but I’m sure she just forgot.
So here’s the thing. In most every case, above, there were other things to consider. So I believed. Family. Long friendship. Respect of the priesthood. Allowing other people to have “faults”. Forgiving. Weighing the issue against the loss of the person. Hurt. Feeling undeserving. Feeling like I existed in a world where I was just a reaction to other people’s actions. If they loved me, I was good. If they used me and threw me away, I was worthless. If they hurt me, I needed to forgive. If they rejected me, I needed to do everything I could until I found the right key to make them accept me.
I struggle with these feelings. I’m sure many people do. Even when logically you know the answer, emotions can take time catching up.
We can be blinded by what we think should be good. A priest for instance. A doctor. One of the people I spoke about was a respected doctor where I worked. We remained friends for awhile after our break up. But we weren’t really friends. Not really. If you are romantically involved with someone who is treating you in a way that would not be acceptable with a friend, then you really can’t be friends. I just got emails from him for a long time telling me what I was missing out on. Trips he was taking that I would have loved so he put it. Things like that.
Another woman in the survivor’s group said a similar thing….he was a doctor for Pete’s sake. A well respected intelligent man. And he was still abusive.
I don’t think I really “got it” until I found myself making excuses for someone who hurt me. And then I thought….how about how I feel? I don’t want to hurt him. I don’t want to hurt anyone. But I was hurt too. And he is not taking responsibility or acting in a mature way. Essentially, he is doing what is the least likely thing to hurt himself.
Please don’t say that I have it all together. My feelings never want to cooperate with my adult point of view. But when I realized that my forgiving meant that I was excusing someone’s behavior when they hurt me….basically telling them it was fine with me if they wiped the dog poo off their shoe on my front steps and walk away clean, I realized it was okay to get angry.
And I am. But it is now what you do with that anger that matters. Nothing is a waste of time if you learn a lesson. I think anger is good. And I think you have to feel anger before you can think of forgiving anyone. I think you have to allow yourself to scream “how dare you do this to me! You are a …….(you can come up with some really good words here) blankety blank blank” I think you have to have anger before you can heal. I don’t think that means that you do things you can’t take back to hurt someone in return. I do think you should get your anger out. Scream. Write. Do something very selfish for yourself. Take care of yourself….because you are not going to allow some blankety blank blank to take anything else away from you. Buy yourself flowers and chocolate. Know that whatever they do or think about you does not matter.
And…it’s not always easy to get people out of your life. In many ways, loss is always painful. Especially as you get older. It’s tough to continue to try to allow people to get close knowing they could hurt you. It is tough to even think about allowing emotions to surface. And it’s not always easy to completely let go of some people. Old time friends. Family members. people you still need to see socially or professionally. I have emotionally distanced myself from people such as those. I have found new friends while maintaining friendships that have warped over the years and are now less close and contact is less often. My family member I have lessened my involvement with his drama and his negativity. And I no longer confide anything in him as I know he will want to use that knowledge as a source of control.
So in closing, anger is necessary. You can understand the actions of others without excusing them if it ended up hurting you. You don’t have to forgive if forgiveness means you are basically saying it is okay for someone to treat you badly or if you aren’t acknowledging how you feel. Anger does not mean revenge. Sometimes it is enough to realize that this person was not adding to your life, but rather taking from you and that they are no longer doing that if they are gone from your life. Acknowledge and respect your own feelings. When all is said and done, you have to live with yourself. Learn to like yourself.
I wish for peace and health for everyone this year and just a reminder that our Abused as Adults meeting now meets weekly every Sunday evening 7pm to 9pm EST.