“There’s coming out of relationships, there’s getting your heart broken, and then there’s that rare and special time you crawl out of a relationship bleeding at your knees, heart shattered, brain smashed, gut splattered and wondering what the point of reality is. The first two are called stages in life; the last one is called surviving a relationship with a psychopath.”
~ Cee Martinez, The Aftermath Of Loving A Psychopath
Feeling that way, and then wondering what the hell really happened, is often what leads us to the truth of the matter. The devastation we feel is far beyond the realm of a relationship gone wrong, and with good reason. It’s the devastation that comes from betrayal.
Brene’ Brown, sociologist, speaker, and author of the book Daring Greatly, writes about what she believes is the worst betrayal that can happen in a relationship:
“There is a particular sort of betrayal that is more insidious… I’m talking about the betrayal of disengagement. Of not caring. Of letting the connection go. Of not being willing to devote time and effort to the relationship… there’s no event, no obvious evidence of brokenness. It can feel crazy-making…”
Being abandoned like that is bad enough, but it’s far worse to find out someone was never ‘engaged’ to begin with, never loved you in the first place…. it’s the betrayal of never having had a real relationship at all, but only made to believe you did for the purpose of cultivating feelings of trust, love and loyalty to use later to destroy you. It is the intentional infliction of the deepest wound possible against a person with a heart and soul.
That’s why knowledge and wisdom pertaining to relationships does not apply in our situation, and isn’t the least bit helpful.
If we or others continue to see it as a ‘relationship,’ we will never gain the understanding and support we need. We were not involved in a relationship — we were involved in a victimization. The other person was not a partner — they were a predator. What we experienced was a genuine betrayal, not a perceived betrayal or a violation of our trust. Betrayal differs greatly from other trust violations.
In the case of a real relationship, when we rightfully trust a person who is worthy of our trust, we can never anticipate every contingency, so we may still end up being badly disappointed. The object of our trust may end up disappointing us by outgrowing the relationship or falling out of love. Those outcomes are devastating, but they are not truly betrayals, nor are they what we experienced.
The betrayal we experienced was one where a predatory person convinced us of his or her love and future loyalty, despite their incapacity for love and loyalty, and then devalued and discarded us with zero empathy, compassion or concern. That’s the abbreviated version, of course.
Betrayal is a uniquely devastating form of psychological harm.
In Dante’s Inferno, betrayers were sent to the Ninth Circle, the lowest level of hell. Those of us who have experienced betrayal understand why.
“An act of betrayal makes us appreciate Dante’s reserving the innermost ring of the Inferno for the betrayers. We can even say there is a characteristic ‘feel’ to betrayal. The betrayed experience powerful sensations of violation; they feel used and damaged…
Betrayal, however, elicits more than strong feelings. Psychologists offer clinical evidence attesting to the devastating effects of betrayal. Betrayal acts as an assault on the integrity of individuals, affecting the capacity to trust, undermining confidence in judgment, and contracting the possibilities of the world by increasing distrust and scepticism. Betrayal changes not only our sense of the world, but our sensibility toward the world.” ~ Rodger L. Jackson, The Sense and Sensibility of Betrayal: Discovering the Meaning of Treachery through Jane Austen
The particular type of betrayal we experienced is called emotional rape. Understanding what we experienced is the first step in being able to heal.
In Dante’s Inferno, betrayers were frozen in ice for eternity.
This is a terrible truth to have to come to terms with.
When we give our trust to another, we have the confident expectation that person will value it and have the good will to care for it. When we trust someone, we become vulnerable to them.
The psychopath did not warrant our trust, because he did not possess the good will to care for it. This does not mean we were foolish to trust, though. They weren’t capable of having a deep and lasting relationship, but they presented us with plausible grounds to believe they had the qualities to make that possible.
Dr. Hare and Dr. Babiak sum up the differences between a real bond between two people and the psychopathic bond quite well:
“The persona of the psychopath — the “personality” the person is bonding with — does not really exist. It was built on lies, carefully woven together to entrap you. It is a mask, one of many, custom-made by the psychopath to fit your particular psychological needs and expectations. It does not reflect the true personality — the psychopathic personality — that lies beneath. It is a convenient fabrication.
Second, these relationships are not based on informed choice. The psychopath chooses you and then moves in….
Third, because it is faked, it won’t last like genuine relationships. While genuine relationships change over time — love may turn to hate, marriages end in divorce — the initial starting point was based on real data, as it was known at the time….
Fourth, the relationship is one-sided because the psychopath has an ulterior — some would say “evil” — and, at the very least, selfish — motive. The victimization goes far beyond trying to take advantage of someone on a date or during a simple business transaction. The victimization is predatory in nature; it often leads to severe financial, physical or emotional harm for the individual.
Healthy, real relationships are built on mutual respect and trust; they are based on sharing honest thoughts and feelings. The mistaken belief that the psychopathic bond has any of these characteristics is the reason it is so successful.”
Judas, whose name is synonymous with betrayal, in pictured on the right.
The stages of the psychopathic bond are known as “idealize, devalue and discard.” Recently, a reader named Jack called those stages “Entrapment, Dehumanization and Discardment.” I think his choice of words more powerfully captures the true essence of our experience.
Where do you go from here?
The first step to healing is to realize and understand the profound betrayal you’ve experienced. This is no small matter; in fact, it’s the heart of the matter. It’s the cause of the trauma we experience. It’s incomprehensible, yet we have to be able to comprehend it in order to eventually heal from it.
This profound betrayal brings you to a fork in the road. Choose the path that fosters personal growth and self-regard, not the one that impedes them. One way to foster them is to first acknowledge the true depth and severity of your wound. Only then can you know the extent of the treatment needed.
It is vital to have faith that you will heal, even if you have no idea how that will happen right now (that link goes to my very first blog post, and faith was all I had when I wrote it). That faith will give you hope, and it will keep you moving forward.
Since we can’t change the reality of what happened, regaining faith and trust in yourself should be your overarching goal. Psychopaths damage our self confidence, self respect, and self worth, among other things. You can regain them, and even develop more than you had before. From great adversity comes great strength. Just as the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fires, we too are forged and strengthened by our own struggles and triumphs.
You can start the process of regaining faith and trust in yourself by learning the details of how you were victimized. Doing so resolves shame and self-blame, which are huge roadblocks that get in the way of healing. Shame is the feeling of deep humiliation not for what we’ve done, but for what we are. No one should go through life with that belief about themselves.
Regaining trust in others is also important. Losing your ability to trust others and imagining a future filled with more betrayal will only lead you to imprison your soul and lock your heart away. To avoid that outcome, it’s important to carefully examine your thoughts and feelings regarding trust and your beliefs about the future. You will be able to trust again when you have confidence that you can do so as wisely as possible.
Healing depends largely on the quality of resilience. Resilience is the capacity to withstand stress and catastrophe. Don’t worry if you were never particularly resilient in the past — it’s not something we’re born with. Your resilience will develop and grow as you persist in overcoming this adversity. Resilience does not mean ‘being strong’ and going it alone — it means doing whatever it takes to help yourself, including reaching out to others for help, which you should do. Some things are just too big to face on our own.
Find personal meaning in your experience. My personal meaning is that this experience was sufficiently devastating to bring me to a place where I had to re-examine everything about my self, my relationships, and my life, and doing so created the opportunity to make significant positive changes. I ended up experiencing post-traumatic growth, which is positive change after struggling with a major life crisis or traumatic event. Post-traumatic growth does not diminish the severity of what you experienced — in fact, it can only happen because of the severity of that experience.
♥ Thank you for reading.
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