betrayal is the new “connection”


As a counselor, stories of betrayal are relayed to me regularly from the minor to the heinous: gossip, political scandals, serial infidelity, drinking secretly, gambling away copious amounts of money, etc… Regardless the form, there are commonalities:

  • they’re clandestine, often long-term
  • lies and/or denial, gaslighting
  • the deceived abruptly discovers a split life, half of which they’ve never experienced and must now integrate

The deceived has unknowingly written a fraudulent story. The deceiver holds the complete history; no incorporation necessary. Even if the betrayer has remorse, their narrative—delusional though it may be—is sound, so they usually have an easier time moving on. They made decisions all along in keeping with their skewed sense of self and those invisible choices were within their control. As Anna Fels writes, “…after the discovery of a longstanding lie, the victims are counseled to move on…stay focused on the future. But it’s not so easy…when there’s no solid narrative ground to stand on.”

The survivors of this deceit feel an unrealistic humiliation for being duped even though they often did sense discordant things but were systematically gaslighted [see: now we’re cooking with gas(lighting) ] into believing they’d ‘gotten it wrong.’ They’re commonly embarrassed because others knew the truth and the sufferer now feels in ‘exile.’ Picture Elizabeth Edwards. Everything is second-guessed. What really happened?

This is why my clients who’ve experienced deception want to know the gruesome details. It’s not that they want to wallow (as others sometimes cruelly say) as much as they’re trying to reconstruct counterfeit memories, struggling to integrate this previously unknown reality.

But the miscreant? S/he’s redeemed and ready to start a new life, make better choices leaping from villain to reformed sinner. And everybody loves the reformed; movies revere them; Judeo-Christian morés press forgiveness. It gives us the righteous chance to feel good about ourselves (maybe justify our mistakes). They changed! They’ve repented! Loser to winner in a single bound! To paraphrase Anna Fels, our culture has a soft spot for tales of people starting over.

But for the others who’ve systematically been lied to, the picture is much grimmer. Nobody likes a victim—even the victim. People want to align with the winner.

Addiction is all about disconnection: from Self, from family, from community. And it is fabulous when someone creeps out of the alley of self-delusion into the light of reality. They probably should be forgiven—at some point—but that point comes after accountability, amends, sincere understanding of damage done, empathy, mercy. In other words, connection. Bestowing facile forgiveness, so that we can feel saintly isn’t any more real than the brutal twaddle the deceiver pulled.

We need authenticity before forgiveness and we need to have compassion, not contempt, for the marginalized casualty—who unfortunately reminds us of our inability to have control over our lives—instead of affiliating with the asshat perpetrators. Maybe we worry that we could be that ‘loser’ at some time in our lives and we despise the ‘victim’ for that inadvertent disclosure. Betrayal shouldn’t warrant an oversimplified amnesty ‘connection’ without ethical culpability.

shame shame go away

In my 35+ years of counseling, I’ve found that shame is virtually the most stubborn cage of psychic hell. A serious soul-sickness. The quintessential belief that one is intrinsically unlovable.

This is how adults often present shame:

  1. Afraid to share their true thoughts and feelings with others.
  2. Commonly block “negative” feelings through secret compulsive behaviors: sex addiction, eating disorders, retail therapy or substance-abuse. I call these “secret addictions” because the secret is as important (or more) than the illicit relations, the new shoes, the gallon of ice cream…
  3. Intimacy adverse, terrified of commitment and build hidden walls in their relationships.
  4. Convinced of their inferiority and compare themselves negatively to others finding themselves flawed or deficient. This core belief, that they cannot be “fixed,” bonds to their psyches.
  5. Blame others for their pain and find it difficult to impossible to trust. Often results in controlling behavior.
  6. Defensive in the face of the slightest criticism where they feel unfavorably judged even if it’s kindly constructive advice from a boss or mate. Leads to passive aggressive interactions.
  7. Perplexed as to how to establish and enforce healthy boundaries with anyone, giving up their power and abandoning Self as if they’re compelled to do what others want. Subsequently suffer humiliation, guilt or smoldering anger.
  8. Constantly looking for approval from the outside to counteract the hyper-critical voices within. Thus trouble saying NO.
  9. Often narcissistic, pretending they have it all together. However, they don’t strive for Self-fulfillment, only for self-Image fulfillment.
  10. Transversely, they can be selfless, nearly to the point of being a martyr.
  11. Experience little spontaneity due to the constant monitoring and self-judgment.
  12. Motivated more by what they want to avoid rather than what they want.
  13. Usually perfectionists which gives rise to procrastination and non completion of projects. Afflicted with performance anxiety, choking at the critical moment.

How does one dysfunctionally shield Self against that inner demon, shame?

How can you heal from shame?

  • Face your pain! Own the sorrow and anger, incorporate them and grieve the loss of true nurturance. Your shame and pain are memory components living within your cells. There’s no escaping any part of your unique history.
  • Speak your shame aloud to safe, mature people. Therapy is invaluable for this practice. Teaches trust.
  • Have compassion for Self. Focus on your intention, not the result. You’re a “good” person so if you’ve made mistakes it must be for complex reasons. It’s never too late to make amends, to add back.
  • Try to eliminate good/bad thinking. Replace “This pizza is good” or “That dog sucks” with “I like this thin pizza” or “I don’t like this dog.” The pizza and the dog are what they are regardless of your personal preferences.
  • Create consistent boundaries. Practice saying NO to others and YES to your Self (not your compulsions).
  • Accept that things are what they are and not what you think they are.
  • Feelings live in the body, not the head. If you can’t “feel” it, they aren’t “feelings.”
  • When you can laugh at your foibles, especially when you’re “revealed,” then you’re on your way to “healed.”

now we’re cooking with gas(lighting)

Francesco Pirrone

Anyone aware of the psychological term, “gas-lighting?” This is a common practice used by deceptive partners to control—actively or passive aggressively—a “situation,” which usually means the actual person, in order to cover their tracks so they don’t get caught at some hidden behavior or stealthy agenda and/or to get their partner to doubt her-Self and question what she sees or knows.

He can dismiss or discount what she feels by flat-out lying to her, say one thing then do another, discharge violent or semi-violent episodes around her, deny definite words spoken or behavior she saw him do and much more until the tortured partner can’t relax in herself or in the relationship. If the woman protests she’s often criticized as “too sensitive” “hostile” “crazy” “ranting” etc. The problem is that the ‘victim’ begins to believe him. I say ‘him’ as this behavior is profoundly lopsided when it comes to gender.

The difficulty with lies, especially multi-layered long term secrets, is that all her perceptions and feelings are dubious to her, not just the ones related to the lies. She ceases to trust herself in most interactions of life—until the miserable truth is discovered. By then it’s a long road back.

A second pitfall is the ‘victim’ might begin minor acting out due to the ‘weight’ of the unknown burden she’s unconsciously carrying. Even some couples-counselors won’t see this as his deep acting poison within her surfacing but will believe much of the responsibility for the rupture is the woman’s because his actions are hidden.

Another grave issue is that secrets can cause illness on a cellular level manifesting in chronic illness. Both for the one in control as well as the duped. Recently, there’s more research being done on the bodily harm of secrets & lies, something 12-steppers have known for years: You’re only as sick as your secrets. Carl Jung wrote:The possession of secrets acts like a psychic poison…”

There’s a big difference between privacy and secrets. Secrets are based in fear and have a foundation of shame. Privacy is more an act of choosing personal boundaries, and those are rarely hurtful to another. We all need privacy for our mental health but secrets are poisonous from the biological to the psychological. Addicts traffic in the realm of secrets as well as philanderers, abusive families, child molesters and lots more.

One major tool of the trade is gas-lighting. If you can get a person to doubt their Self, their spirit, you can manipulate and exploit them as needed. This is particularly horrible when used on children since they’re hardwired to trust.

And isn’t addiction about filling an emotional crater of emptiness, about feeling devoid in one’s true power coupled with the deluded belief that this perverted control they gain through con games and secrets is their power? I guess they get to feel “full”—for a minute.

See the polarity between power and control: more power!!!*

*photo credit: Francesco Pirrone