betrayal is the new “connection”

betrayal

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.”

i’m not upset that you lied to me, i’m upset that from now on i can’t believe you ~ friedrich nietzsche

A half truth is a whole lie ~ Yiddish Proverb

Honest people are a rare refuge in a culture where we have to swim the sea of lies euphemistically called “social skills”: white lies, lies of omission, manipulations, passive aggression, denial, deliberate cons, ass-covering deceptions… [see: neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering ~ carl jung]

To lie is to intentionally mislead others—while they presume we’re giving them candor—so that they’ll form beliefs that are untrue. To some, the thrill of deception and manipulation is sexy; it’s also a pitiable way to shroud.

This constantly happens in politics, with sales people, military recruiters,  some journalists, lawyers, contractors. That’s precarious enough for us all but it’s downright lethal within relationships. [see: now we’re cooking with gas(lighting)] Especially with children. They look to us to reflect the world authentically so they can form realistic patterns of behavior. [For a “minor” version, see: the reason for the season is jesus and other lies]

Manipulators tend to be self-serving and tamper with the truth usually to get their immediate gratification “needs” met but they commonly confuse control with power as well. [See: more power!!!*] Conversely, in their repressed insecurity, liars care way too much what other people think of them, worrying neurotically about what impression they’re making. They often have more vanity and practice how to “be” in front of a mirror. Aaaand…we’re moving into the realm of sociopathic behavior.

Once you commit to speaking the truth, you begin to notice how rare it is to meet someone who shares this resolution, except for kids. And animals. No wonder many people in the States—our American philosophy being based on passive aggression or its flip side, machismo/individualism—opt for pets in lieu of forming long lasting human relationships. A simple breath of spring air in our polluted world of associations.

Honesty is an offering we can extend to others and a wellspring of power. It provides an opportunity for ease of interaction, not the complex muck of duplicity no matter how “benign.”

Studies have shown that responsible people are less likely to tell lies, especially the self-serving type, the ones we spin to make ourselves look better or to avoid unfavorable responses like blame, shame or discomfort. Lots of denial happens here. The more “altruistic” lies are told to make others feel better: “Nice haircut!” “You look great in those pants.” It’s been shown that men tend to do the former and women, the latter.

Am I lying as I write this? Maybe. It’s the written word; apparently words in print are given more credence, as are statements conveyed by a person in medical or other authoritative attire. I’m wearing a sweatshirt so I’d be suspect.

The bottom line is if you lie, you disturb the trust of another and those ramifications spread suspicion and wariness like undesirable pollen that contaminate our society’s underpinnings. Think hard before you glibly lob any sort of fabrication—unless you’re writing fiction. And even then, be wary, as all decent fiction should uncloak deeper truths.


neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering ~ carl jung

As a counselor, I usually have compassion for the variety of coping mechanisms people use. But with Cognitive Dissonance—that’s trickier. In short, it’s believing one thing yet doing the reverse; it’s the reality between who we are and who we think we are. I find it a fancier name for denial, for lying, for hypocrisy, for delusion. Translation: the client doesn’t want to do the necessary work.

When most of us confront opposing wants, we have two choices: change our conduct for inner alignment to achieve integrity, or alter our attitudes and rationalize our behavior. Unfortunately, many are more prone to do the latter.

It’s “uncomfortable” to bring fantasy and reality together because suddenly it’s obvious what needs to be done and these depressing realizations mean we have a lot of work to do. Worse, we might have to face the fact that our “designs” are unfeasible. We might have to make an integris choice! We might feel pain! Yes, we will. Growth only happens in the land of reality.

Some examples: to be anti-birth control and yet pronounce abortion a sin, to believe in the sanctity of a glob of cells within a women’s body and yet adamantly endorse the death penalty, to be a vegetarian but eat chicken—poof! sleight of mind—conflict resolved. You no longer see it.

Unfortunately, I can, and so do most others. Cognitive Dissonance does reconcile our mind’s discomfort with incompatible thoughts and actions, but in a magical thinking kind of way. We hate to have our inconsistencies pointed out and will attempt all kinds of mental contortions to avoid them. Still, there’s a perverted leap over the truth. And a lot of secrecy, too.

This often occurs in marital affairs, where those involved are adrift in their created fantasies and fabricate a chimera rather than deal with the reality of their lives, their choices. Feels pretty immature and, honestly, spineless.

Because whatever you’re not dealing with, you’re passing on to someone else. Whether you intend to or not. See: now we’re cooking with gas(lighting). One of the major principles I taught my kids: If you throw a rock, don’t hide your hand. This meant they had to line their actions up with their thoughts and articulately stand by them. It taught them critical thinking skills which make it harder to inhabit the land of delusion. I respected my kids and their choices even if I sometimes disagreed with their “rock throwing.” Why? Because, at whatever age or stage of development, their intention was aligned with their whole Self.

I understand the need for resolution, I do. But I believe in conscience, too. Since when do people who compartmentalize not know what they’re doing? They do, and then they lie. To themselves, and to us.

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