From birth we are taught that who we think we are and what we think about our worth is based on how others feel about us and act towards us. Our need, as babies, is survival and that survival is controlled by those caring for us. Their attention and approval is the most important thing to us. When we get that approval and positive attention, we feel loved and appreciated. When we don’t get it, we feel dejected and unworthy. We learn to act in ways that please them so we get more of this positive attention. We unknowingly allow ourselves to be ruled by their expectations of us. Meeting their expectations – most of which we learn by trial and error – brings a reward. Not meeting their expectations results in punishment.
As we grow, we live our lives by the rule of expectations. We begin to have expectations of our parents. We expect them to be attentive to us, to feed us, to clothe us, to be affectionate towards us, to love us. We interact with other family members and do the dance of expectations with them. From there we go to school and church and interact in the same way. We act the same way in our friendships. Finally, we step out into adulthood and take these expectations into the workplace. Every interaction becomes a transaction. I will do this if you do that. You owe me because I did this for you. You are my partner, mother, father, cousin, sister, brother, friend, co-worker, boss, employee and I expect you to act in these ways.
We all go through a period of rebellion. We, deep within ourselves, know that our self-image and worth shouldn’t be linked to other peoples’ expectations, so we break rules to discover who we are and what we want out of life separate from what others want us to be or do. We know, at some level, that who we are and what we do should not be molded by the world around us. But even if we attain some freedom of expression, we still only know the language of expectations. So while we have a sense of control over our lives, we still interact with others by expectation.
When people don’t respond to us in the ways we think they should, whether we told them of our expectations or not, we call this being betrayed. When we loan a person some money they don’t pay back, when we do a favor for someone and when we need a favor they don’t help us, when we are in a relationship feeling mad that our partner isn’t interacting with us they way we think they should, when a friend lies to us, when our parents ignore us, our sense of our value and worth is decreased.
How can I matter and be of value if the people in my life don’t respond to my expectations of them? This question, I feel, is at the root of the feeling of betrayal and hurt. My value is based upon how you treat me and if I don’t think you are treating we well, it must be because I am not worth it.
When discussing how to deal with the feeling of being betrayed, what we are discussing is the belief that the worth of our presence in the world is based upon what others think and do. We take our expectations of a person and compare it to the actions of a person and the conclusion is always a perception of our worth – either to that person or to the world. This, in turn, leads us to more expectations about ourselves, the people in our lives and the world in which we live. We start believing that people are shady, men are dogs, women are conniving, no one loves us, etc. and these become our expectations. These negative expectations are supposed to help us manage our feelings about people not doing what we think they should but they end up reinforcing our feeling that we are not good enough for people to do good for and by us.
So how do we deal with feeling betrayed and with our feeling that somehow we must deserve the treatment we endure from others?
1. It’s not personal – Everyone has their set of expectations for themselves, others and the world around them and it is from these expectations that they make decisions. No one is intentionally doing us wrong. They are trying to protect themselves from being negatively impacted by the things that happen in life. And we are doing the same thing. We are all in this predicament, looking for a way out. While I might not have made the same decision as you in a given moment, I am motivated by the same need to protect my sense of self-worth and my fear that you have the power to affect how much I feel I matter.
2. Take responsibility for your feelings – You feel betrayed because of your own expectations and beliefs. Even if a person intentionally does something to betray you, you have the ability to choose to feel betrayed or not. It’s not their fault that you have this feeling happening inside you. Most of us have a hard time believing that because we don’t know that we don’t have to allow our emotions to be triggered by what happens to us. We are taught that things happen and our emotions are a natural response, but in reality they are a trained response. You can learn to choose how things affect you by changing your perceptions.
3. Own the feeling, don’t let the feeling own you – For now, things are going to happen that challenge our feelings of worthiness. When they do, we are going to have a negative emotional response. But that emotion is happening inside of ourselves and it has come up to let us know that there is something about our perception about ourselves and/or this situation that threatens to make us feel disempowered. We don’t have to react from self protection, we can choose to be self aware. If you feel betrayed, you can ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” “What would I prefer to feel?” ” Why would I prefer to feel that way?” “How can I feel how I want to feel regardless of what this person has or hasn’t done?” When the feeling comes up, it’s time for self-reflection so you can see the expectations you have that don’t serve you at this point in your life.
4. Forgive – In this moment, nothing can be different than it is. The past can’t now be different than it was. The only thing that can be changed is what’s coming in the future. As long as we put energy into blaming anyone – including ourselves – for what was done, we give them the power we need to create a new future for ourselves. Forgiveness is how we reclaim our emotional and spiritual power to make the future better than the past. In this letting go, we are able to rise above the situation to a higher emotional vantage point and see more opportunities for our lives. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that they get off scot-free. Forgiveness does mean that you are letting them off of the hook for the punishment you think they deserve for causing you distress. And when you let it go, you also disconnect yourself from their karma. This doesn’t mean you let them stay in your life, you may let it go and let them go as well, but you let them go with grace and in love. You let them go grateful that they allowed you to see something within yourself that has been holding you back from the greatness for which you are destined. You let them go not hoping karma get them back, but that karma allows them to learn the lessons they need to know to live their best life as well.
Ultimately, our life is our pathway to reclaiming our power and birthright as children of the Divine. When people do things that stir up feelings of betrayal, we are being given the opportunity to learn that our value and worth is intrinsic to our very being. No one is really able to strip us of our worth and value, and there is a part of us that knows this. Through these situations we can become more aware of that part of us that is free from the opinions and actions of others. We can become aware that our happiness and ability to create our best life is only tied to discovering that part of us. Then the miraculous happens to us and through us.