"I've been cheated, been mistreated
When will I be loved
I've been put down, I've been pushed 'round
When will I be loved"
— Linda Ronstadt, "When Will I Be Loved"
Sad to say, many of us have sung a version of this tune in the face of adultery and betrayal. Most people are shocked and utterly shaken by this type of betrayal because they "never saw it coming." It's like a meteor of misery hurling from outer space that bursts our life apart.
Reconstituting our life after deep betrayal is an arduous task but, if done well, it can be extraordinarily transformational and empowering.
So now that the inconceivable has happened, what can you do to mop yourself off the floor and heal magnificently? This three-step process is a great place to start.
1. Feel everything.
Every emotion in the book will come up during the aftermath of the betrayal: rage, grief, terror, jealousy, revenge, etc. It is essential that you have space to fully experience the intense variety of feelings in a safe context.
Pushing down this emotion or burying it with numbing substances will prolong the wound. Find friends and professionals who will support you to feel without adding any more emotional kerosene to the bonfire. Get enough support to go deep, express fully, and emerge much lighter. You know you are done with this phase when you are not obsessed with the betrayer or what they did anymore. You are ready to actually think about you, your life, and what you want now.
2. Use your new free time wisely.
After you have collapsed for a while and experienced an enormous amount of catharsis, you can begin to see the emptiness that exists where there once was the presence of your person. Emptiness is at first terrifying for most of us because we are afraid we will dissolve into nothingness and never return. The beauty of this black hole is you have the opportunity to create whatever you desire in this nascent period of vast choices.
What have you been longing to do but have been avoiding? What hobby, interest, class, can you now devote some precious time to? The vacuum inside you is really not a problem if you commit to filling it with things that will enhance your life and fill you with inspiration. There is nothing better than looking back at the period of heartbreak and betrayal and saying "That was when I really found my passion for ..."
3. Forgive yourself.
The final stage of recovery is about forgiveness. Now, I'm not telling you to absolve the betrayer of their sins—they need to do their own forgiveness work and you really do not need to be any part of it. This is when you must absolutely forgive yourself for and learn from the following:
Not seeing it coming.
What could you have seen if you were looking more closely?
Seeing signs of something wrong but not wanting to confront it for whatever your reasons.
Where did you back down from real issues that were simmering? What skills do you need to not do that again?
Any ways you contributed to the distance that ultimately led to this tortuous level of disconnection.
How did you check out in some critical ways or put up with behaviors that were unhealthy?
Forgiving yourself is the final frontier of transformational recovery. It is the utter acceptance that we have no control over others whatsoever, yet we can always learn to be more whole and complete ourselves. Betrayal creates an undeniable break in our self-image. However, if we use that rupture to reformulate ourselves into more present, awake, connected, and fully expressed people, we will not only walk tall, but we could, one day, actually have gratitude for the brutal wake-up call.