By Sondra Whitt
One of the most painful things a person can experience is betrayal by a close friend or family member. Although this experience isn’t unknown to me, I experienced it again just this past week. My only consolation is that it was a fairly minor issue. I learned a good lesson and, fortunately, I could correct some of the damage it caused. I remind myself that I can’t control what another person does to me, I can only control my response. I also know that if I react in anger or hold onto my hurt feelings, I’ll just hurt myself.
In his book, The Mastery of Love, Don Miguel Ruiz, writes that we are responsible for the consequences of whatever we do, think, say, and feel. In this case, that means I have to take responsibility not only for flippantly saying something I shouldn’t have but also in trusting the other person not to repeat it. The whole thing created feelings of hurt, disappointment, anger and regret. I just have to change my own behavior so I don’t put myself in that position again.
Alan Weiss, a consultant, speaker and author, writes, “It’s healthy to forgive someone who hurts you, but it’s unhealthy to allow them to hurt you repeatedly.” There are always lessons to be learned from painful experiences, so I choose to look at the experience and ask myself What can I learn from this? How can I keep this from happening again in the future? Although I won’t cut off all communication with the person who betrayed me, I will limit my time with her, not gullibly trust her again, and be a lot more guarded about what I say, even jokingly.
Another thing I can do is to forgive the person who betrayed me — not for her sake, but for my own. I could drive myself crazy trying to figure out why she betrayed me but that doesn’t really matter. I can’t figure it out, anyway, unless I could read her thoughts and motivations, which I can’t. I’d just be falling into the dangerous trap of making assumptions. It’s much easier to forgive people when we realize their words and actions are byproducts of their problems, not our own. When we understand this, we’re less likely to take things personally and we’ll have more compassion for the other person.
When we continually practice forgiveness, we can keep our own behavior from being dependent on or controlled by someone else. Many years ago, I decided to engage in a deliberate exercise of forgiveness. I thought of all the people who had hurt me and then I consciously forgave them. As I went through my list of people and their hurtful actions against me, I had a huge insight that completely changed my perspective. I realized that the person I most needed to forgive was me. In many cases, I had allowed people to treat me badly, without consequence to them. I unhealthily let them hurt me over and over. When I realized this, it gave me a great sense of freedom and relief. “When you forgive yourself, self-acceptance begins and self-love grows,” Ruiz writes. “That is the supreme forgiveness — when you finally forgive yourself. Forgiveness is the only way to clean the emotional wounds. Forgiveness is the only way to heal them.”
As I work on “growing up” as I grow older, there are a lot of tough lessons to learn. One of those for me was to understand that people with a proven track record of behavior will most likely repeat that pattern of behavior. I want to believe people will change when their track record says they won’t. The reality is that a person who continually betrays my trust can be expected to do so again. Believing otherwise is just setting the stage for another round of hurt and disappointment.