Monday, November 28, 2011

The Ultimate Betrayal

Whenever there is betrayal in a relationship, the world often seems as though it is collapsing around us.

Nobody wants to hurt. And in most relationships, especially those where the attachment between the parties is not yet secure, there is always an initial fear of being cheated on. I know couples who have put a stop to or sabotaged their relationship for years out of this fear of being cheated on. It seems these couples preempt betrayal even though it has not taken place (and perhaps never will). Yet they are so crippled by the fear of betrayal that they will, out of anxiety and insecurity, inject toxins in their otherwise harmonious relationship.
Luckily this fear diminishes over time with a secure, happy relationship. But it takes time. 

The interesting thing about this fear and with many fears, including that of being handicapped, is that they are actually irrational. No one has ever died from betrayal.

Such fears undermine the human spirit. Yes, at a psychological level, these fears point to insecurities and an inability to cope with any ego-threat. One must rise above perceived ego-threats or one is soon at the mercy of so many events in life. Developing self-esteem is very important for dealing with such fears but so too is conceiving the strength of the human spirit.  

One must trust in the human spirit and its ability to overcome setbacks. Studies suggest that people who have suffered an accident and became handicapped showed more resilience and turned out happier than they ever thought they could be when envisaging any handicap. Similarly, people who have felt betrayed and heart-broken by a past relationship erroneously believe, at the time that their depressed state will continue with them for years and that they will never be able to love or trust again. 
But this is not the case.

It is surprising too, how the weakest, most defenceless human can in fact overcome betrayal. Let me tell you a story...

I have suffered the ultimate betrayal. No. None of my partners have cheated on me. And no, for the most part, my friends have not broken my trust.

The ultimate betrayal came for me as a ten months old baby when I was abandoned by my mother. 

Now I say 'abandoned' because technically, from the point of view of baby Laura, that is what it was. I must have felt terrible as I burst into yet another colic fit, wondering where my mum was. It was clear that she was no longer there for me.
This is not the place to dwell on the reasons she let me go but needless to say, my happiness and comfort were very much a priority and I was well cared for where I was.

Unfortunately at this age, one does not know 'what is good'.  If one were to ask a child then, 'what is good',  is to be with mum.

From eight months, I would have already entered that phase developmental psychologists describe as an important emotional attachment phase.  This means I knew who my mother was. I had begun walking and so I recognised her and I was probably emotionally attached to her.  As a result, any feelings of betrayal I would have had were more pronounced than if our separation had occurred much earlier. Consider also that as a ten month old baby, I was still in the trust vs. mistrust phase described by Erikson and betrayal during this phase is damaging to trust, perhaps more so than at any part of adult life.

So enough of the psychology...I was sent away to live for two years with my grandmother, my Mamy. During that time, I believe I was happy. The proof, was that I am strongly attached to my grandmother even now.

My second birthday in my Mamy's arms, France

But what is disturbing is that when I was separated from my grandmother to be reunited with my mum, I did not recognise my mum.
It turned out that I had become so attached to my grandmother that this second separation from a caregiver also had a terrible impact on me.

I had nightmares. I was constantly afraid. I had screaming fits at night. And I was convinced that my 'new' mum was an evil witch.

What did I have to cope? What defences could I, a three year old toddler, summon to overcome this horrible feeling of dejection and  disempowerment, to overcome this anger and this feeling of betrayal? To have been betrayed not once but twice was too much that I could bear.  I had no recollection of the first betrayal since, after all, I had been too young but the sum of it felt enormous within me.

I felt like a roaming orphan. I identified with Penny from The Rescuers and I had no doubt that Madame Medusa was my mother. It did not help that my mum was fond of jewelry...

I think it took years, but I overcame those nagging feelings of emptiness, the knot in my throat, the self-esteem issues and most of all, I grew to love my mum.

Today I understand her and what she went through. Again, this post is not the scope to dwell on her reasons.

But the gist of this story is that people are too complex to be tied to set relationship paradigms. In this case, the situation demanded that my mum let me go despite the adage that 'mothers should not abandon their infants.' Is betrayal easy? How many mothers would be ready to do what my mum did? Believe me, to do something like this takes much courage. But it also takes a genuine need...

We must learn to understand that the betrayal we feel does not often stem from malicious intent in others, nor does it necessarily have its origins from the weakness and deceit in others. The answers are much more complex. 

At the time of experiencing betrayal, we always think it is the end of the world, that our soul has been trampled on, our egos trashed and that those who are betraying us are evidently manifesting some dark side of their personality. That they have failed us...

But often those who 'betray' us, -and by betrayal, I don't mean physical and emotional abuse which I do not condone, but rather abandonment, separation and loss of engagement- yes, those who 'betray' us are experiencing their own demons and their own limitations. Often their own needs are not being met within the relationship and they must go elsewhere to have those needs met, to grow as a person, to experience peace. My mother did not stop loving me during those two years when she gave me up. But she needed those two years for herself. What has love got to do with anything? And was she necessarily selfish do you think, for taking that time? I don't think so.

I have learnt that our self-integrity is an important part of who we are, it is the foundation of our beings and any destabilisation in our self-integrity poses a threat to our sense of self. Unless we choose to live in a closed box, unless we have adopted unchanging and dogmatic attitudes and have completely stopped growing, then, who we think we are is constantly evolving. And as it does, over the years, often we achieve self-integrity by ensuring that what we do aligns itself with our values and beliefs. We may also change our way of thinking to accommodate what we perceive our recent behaviours to be, all for the purpose of aligning our attitudes with our actions and help achieve self-integrity. 

Doing what we believe is right, running away from paradigms that would in any way shackle us or limit us, is integral to self-integrity and ultimately to human happiness. And yes, there are times when it will appear as though we are betraying others, but this is all part of ensuring that we do not betray ourselves.  

The alternatives: poor self-integrity and a shaky sense of self are dangerous propositions. These do not lead to happiness nor do they help the parties in any relationship. They render us petty, envious, bitter, resentful, controlling and dissatisfied. 

It is true, nobody wants to hurt.  Yet understanding less-than-perfect human behaviors is crucial for processing feelings of betrayal and ultimately, for overcoming their negative impact.

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