For we must be clear that to live or love only where one can trust, where there is security and containment, where one cannot be hurt or let down, where what is pledged in words is forever binding, means really to be out of harm’s way and so to be out of real life. And it does not matter what is this vessel of trust–analysis, marriage, church or law, any human relationship. Yes, I would even say relationship with the divine. Even here, primal trust would not seem to be what God wants. Look at Eden, look at Job, at Moses denied entrance to the Holy land, look at the newest destruction of his “chosen people” whose complete only trust was in him.
And ultimately, look at Christ, the son of the father, God, abandoned to his fate to die on the cross. Imagine the moment when Christ realizes his fate! Regardless of the theological implications, or our personal beliefs, betrayal, I am coming to understand, belongs to all of us, and in a most peculiar and ironic way. Betrayal, anyway, is given within the Christian foundations of the West, and can also be found in the mythologies of other cultures. It’s necessary, a given, in a world where life is defined by impermanence; death.
It would seem that the message of love, the Eros mission of Jesus, carries its final force only through the betrayal and crucifixion. For at the moment when God lets him down, Jesus becomes truly human, suffering a human tragedy, with his pierced and wounded side from which flows the water and blood, the released fountain of life, feeling, and emotion.
Much like death, without the possibility of betrayal, trust would not be necessary, nor possible. We trust because of the possibility of betrayal. Betrayal stings like nothing else, as it shakes our trust and threatens the very existence of love, if not our hearts and very lives. For in love especially, a betrayal strikes at the core of the most soft and fleshy parts of ourselves; the heart, the most necessary organ of life of both the body and soul.
If we’re fortunate enough, the pain of betrayal will lead us back home, to ourselves, and in licking our wounds we may come to find that at root, betrayal is two-fold. Along with the initial wounding from a source other than ourselves, we may discover that the vulnerability to betrayal stings so much because it is something shared across the boundaries of self and other. If I look long and deeply enough, I find that betrayal exists in me as much as it does in you. My fear of betrayal, leads me into an experience of betrayal, both mine and yours, rendering us both fallible, innocent and willing, if not guilty.
The alienation from one’s self after betrayal is largely protective. One doesn’t want to be hurt again, and since this hurt came about through revealing just what one is, one begins not to live from that place again…
…For it was just through this trust in these fundamentals of one’s own nature that one was betrayed. So we refuse to be what we are, begin to cheat ourselves with excuses and escapes, and self betrayal becomes nothing other than Jung’s definition of neurosis uneigentlich leiden, inauthentic suffering. One no longer lives one’s own form of suffering, but through mauvaise foi, through lack of courage to be, one betrays oneself.
What’s love got to do with it, you might ask. Love is the willingness to accept life on life’s terms, including all of the vulnerability possible from the moment of birth unto death. Love is at its fullest expression just when it is most vulnerable, potentially lost through a million different ways. Perhaps it is not even the love that is lost to us, but that we are lost to love. The fear of its loss keeps love away and that in itself is the deepest self-betrayal we might know.
This is ultimately, I suppose, a religious problem, and we are rather like Judas or Peter in letting down the essential thing, the essential important demand to take on and carry one’s own suffering and be what one is no matter how it hurts.
Perhaps after an experience of betrayal has been absorbed into the bones of our flesh, the ways in which we trust lose some of the softness and idealizations. One can trust, but with the understanding that we come to it freely and without the expectation of infallibility. The risks of betrayal going wrong to the point of losing heart and soul, giving up on humanity and life itself, belong to trust as a way to contain it. The containment itself sets limits on our expectations, and also might heighten our sensitivities to a fuller spectrum of our humanity.
One cannot re-establish primal trust once one has left Eden. One now knows that promises hold only to a certain point. Life takes care of vows, fulfilling them or breaking them. And new relationships after the experience of betrayal must start from an altogether different place.
Hillman goes on to refer to love’s opposite not as hatred, but power:
Certainly a part of love is responsibility; so too is concern, involvement, identification – but perhaps a surer way of telling whether one is closer to the brute or the sage is by looking for love’s opposite: power. If betrayal is perpetuated mainly for personal advantage (to get out of a tight spot, to hurt or use, to save one’s skin, to gain pleasure, too still a desire or slake a need, to take care of Number One), then one can be sure that love had less the upper hand than did the brute, power.
It is perhaps only through the insights of an experience of betrayal that we become more able to discern the dynamics of relationship, not only between people or situations, but within one’s self. Ultimately, betrayal needs to find a way to forgive, again, both self and other. Our humanity, and the ability to love freely, accepting the limits of the conditions that we find ourselves in, depend upon it.
Just as trust had within it the seed of betrayal, so betrayal has within it the seed of forgiveness. This would be the answer to the last of our original questions: “What place has betrayal in psychological life at all”? Neither trust nor forgiveness could be fully realized without betrayal. Betrayal is the dark side of both, giving them both meaning, making them both possible. Perhaps this tells us something about why betrayal is such a strong theme in our religions. It is perhaps the human gate to such higher religious experiences as forgiveness and reconciliation with this silent labyrinth, the creation.
It’s both difficult and astounding to fully grasp and accept that the highest powers of creation, be they God, or the forces of nature would knowingly contain such brute forces. It does sometimes feel like an affront to our desire for peace, love and harmony. Our hunger for a world in which evil and pain are eradicated misses the point of who we are in this dimension; temporary, impermanent, fallible beings dreaming, if not somehow sensing, a connection to some other world. At times, I have wondered why we so faithfully carry these images of purity, heaven, perfection, along with so much idealism, that in life, besides the obvious motive of pleasure, we seem only to experience for brief moments of time.