Mind Matters: Betrayal

Let's do word association. If I say "betrayal", what comes to your mind?

Some people would say Judas. According to the Bible, he betrays Jesus for 30 silver coins.

One of my friends responded instead with the brothers of Joseph in the Bible. The brothers sold Joseph into slavery because they were jealous of him.

The Bible has many other stories of betrayal, but we need not look back thousands of years for examples.

I have experienced betrayal twice that I know of. I will spare you the details because they might lower your opinion of humanity.

Fortunately for me, the betrayals did not end with me crucified or enslaved.

I think of betrayal as involving the disloyal harming of a person by a friend or family member.

Unless I trusted the person to start with, I do not consider the harm betrayal.

I remember a woman I knew telling me that when she was in high school she had an affair with one of her male teachers. She became angry with him for reasons I have forgotten and made him an Ex-Lax cake.

He was happy to receive it, but his joy quickly dissipated. He never realised what she had done - her baking betrayal went unnoticed.

How does a person cope with betrayal after recognising it? The ultimate challenge involves the betrayal of parents abusing their children.

Sexual abuse, physical, or psychological - each type can take a toll.

Parental betrayal is like a gunshot wound - dangerous, possibly deadly. Lasting damage is likely. The remarkable cases are those where the child escapes, adjusts, and lives a fulfilling life.

If you think that humans have a monopoly on betrayal, you are wrong. Think of the Judas goat that leads other goats to the slaughter before stepping out of harm's way.

That is betrayal with a capital B. It is not clear to me whether there are any Judas steers or sheep.

Bouncing back from a betrayal can be challenging. It sometimes helps to try to see the situation from the perspective of the betrayer.

Acceptance can also help. Into each life some rain must fall, and at times the rain turns to baseball-sized hail.

I sometimes encourage my psychotherapy clients to get on with life despite whatever has happened. It is by going onward and upward that a person limits the effects of a betrayal.

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Psychology, University of New England.