Am I the only one with double standards about betrayal?
The last two weeks have been filled, for me, with deep sadness over the death of our Queen and the end of an era which, overall, I think has been a pretty good one. For so many people, including my family, I can think of far worse places and times to live.
So, on the one hand, like so many others, I have been deeply affected. On the other, it has prompted in me a lot of thoughts about family and betrayal. In fact, some of those thoughts about an aspect of betrayal that I had never previously thought about seemed important enough to want to share them with you here.
The world’s most colourful soap opera
For the international media, the British Royal Family has long been the longest lasting, most colourful soap opera around. The Queen’s funeral certainly did not disappoint. It offered pageantry, tragedy, pathos… and the titillating sub-plot of Harry and Meghan.
Now, to misquote Queen Elizabeth, the opinions of the many millions of viewers worldwide on the Sussexes “may vary” – according to so many personal factors.
We all build our opinions based on what we see, what we think and the prism of our own experience. But we end up believing that we know these people when we clearly do not.
My opinion, passionately held and likely 100% right – for me – is that Harry and Meghan betrayed the Royal Family by sharing the increasingly salacious and questionable things they have been sharing.
Whether or not you agree with me, I hope you will bear with me a little longer. What matters here is not my opinion about the Sussexes but the glitch in my thinking that, I suspect is all but endemic in survivors of narcissistic abuse.
Betrayal and me
Now, I feel the way that I do because I have experienced plenty of betrayal in my life. I would say that I have experienced major betrayal from my parents, my brothers, some friends, my narcissistic husband and other relatives.
Have I talked about it much over the years?
Yes, I have. However, I have never sought to identify the people that I talked about. They are – for me – people who have become teaching aids, people I had to heal from. I never wanted to publicly name and shame them.
Nor did I ever fancy the mutual mudslinging.
But here’s the thing: I felt the betrayal of my siblings very keenly. One I gave a second chance. He blew it quite spectacularly. He will never have a third. The first major betrayal of the other offended me so deeply that all meaningful communication ended then and there. Decades ago.
For me, those betrayals remain unforgivable.
For them, betrayal is just what you do – or what is done to you. You carry the grievance until you can’t be bothered anymore and then you resume the relationship as before. No apologies, no resolution, just one day you band together again and… attack someone else. Resentments get swept under the metaphorical carpet – until the next time. And there will always be a next time.
My family live in a world of shifting alliances and shifting realities. The one constant is that someone will always be Family Enemy #1. Skill lies in ensuring that person is not you.
Under the radar betrayal
My parents betrayed my trust very badly. But I never really saw it that way. Instead, I got caught up in
- the guilt (inspired by their narrative about their selfish, ungrateful, unnatural, only daughter)
- the old “How could they treat me that way?” issue and
- wanting to make them see me.
As for my husband…
Well, this is the interesting part: he betrayed me so, SO many times. 3 months into the marriage there was even a spectacularly public betrayal, in front of parents, in-laws, and the Head Gossip of the Family. It was a humdinger, the full, corrosive Long Day’s Journey Into Night routine.
But I just swallowed it meekly, kept quietly distraught and carried on.
Talk about double standards.
Double standards about betrayal
Clearly, some betrayals were okay – inasmuch as I grimaced and bore them. Others were unacceptable.
When I l look back at that public betrayal, it shocks me deeply.
Not one word was said in my defence by anyone.
Why did I accept it so meekly?
Because it left me feeling absolutely powerless.
It was like a family show trial. Parents, in-laws and husband were all members of the prosecution. The Head Gossip, husband and one brother-in-law were the audience. My place, needless to say, was in the dock.
I took it because I knew that I had no power in the situation.
Theoretically, I could have got up and walked out.
That is what I should have done.=
Why I didn’t do what I knew I should have done
Had I done what I should have done, there would have been no way back. I knew that.
My parents wanted my husband out of their lives. My in-laws wanted me out of their lives. My husband wanted the hassle out of his life – and had become aware that my parents would be his sworn enemies forever after. The Head Gossip could have dined out on it for years.
I had a moment when I thought how reality might have panned out if I had had the courage to leave and then I bowed my head and made the best of a very bad situation.
Actually, I did such a great job of denial that for the longest time I forgot about the whole scene.
Instead, I went back to doing what I had always done and trying to be a good enough daughter, daughter-in-law, wife, sister-in-law and even niece.
But I still drew the line at being a good enough sister.
Survivors always end up wondering
“How could I have been so stupid?”
“How could I have not seen it?”
How could they not have seen that their narcissistic partner betrayed everything that mattered to them?
What if, like me, they did see it?
Why victims fail to see the betrayal that is staring them in the face
What if victims of narcissistic abuse have moments when they see the betrayal for exactly what it is? But, like me, they have been schooled to powerlessness and therefore need to unsee it?
What if they know the difference between right and wrong but feel so overwhelmed by powerlessness that they, too, fall back into denial?
Then, you have to ask yourself “How do I want to judge them? Do I want to condemn them for not taking an impossible step? Or do I want to choose to feel compassion for the person who had been so ground down by abuse that all that they had left – at that point – was denial?”
I never gave my siblings forgiveness – not that they ever cared – because I did not feel that they deserved it. I could make that judgement because, despite being the youngest and weakest in the pecking order, I did have some personal power in the relationship and I knew it.
How I arrived at my double standards about betrayal
Conversely, I did not feel that I could make the call that my parents’ and husband’s behavior was unforgivable because, at that point in time, I felt so powerless in the relationship.
Subsequently, I (re)claimed my power ands pronounced both relationships unacceptable and unforgivable. Those people have every right to live their lives the way they choose. I cannot stop them. But I have no wish to be anywhere near them. They have NO right to inflict their toxicity on me.
Having them out of my life works for me. (Although when my mother became old and frail, I did what I could to support her, while protecting myself from more abuse. She never entirely shed the desire to punish me for my alleged “crimes against the family”.)
Ultimately, the issue, here, for all of us is not so much what we do with abusive others but how we reactivate our inner wisdom.
Reactivate your inner wisdom
Your inner wisdom will tell you what you need to do about loved ones who betray you. It will , also, tell you how best to do it.
How do you reactivate that inner wisdom?
How about starting with compassion for the self that felt so powerless that she had to bury the painful things she knew to be true?
You don’t ever want to have a relationship of blame with yourself. What you need is a relationship of self-compassion. You cannot afford to be less kind to yourself than you are to other people.
If you still need to learn how to master self-compassion, keep difficult people at a safe distance and build future relationships on a healthy, boundaried foundation, my Break Free Membership will provide you with all the resources you need..
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
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