Can people change? Can trust ever be rebuilt after an experience with betrayal? A perspective from someone who’s lived through it and did a PhD study on the topic. Hope it helps.
Betrayal is one of the most devastatingly painful experiences we can have and it takes a lot to heal from. Betrayal also reveals so much about the betrayer; it either reveals who they truly are, or it creates a “psychological earthquake” and wakes them up to who they’ve been.
For some, they have no intention of taking responsibility or changing. For these people, they’re incapable or unwilling to have empathy to even take the first steps to mend the heart of the person who believed in them. As painful as the betrayal is, this lack of responsibility, remorse and empathy make the pain even worse. The person who has been betrayed has very little to work with here because at this point in the other person’s journey, they’re not interested in changing. Here’s where you heal and move along.
For others, it’s the biggest wake-up call of their life. When they see the devastation they’ve caused, they wake up, take full and complete responsibility and become the woman or man they’re meant to be. Of course, by that point the betrayed partner may have zero intention of sticking around to watch trust slowly and painstakingly get rebuilt and that’s completely understandable. For others, they’re cautiously willing, if they truly and continuously see drastic and daily changes.
I’ve seen every combination, lived it myself, did the study on it and have learned a few things along the way:
People only change when they want to, when they’re ready to, or when they have to.
You can’t want it more than they do and you can’t do the work for them. While forgiveness is certainly in our best interest so we release the power the pain has on us, reconciliation has everything to do with the other person’s deep commitment to do the work to rebuild what they tore down. Of course you don’t have to do anything, but if you’re considering rebuilding something entirely new with the other person, here’s my suggestion:
Rebuild yourself first.
You’re trying to make sense out of the senseless and struggling with feelings of rejection, abandonment, shattered confidence, worthiness, belonging and trust. You’re likely dealing with physical, mental and emotional symptoms as well because betrayal is a complete shock to the body and mind.
When you take steps to rebuild yourself, you’ll be moving through the 5 Stages from Betrayal to Breakthrough-one of the 3 exciting discoveries from my PhD study on betrayal. As you move into each stage, you gently outgrow the last stage you’ve been in, creating a stronger, healthier, more confident version of yourself as you move along. Give yourself space and grace, this may be the most challenging work you’ve ever done and will ever do. It can also be the most rewarding as you discover a version of yourself you never would have had access to had your experience not happen.
I’ve also learned that we’re stronger than we think.
Even dipping our toes into the waters of trusting again after the shock and trauma of betrayal can be harder than most other experiences I can think of.
For those who’ve decided to never trust again-I understand. In fact, in the people who’ve taken our Post Betrayal Syndrome quiz, 84% have an inability to trust (at this point in time, that’s based on over 19,000 people who’ve taken the quiz). For those who are terrified yet willing to truly heal, whether you heal and move on, or heal and rebuild something entirely new with the person who hurt you, here’s how I’ve see it work best.
There’s a complete and total death and destruction of the old, in order to rebirth something entirely new.
Not only is it possible, there’s now a roadmap for it. I’m not saying it’s easy, but seeing the strongest, healthiest, most confident version of you emerge is worth it.
Sending so much love and strength for anyone struggling. You never asked for any of that pain and you’ve been put into a club you never wanted to be in because of someone else’s actions. I get it. I’ve been there and I’ve also healed. You deserve to heal too. You’ve been through the worst part already, now it’s time to feel better.
Founder and CEO, The PBT (Post Betrayal Transformation) Institute