Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Relationships

Betrayal and Human Relationships

Betrayal is a part of life and can improve future relationships.

Key points

  • Betrayal can occur in any kind of relationship; the only people who can betray you are people you trust.
  • The intensity of the relationship determines the intensity of the emotional stress caused by the betrayal.
  • Don’t miss out on a close personal relationship because someone betrayed you in the past.
 Anete Lusina/Pexels
Source: Anete Lusina/Pexels

Friends betray friends. Siblings betray siblings. Lovers betray lovers.

Betrayal can occur in all relationships. The intensity of the relationship determines the intensity of the emotional stress caused by the betrayal. The more intense the relationship, the more intense the betrayal is. For example, a salesperson who lies to you about the qualities of a product you are buying is an act of betrayal. The effects of this betrayal are slight because you and the salesperson only shared a brief relationship. Conversely, if a romantic partner cheats on you, the effects of that betrayal can present significant interpersonal trauma. The consequences of betrayal can range from disappointment in less intense relationships to post-traumatic stress in more intense relationships.

Trust is the key component of all relationships.

Without trust, betrayal cannot occur. The only people who can betray you are people you trust. The emotional impact of betrayal increases with the level of trust you have in the person who betrayed you.

The emotional impact of betrayal can range from disappointment in less intense relationships and repulsion due to the lack of integrity of the person who betrayed you to fear of losing a close relationship, especially a romantic connection. Trust is fragile. Regaining trust is difficult, if not impossible.

When people are betrayed, they often consciously or unconsciously seek revenge. The betrayed person’s world suddenly destabilized, often causing grief, a sense of loss, and depression. Revenge is a form of “justice” or “fairness” that can restore a collapsing world. Revenge destroys not only the target of the revenge but also the person seeking revenge. Revenge hijacks emotional energy that could otherwise be spent recovering from the aftermath of betrayal and seeking new, more stable relationships.

Another consequence of betrayal is the fear of being emotionally hurt again.

To avoid being emotionally hurt again, the betrayed person will often build an emotional wall to prevent people from getting too close. People hiding behind emotional walls often sabotage relationships that become too intense to avoid the possibility of future betrayal. People entrenched behind emotional walls often experience loneliness and isolation. The pain of loneliness and isolation is less intense than the pain of betrayal.

The pain of loneliness and betrayal often mutates to victimhood, which provides a sense of emotional comfort. The problem with cowering behind an emotional wall is that the entrenched person often experiences a conundrum. They desire a close personal relationship with other humans but are reluctant to foster new relationships because they are afraid of experiencing the possibility of another emotional disaster.

Emotional walls provide safety but prevent the person from experiencing the true happiness that comes from close relationships with other humans. Intrinsic to human relationships is the possibility of betrayal. This cannot be avoided. Shunning close personal relationships is not the answer.

Building and sustaining personal relationships is a learning process.

Past failures serve as guidelines for future behavior. Eventually, through the trial-and-error method, people discover what works for them and what does not work for them. Betrayal is part of the learning process.

People cross busy streets every day, knowing they could get hit by a car and suffer devastating injuries and even death. People get into automobiles without giving a second thought to the possibility of getting into an accident. People board airplanes every day, accepting the possibility the plane could suddenly fall from the sky. People engage in risky behaviors because the benefit of the activities far outweighs the possibilities of catastrophic failure. Accepting the possibility of betrayal in personal relationships is just another risk on the long list of risky behaviors people undertake every day.

The pain of betrayal cannot be avoided. However, knowing the emotional consequences of betrayal before it occurs often mitigates the pain of betrayal. Accepting the fact that betrayals are a normal part of life reduces their emotional intensity.

If there is an upside to betrayal, it is this: True happiness has no meaning without experiencing true sadness.

advertisement