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The Art of Relationships

with Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

There is an art to maintaining the intimate relationships in our lives. Read on to explore our experts' perspectives, and learn new techniques to improve your own relationship skills.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Are We Blind to Betrayal?

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

looking away

The media is filled with stories of betrayal – either manufactured for movies or as gossip about famous people or institutions. Online forums are abuzz with hurt and anger caused by personal betrayals. But what we don’t see or hear much about is all the people who remain “deaf, dumb, and blind” to the betrayal currently happening in their lives. It’s common for people to live as though a horrible betrayal doesn’t exist. This phenomenon is described in detail in a recent book, Blind to Betrayal: Why We Fool Ourselves We Aren’t Being Fooled, that answers why people would be blind to betrayal, how they do it, how it affects them, how they can learn to see again, and how they can heal. Though I must admit that I have not read the book, I have read excerpts that I find intriguing.

Many people have difficulty facing personal betrayal because of all the implications of it– a topic covered in this book. For instance, someone who was sexually abused as a child by a parent or sibling might deny this abuse as a way to just survive emotionally. And this censored understanding of their experiences stays with them into adulthood because to face it, they would need to also face the pain of that past and what it means in their life. Similarly, a woman might turn a blind eye to her husband’s infidelity (or even just his emotional withdrawal from the family) as a way to maintain a sense of stability and emotional safety in her life. It can all just feel like too much to face.

I have come to know about this particular phenomenon because I have seen many, many adults in my clinical practice who could finally no longer hide the truth from themselves. They felt disempowered, perpetually like a victim, and unable to shake their unhappiness. People who struggle with this are frequently also plagued with depression based in questioning their value as a human being. In the worst cases, it can feel like soul murder. Blind to Betrayal also addresses what it calls “institutional betrayal.” It explains that people often remain blind to the harm caused by trusted institutions, such as churches or schools.

Whether betrayal occurs in personal relationships or within an institution, the effects are far-reaching. Children who have been abused and have been unable to admit it are harmed in fundamental ways that might leave them abusive to others or self-destructive (which still affects others, such as their children, other family, or friends). And, of course, the damage that can result from unchecked institutional betrayal can be overwhelming; which is, for example, very much what the current church has to face now.

There often comes a time, though, when people can no longer sustain this lie to themselves. For instance, they might find that they can’t ignore the real-life repercussions, such as having to endure a partner’s frequent rages or being denied, yet again, a promotion because of their race or ethnicity. But, whatever the reason, when they finally do face the betrayal and work to heal from it, “it can blossom into hope and justice.”

As I said, I have not read this book. But from the little I have seen, it highlights an important and common problem that has far-reaching ramifications. Consider getting the book, reading it, and seeing for yourself how betrayal touches your life, either from personal experiences, the experiences of those you come in contact with in your daily life, or from the effects on the community at large.

For more information on Blind to Betrayal (by Jennifer Freyd and Pamela Birrell), check it out on Amazon.com.

The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 9:16 am

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