Thursday, April 24, 2008


That is such a juicy word.

I picture a continuum, with the word 'betrayal' on one end--and on the far end 'forgiveness'.

My cousin Lori wrote the most beautiful post about duality, and oneness. Just now looking at it, in order to link back to it, I feel the intensity of the inspiration behind her writing.

Over the weekend I saw a picture of Helen Hunt and an article about her latest venture in writing, directing, and producing. I see that her latest work is inspired by a novel by Elinor Lipman (Then She Found Me--about a grown woman who's found by her birth mother and they 'forge a relationship'), and an essay by James Hillman. The essay is on the theme of betrayal.

So I went to find the essay and discovered that Hillman is an Archetypal Psychologist. That piqued my interest some more, since this is the work I am doing with Sharon.

I've spent the last 5 days trying to lift this very large concept without its crumbling to dust in my mind. It's like trying to lift a pancake with a fork or knife rather than a spatula.

Basically there are enormous themes that express as patterns of energy, and each of our own lives is a lens that splits this energy, like light, into various refractions and colors. They express in the lives of individuals, and in the lives of peoples and civilizations. They are a superstory. I see a glimpse of this in some of Doug's photography where elements repeat, in different variations.

And it is about consciousness, evolving and differentiating.

Oneness is perhaps the original, primal state--the Garden of Eden. But it is not the ultimate state. Perhaps the word 'oneness' in this case is better expressed by 'undifferentiated'. Perhaps the ultimate state is attained through the journey toward differentiation, which must first traverse the road of separation, duality. The Garden of Eden, though blissful, represents a state of the soul that is not sufficient unto itself...there is a state of Oneness that can only be attained through the experience and integration of the fullness of life's experience.

The experience of the brutality of life, through the agency of betrayal is the initiating event on the road to this higher differentiation, this evolved state of Oneness.

The search by the betrayed to wrest meaning from the betrayal event is the creative act which brings about reconciliation, and finally, forgiveness, the resurrection of that Soul.

These are cosmic forces, far larger than we are, and it's tempting to dismiss them as petty when they express in our lives. However, our stories can illustrate and bring understanding to these larger forces.

Perhaps the initiating event can be analogized to a seed penetrating an oyster's defensive shell--an irritant which eventually manifests as a pearl.

There's a decision upon initiation, and we are completely alone with it. We lie on a ledge that we have fallen to from a great height above--we're dazed, injured, and in grave danger that in not being cognizant of our situation we will fall further to greater injury or annihilation. Yawning before us are the pitfalls of vengeance, denial of what is good, cynicism, and worse, self-betrayal. The pain we suffer at betrayal causes us to split from ourSelves--we deny who we are because it hurts too much to be ourSelves. Or, we may become paranoid--demand iron-clad loyalty from others we may encounter--demand a relationship free of the risk of being hurt again. And be ever vigilant for signs of backsliding. The relationship becomes one about power, and not love.

We can dither in these pitfalls for a lifetime and never emerge. We may notice sometimes a certain pattern to our lives and dealings. We might swing between the poles of self-blame and blame of the Other. We may despair...

If I can humbly offer my life as an illustration:

The light that passed through my prism already had passed through the prism of a Cold War, and the decisions made by people who saw themselves custodians of an Atomic Age. Furthermore it passed through people who were very young and who had been subjected to the cold impersonality and brutality of their own life circumstances (Great Depression, poverty, war, influenza). I suppose my own initiation came in the form of a father who would spank an infant for doing what infants do to express need: crying. I suppose I could say that initiation was finalized when my mother turned from me when I was attempting to express the Truth and sided with the neighbor in believing I was lying.

It seems evident that I 'chose' the pitfall of self-betrayal. To allow myself to see the Truth, that the people who I depended upon for my very existence could be arbitrary and even cruel, was too painful. It was also too painful to be who I was in those moments, hurt and bitterly alone. To cope I chose to believe what had happened was a result of me being deeply flawed. I could not know that the truth was my pain was a result of a flaw in my parents--it was their bad.

For my entire life I carried the burden of the doubt. Perhaps the fault lay in me: perhaps I was looking at an event from the 'wrong' perspective. Perhaps mine was the mistaken, or even venal perspective. In this way I 'protected' others from the burden of wrongdoing, I protected them from having to account for themselves.

And I was surrounded by people who were unwilling to be called to account for themselves. If something hurtful was said that I wanted an explanation for, they were the ones who were 'hurt' by my request. I was the one who was too sensitive, or I had a sense of self-esteem that was so low that it would 'cause' me to misunderstand. Conditions were not favorable for asking people for explanations for their behavior.

This cost was especially paid in problematic relationships with men. Since I held my every action and motivation under a microscope of doubt, I was unable to read with any accuracy someone's intentions toward me. If I had any doubts as to their honorability I immediately assumed I was expecting too much, or was imagining things. I was very vulnerable and got hurt, and assumed I was at fault.

I think I was preoccupied, mistakenly, but understandably, with seeking an experience of "atonement", or at-one-ment. I've sought connection, re-connection, oneness, but perhaps by going backward, attempting to return to the Garden of Eden which is guarded by an angel with a flaming sword.

As Hillman says: "But forgiveness is so difficult that it probably needs some help from the other person. I mean by this that the wrong, if not remembered by both parties - and remembered as a wrong - falls all on the betrayed. The wider context within which the tragedy occurred would seem to call for parallel feelings from both parties. They are still both in a relationship, now as betrayer and betrayed. If only the betrayed senses a wrong, while the other passes it over with rationalizations, then the betrayal is still going on - even increased. This dodging of what has really happened is, of all the sores, the most galling to the betrayed. Forgiveness comes harder; resentments grow because the betrayer is not carrying his guilt and the act is not honestly conscious. Jung has said that the meaning of our sins is that we carry them, which means not that we unload them onto others to carry for us. To carry one’s sins, one has first to recognize them, and recognize their brutality." (bold text mine)

Healing for the betrayed, comes through his/her efforts to find meaning in the event and the ability to relate to the event in a wider context. Reconciliation may not be possible with the betrayer, but it is possible to find reconciliation with the event. Better would be for the betrayed and betrayer to consciously reciprocate the experience of atonement and forgiveness. The betrayer who is unable to carry his sin robs him/herself of this healing experience.

The betrayed also understands that there may be times in meeting the impersonal demands of life that we are agents of its cruelty. If we have consciously integrated our experience we are in a better position to enter this parallel relationship with those we love and injure: we can offer atonement, and, possibly receive the gift and miracle of forgiveness.


Lori said...

Oh, this is such a rich post.

I see that the betrayed and the betrayer are in orbit with each other. They cannot exist without each other, and the pull between them.

I think, also, that the ultimate in healing is to see that the betrayal AND the betrayer are illusions. They betrayer is an extensions of self. This is the Unity, the "body of Christ," the "as you do to another you do to yourself." The act of betrayal is simply an experience in duality and a way to integrate one's Self further.

Dare I say there may even be soul-level gratitude toward the prosecutor involved?

I'm in a rush and this may not be coming out clearly.

And while I believe this, I am rarely able to live up to it. I have many layers of victim to shed.

Douglas W said...

It took me a while to put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – before even attempting to comment on your post Debora. And even this response is not necessarily the last word, nor does it reflect everything I think about this.

Once again you express a multitude of themes and layers. I needed to work out what it was that was meant by the word “betrayal”. A simple Google search for the word reveals 13 million references and just in the first few pages each reference is used in a different context.

But some themes emerged. Betrayal is used to describe situations that involve disloyalty; unfaithfulness; treachery; duplicity; deception or infidelity.

And perhaps most often people use the word Betrayal to describe a situation where another person has acted in a way that is contrary to a promise that was made.

Or perhaps, where we thought a promise had been made; where we had built up expectations of certain behaviour or response and that behaviour or response was not forthcoming.

But then I thought that every day I expect certain things to happen, yet when they don’t happen I don’t necessarily feel betrayed.

I might plant a new shrub in my garden and water it. I expect it will grow and flower. But if it doesn’t, if it withers and dies, I don’t feel betrayed. I might feel disappointed briefly, but I will probably ask why it died and then go out and purchase a new shrub, perhaps a different one that will survive the conditions of my garden better.

On the other hand, if I specifically asked the person at the plant nursery for a shrub that will grow to a certain height and thrive under certain conditions and then find that the plant I have been sold turns out to be a giant tree whose root system destroys the foundation of my home what would I feel? Would I be merely disappointed? No, probably more than disappointed. Would I feel betrayed? Perhaps not in this situation. I might feel annoyed, or deceived, or that the nursery attendant had no idea what they were talking about when they assured me it would grow no more than three feet.

Feelings of betrayal seem to come when we invest a much greater personal and emotional stake in the expected behaviour of the other person. Which raises the question of expectations when it comes to expecting things of other people.

When I married my future wife and I rewrote the vows we would make to each other on our wedding day. We retained the “for better or for worse, through sickness and in health” sentiment of the traditional marriage vows. On my part because I believed in it. I intended to stay with her through the good times and bad, through sickness and health, because I had no illusions that life was a bed or roses. I understood that human nature involves being happy and being grumpy; being lovable and being repulsive; being healthy and being sick. So, when she said “I want out” did I feel betrayed? I never used that word. I always had feelings that I described as sadness and melancholy. In the end a resignation that still clung to hope for a long while. And then simply a resignation and sadness.

I probably never even thought of using the word betrayal because it implied a selfish expectation. “How could you do this? You promised….” No, I never felt like that. And I don’t think I ever have.

People do things. Some things people do make you happy. Some things make you sad. Some make you laugh. Some make you cry. But I don’t specifically expect people to do these things especially for me at specific times. However I do expect they will happen at some time because they are part of the daily course of life.

A friend ‘promised’ to come and have lunch with me one Sunday. I prepared the necessary things and looked forward to it. One o’clock passed. Then two. I called her. She had forgotten. I didn’t feel betrayed. People forget. Some people forget more than others. Some people think more of themselves than of others and so find it easy to forget 'promises' made to others.

I guess I don’t place much importance upon the word ‘promise’ because there are so many things that can happen to stop that promise eventuating. Some accidental. Some deliberate. And some the result of pure selfishness on the part of the person who made the promise.

However even though I do place much important on promissory statements such as ‘I will’ and ‘I do’ - Will you? I will. Do you? I do. - I do not build up my expectations so much that I feel betrayed if the willing and doing do not happen.

Forrest Gump once observed that things do happen that may be unpleasant… and it seems that his philosophy is universally embraced – here – and there just may be a lot to be learned from some of these variations.

You might find this interesting - Heal From Betrayal.

Finally, a poem I wrote a few years ago when somebody departed. Did I feel betrayed? No. This is what I felt...

You went out of my life
Like the sun setting in the west
Teasing the admirer
With a display of unmatched
Before disappearing
Beneath the horizon.

But tomorrow
Is a new day,
They say,
And a new sun will surely
To warm my life.

But the night
Is long
And cold
And I fear the dawn
May never come.

28 October 2003

You'll find the poem and the sunset in my poetry pages.

excavator said...

Hi, Lori,

Yes, if I'm understanding Hillman correctly not only are the betrayer and betrayed in an orbit with each other, but trust contains the seeds of betrayal, and betrayal contains the seeds of forgiveness. The possibility of betrayal gives meaning to trust...and betrayal gives meaning to forgiveness...I think...

And, also if I understand his point, the primal experience of oneness is not the optimal state for the soul; the evolved state is conscious oneness which is attained through differentiation--and the initiation to this process of differentiation is the betrayal event, when one is booted from the Garden of Eden. And necessary to differentiation is the process of integrating the fragments of life's experiences into wholeness.

I completely agree, Doug, that the term 'betrayal' is often used in ways that trivialize it. I think the sense in which Hillman is using the word is the Joseph-Campbell-mythological-Deep-Story sense: far more primal than being deceived, disappointed, or having expectations dashed. The story he opens the essay with is trust of the soul's deepest level being violated. We're talking extreme trauma. Anything less than that doesn't rise to the level of archetypal betrayal, such as he uses Christ's crucifixion to illustrate.

Suzy's story is indeed an example of this level of betrayal. But I think the point of the essay is that events in our lives are expressions of larger themes of the soul.

Mercurious said...

Sounds like interesting work you're doing. My understanding of archetypalism comes from Jung, whose work helped me enormously at one time.

Hillman is very dense, very cerebral. You might find it interesting to balance it with some lighter work, such as Bettelheim on the meaning of fairy tales.

excavator said...

Hi, Mercurious

This is my first experience with Hillman and he is dense indeed. His treatment of this particular theme had a powerful and inspirational effect on me that was partly surprising, and partly gratifying. I suppose it's because the concept of archetypes has always had a fascination for me. I first heard the term when I was 22, in a restaurant where the couple in the booth behind me were discussing them. I had to turn around and join the discussion. Like you, this framework for finding meaning has been very helpful.

Thanks for writing and for the Bettelheim recommendation. It might be fun to see what a lighter treatment of the topic is like.

I meant to thank you too for your comments earlier about my 'late-in-life' parenting (I used to call it 'having my own grandchildren' in the sense that grandparents can be more generous about children's behavior because their egos are less on the line...that was an easier, far more blissful time. Sadly, I find myself in the unfortunate position of my ego on the line (with resulting periodic and probably deserved humiliations) and less relaxed than I used to be.

I am very fortunate though and I appreciate your reminding me of that!