Recently, a patient who had been in treatment for over a year confessed to me that she'd been using illicit drugs the entire time. Of course, her behavior embodied a kind of betrayal to herself and to the relationship.
Although I felt misled, her life was impacted to a far greater extent than mine. In the therapeutic relationship when a patient/client deceives her psychotherapist, she undermines her investment of time and money, and diverts herself from the path of authenticity and progress to travel the treacherous road of deception and duplicity.
Nevertheless, her disclosure struck me like a sucker punch in the gut. Why? I wanted to believe in her. And I had to admit that to some degree I'd allowed myself to be deceived.
In the new book, The Confidence Game, Maria Konnikova sums up the relationship between the betrayer and the betrayed. She describes the situation as "a delicate dance of duplicity, ambition, desire, and greed" and says that we want to believe in the truth because "basic human nature renders us uniquely vulnerable: the deception begins with us and our need to believe in a world that is better -- for us -- than it was a moment before."
In everyday life we betray ourselves by breaking a diet or, more seriously, using illicit drugs. Or we can berate ourselves all our lives for a small moment in our past when we failed to live up to proper decorum.
Reviewing the annuals of history, we learn that the theme of betrayal has roiled our human roots since the beginning of time, when the serpent betrayed God by tempting Eve to eat the fruit from the Tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Since then, this violation of trust has pervaded our daily lives, from small to life-threatening events. The quote "all is fair in love and war" (or more precisely "the rules of fair play do not apply in love and war") goes back as far as the 16th century to a novel written by John Lyly. In other words, betrayal, an ingrained and ubiquitous phenomenon, is to be expected in these circumstances. Of course, the adage has often been used to justify "bad" behavior.
Betrayal often begets betrayal. If we've been betrayed in the past, we're more likely to betray others in the present. A tragic example is child abuse. When a person is abused in childhood, he's more likely to abuse his own child.
Glancing through the retro-spectroscope of our lives can be tricky. It may at times constitute a kind of (mini-)self-betrayal if we fail to take into consideration the circumstances that applied then. An 88-year-old man cogitates about his predicament years ago after his father died and his mother needed his attention. As a young man struggling to make a living, he couldn't give her all the time she craved. He occasionally suffers from guilt now and does well to remember he did the best he could given the situation in the past.
Conclusion: We do well to keep in mind the ubiquitous nature of betrayal that has been with us since the beginning of time and to recognize our capacity to betray and be betrayed.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.