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Grief and betrayal: how do they relate?

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After a major betrayal, many people go into the grieving process. There are five stages of grief:

1. Denial: The first reaction of many people is to deny the reality of the situation. Trying to rationalize the other person’s actions is a way of coping, because the situation can be overwhelming. People’s first reaction to negative and upsetting issues is to simply block them out and ignore them. For instance, if you hear it from a third party, you might tend to ignore it or even get mad at them for making things up.{{more}} This stage, however, is usually fairly short, especially if the individual acknowledges the betrayal and the loss. It may be longer if someone has an issue with feeling anger; then they might want to try and dismiss the seriousness of the transgression or try to focus too quickly on forgiving the transgressor.

2. Anger: is a natural reaction to trauma. The key is to not get stuck on vengeance. The cycle of revenge and anger is more destructive than healing. Primarily, it is critical to recognize that the emotion of anger is perfectly okay, but our actions that are influenced by anger may not be okay. For many people, when they are first hurt and react with anger, their inclination is to retaliate, to hurt the person who hurt them. There is nothing wrong with feeling this way, but it is best to not react during this stage. It is better to work fully through the stages of grief and then decide how you are going to react. Even if it takes a number of months to work through the grief, it is better to wait than to regret rash actions.

3. Bargaining: Because betrayal can be hard to believe, many people go into the bargaining aspect of grief: The person who was betrayed feels vulnerable and lacking control. Their mind fills with “What ifs” and “If only.”

4. Depression: is also associated with betrayal. The sadness, regret, and doubt, all lead to depression. Gaining some insights and clarifications can help someone get out of their depressed state. As you work through the anger, you should begin to come to a point of sadness. The sadness is experienced when you begin to recognize the full extent of what you have lost. You begin to think about the good things in the relationship that you miss. You think about the shattered trust and knowing that you can never get complete trust back. Once someone has violated our trust, we can get to a point where we can continue the relationship with them, but we will forever know that they have the capacity to betray us

5: Acceptance is the final and most difficult stage of grief. Not everyone can reach this level. You have to look beyond your anger in order to reach peace of mind. If we trust the process fully, we will heal. Trusting the process means allowing the feelings to be what they are, whatever they are. Feelings are never wrong or bad. What we do because of feelings can be wrong or bad, but that is a choice. The feelings themselves are not bad. Therefore, they won’t hurt us. They help us in healing. If you trust this healing process, you will finally get to a point of acceptance. This is the point where decisions can be made and action can be taken. At this point you are able to think clearly about the situation and decide what the best course of action to take is. And, of course, that action will vary depending on the person and the situation. You may decide that a continued relationship with this person can only lead to more hurt and is not worth the effort of trying to sustain a relationship. Or you may decide that there are too many good things in the relationship to give it up.

Dr Miller is Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.