Chapter 1 (cont.) 

Answering the Call to Initiation
Betrayal, Trust, and Forgiveness: A guide to emotional healing and Self-renewal


When we are betrayed, we feel devastated and bewildered, isolated and alienated from the one we love. Betrayal is always a shock. The grief and pain associated with betrayal amplifies existential emptiness, loneliness, meaninglessness, and futility. For the uninitiated, this soul death is the end of the journey. But the shock can also be the beginning of something new, a glimpse into a greater truth. For Karen, the shock of truth cleared away two and a half years of confusion and self-condemnation. 

Sometimes the separation phase of initiation is marked by the initiate’s rejection of the precepts of the status quo. One chooses to separate; like novitiates who isolate themselves in a monastery and take the vows of priest or nun, one enters a voluntary isolation from the community. Other cultures impose isolation, as in Australian aborigines’ puberty rites for boys, in which the boys are removed from their homes and taken away from their mothers, sisters, and younger friends by the men of the tribe. After this dramatic event, the boys are taken to sacred ground far away from their childhood surroundings, where they are held in seclusion. This element is also reflected in the Frog Prince story. The prince was unwillingly separated from his father’s kingdom when a wicked witch turned him into a frog. Separated from the comforts of the home, the prince and princess meet at the well, a symbol of sacred ground in European pagan cultures. Whether by circumstance or choice, separation is a sacred event imbued with supernatural powers.

After you suffer the shock of betrayal, choose to consciously separate yourself from your ordinary, patterned routines. Create sacred space in your life to help you examine the mystery of your betrayal experience. You are being invited to leave your ordinary life behind, and to embark upon an extraordinary personal journey of Self-transformation.

Purification: Facing the Emotional Ordeals of Betrayal 

The purification phase of initiation brings negative thoughts, dysfunctional habit patterns, and toxic feelings to the surface, so they may be recognized and released. In traditional societies, rites of purification include ritual ordeals, tests, and trials that are designed to shock the initiate out of a state of complacency and move into a sacred and expanded state of consciousness. Like the shock of bull-roarers, masked demons, and separation from everything familiar and known experienced by the aborigine boys, exposure to startling and incomprehensible events begins the purification phase of initiation. You know you are in this stage if you feel like you are overwhelmed by and unprepared for the events that have occurred. You most likely feel like you are beset by emotional ordeals that test your composure and try your patience.

Ultimately, purification tests you to find your way through these ordeals by confronting and releasing old roles, false identities, attachments, and fears. During purification we may glimpse our true Self-our wisdom, courage, strength, or talent-that has been overshadowed by social conventions, fear, and other barriers. We then can confront who and what has prevented us from being true to ourselves.

While researching the topic of betrayal, I found it interesting that the words betrayal, traitor, and tradition all come from the same Latin root word tradere. The literal translation of tradere is “to hand over,” “to deliver,” or “to place in the hands of.”3 When we hand ourselves over to the anger, pain, and grief of betrayal, we are placed in the hands of a traditional response. We become traitors to the light within. We die a thousand deaths when we rationalize essential spiritual questions with the limited data provided by our social traditions, personal history, and cultural upbringing. Unenlightened actions or purely emotional reactions perpetuate the pain. To act from our feelings of betrayal kills relationships, trust, and faith, and destroys a deeper sense of meaning or purpose in life.

The question “Why is this happening to me?” or the more personalized version, “How could you do this to me?” fuels the existential dilemma. Though the rational mind first explains the injustice by blaming the betrayer, the irrational mind soon blames the self. “There must be something wrong with me that I am rejected by this one I trusted and loved.” These feelings escalate when we look for reasons or causes to explain and justify the rejection we’ve suffered. This kicks off a series of deadly emotional reactions. In his book Loose Ends, James Hillman has identified five treacherous emotional reactions associated with betrayal.4 I call these the five Emotional Ordeals, tests and trials of the betrayal-to-trust initiation of the soul.

Emotional Ordeal #1: Resentment
Righteous resentment. Obsession with the betrayer. Desire for revenge.
First, we wish to hurt our betrayer. We want them to hurt at least as much as we hurt. Righteous resentment and the obsessive desire for revenge define this emotional ordeal. Instead of confronting our betrayer, Hillman says we tend to let the wound fester, and we fume about the injustice of it. The test comes when we face our desire to hurt another and choose a different course of action.

Watch for thoughts like “How could he (or she) do this to me?” “It’s just not fair,” or “I don’t deserve to be treated like this!” These types of thoughts fuel the desire for vengeance or vindication. As hard as it is to shift your attention away from your betrayer, this is the time to focus on you, your values, your needs, your truth. Instead of spending time and energy obsessing about your betrayer, devote that time and energy to yourself and your growth process.

Emotional Ordeal #2: Denial
Denial of the positive and seeing only negative traits in the betrayer. Bitterness, resignation, and projection of the shadow.
If we fail the first emotional test and give in to obsessing about the hurt and injustice, the next emotional ordeal increases in intensity. We now begin to see only negative qualities. Where once our betrayer was the apple of our eye, our idealized hero or heroine turns into a vicious villain. Our former loved one acts in ways we would supposedly never act. We deny that there is any good in them that might redeem them in our eyes. This rejection of one’s betrayer frequently reflects disowned or rejected aspects of oneself. The element within one’s personality that is unconscious, socially unacceptable, or deemed to be inappropriate is called the shadow. 

Watch for thoughts like “I always knew she (or he) was self-centered and inconsiderate.” This type of thinking may be a projection of your shadow. It is always easier to see someone else’s blind spots, while our own remain unconscious, hidden from view in the shadow. Projecting our shadow onto our betrayer, we bitterly resign ourselves to the belief that he or she deserves our punishment. The test is to release the rationalizing and punishing mind, which splits life into good or bad. The soul is challenged to perceive both good and bad, darkness and light, vulnerabilities and strengths in oneself and in one’s betrayer. Recognizing your own unconscious motives by coming to terms with your shadow builds compassion for yourself and others.

Emotional Ordeal #3: Cynicism
Cynical generalization. Projection of negative traits onto all others like the betrayer.
Generalizing, or attributing characteristics of the shadow to all others deemed by us to be like our betrayer, leads to the third emotional ordeal, cynicism. Cynicism distorts perception and corrupts our values. Watch for thoughts like “That’s just like a man” or “You know how women are.” Projecting your betrayer’s negative traits onto groups leads to stereotyping and prejudice. 

Healing stereotyped thinking, which is necessary to passing this emotional ordeal, has the added benefit of healing society. Healing personal betrayal wounds that have progressed into cynicism requires that we confront our generalizations, including those that take the form of sexism, racism, prejudice, and bigotry. The soul is challenged to look within and intuitively recognize one’s relationship to the collective. The test is to stop generalizing. Instead, seek to understand your unique gifts and contributions-that is, what you offer to others. Ultimately, you should realize that every individual and group is part of the whole and as such, each has a part to play in the spiritual evolution of humanity.

Emotional Ordeal #4: Self-Betrayal
Self-betrayal. Self-rejection. Abandonment of personal ideals, principles, and dreams.
Cynicism injures one’s faith in oneself. The real pain of cynicism comes not so much from the projection of the shadow as from the erosion of Self-trust. We ask ourselves, “How could I have been so blind, so stupid?” By the fourth ordeal, we too are included in the equation of untrustworthy people. Because we can not trust ourselves, we betray our most cherished dreams and desires. Notice if you have given into the abandonment of your ideals, essential values, or vital dreams. 

Watch for thoughts like “I’ll never love again,” “Love hurts too much,” or “I just don’t have what it takes.” Self-betrayal is the denial of your essential Self as it is expressed through your personal values, gifts, and resources. Spiraling into the abyss of self-betrayal, you feel cut off from yourself, out of touch with who you are, and what matters most to you. You stop listening to yourself and acting on your own behalf. Self-betrayal, and the pain of loneliness that it brings, is at the core of most betrayal experiences. This fourth test must be faced alone. Existentially, we are alone, and there is something positively unique about each one of us that also separates us from each other. Discovery of your unique gifts, talents, and resources inspires a sense of purpose in life. Spiritual purpose is the soul challenge of this test.

Emotional Ordeal #5: Paranoia
Suspicion of future betrayals. Fear, control, and manipulation. Contracts and agreements.
If one does not find a way beyond self-betrayal, one collapses into the fifth emotional ordeal. The world is perceived as a hostile place in which one is left to fend for oneself. Like when the Frog Prince made the princess agree to take him as a companion before he was willing to retrieve her golden ball from the well, when the betrayed person gets caught in this fifth emotional ordeal, he or she resorts to control and manipulation. Both conscious and unconscious rules and regulations guide one’s interactions with others. Always afraid of being hurt again, one tries to extract contracts and agreements from others before engaging with them, in an attempt to protect against future betrayals. This is as far from trust as one can possibly get.

Notice if you are living by self-imposed rules, or if you find that you are afraid to take risks. Watch for thoughts like “I’ll go out with him (or her)-but if he (or she) shows up late or doesn’t treat me right even once, that’s it, it’s over.” As we learn to distinguish our fears from the sounds of our true inner voice, we are tested to discover the deeper truth-that we are each free, spiritually, free to be ourselves. 

Many of us take this traditional route through resentment, denial of the positive, cynicism, and self-betrayal to descend into a paranoid world of fear, control, and manipulation. We are plunged into the despairing darkness of this initiation. We never pass through the ordeals. In our righteousness, we assume the role of the Angel of Death, God’s chosen one, who avenges injustice. We fool ourselves into believing that we are the initiator chosen to teach our betrayers “the lessons they deserve.” The five ordeals of betrayal become traps-emotional snares that impede our growth and block our experience of wholeness. 


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