You Betray Yourself Before You Betray Anyone Else

aesopYou are not your thoughts, and you are not your feelings. You are you; your thoughts and feelings come and go. Some of them are wonderful and inspiring, and hopefully you act on those. Some of them are untrue and unkind, and those are the ones best left to arise, peak, and subside. Witnessing your experience is always a powerful way to be in tune with how things are for you from moment to moment. Not every feeling deserves your energy. You don’t have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes, nor must you act on every feeling you have.

Years ago, one of my closest girlfriends was dating a man who cheated on her while he was at an ashram, and said he was “honoring the truth of what he felt.” He said it was a deeply spiritual experience, and that he was a “mysterious and enigmatic being.” There’s nothing spiritual or particularly mysterious about that. Honoring the truth of your experience in that scenario means observing your attraction toward someone other than the person with whom you’re in a committed relationship, without acting on it. It’s either a normal, passing attraction borne of the fact that you’re a human being, a mammal, a person with desires and fantasies, or it’s an indication that you need to regroup with your partner. Regrouping might mean taking a compassionate but honest look at the state of your relationship. Maybe you’ve been taking it for granted, and both you and your partner need to direct your energy toward the space between you. If you don’t feed and water it, it’s going to starve and die, after all. Maybe it’s already dead, and there’s no hope for resuscitation, and it’s time to have that conversation. Maybe this other person really is someone with whom you’re going to have a long, meaningful, lasting relationship, but starting out with deceit and a lack of integrity doesn’t bode well for anyone.

Uncomfortable conversations are hard, but most people, given the choice, would opt for painful conversation over betrayal. Betrayal is awful, because it can only happen at the hands of those we trust, and nothing shakes your faith in your own judgement more, than the sting of having made yourself vulnerable only to realize that your heart was not so important to the person with whom you entrusted it, after all.

Having said all of that, none of us will act from our highest selves in every moment. Sometimes we screw up in a huge way, and learn a painful lesson. There are all kinds of betrayals, after all. The truth is, the only way to break someone else’s trust, is to break your faith in yourself, first. We all want to feel in our hearts that we’re good people. Not perfect, but that we’re doing our best to be kind, that we know how to be a good friend, that we understand right from wrong. When we behave in a way that goes against what we know to be right or okay, we’re letting ourselves down. We’re showing a lack of self-respect. It’s really hard to feel good about yourself when you know your actions would cause pain to someone else if they knew what you were doing. That includes unkind things you might say behind the back of someone you purport to love, or an inability to be happy for the success of someone you care about. When we’re in a petty, judgmental place, that’s always an outward expression of inner pain. Something within us feels unworthy, not good enough, less than, and instead of leaning into that and having compassion for ourselves, we point it outward, and put it on someone else, but that feels even worse. Nothing makes us want to shower more than the stink and weight of gossip and mean-spiritedness.

If you’re in a stinking ditch of your own creation, it’s really time to climb, claw, and drag yourself out. If you can’t feel good about yourself, everything else is going to erode. That’s your foundation. If you’ve made huge mistakes, own them. Apologize. I’m not talking about unburdening yourself of guilt, here, so you can feel better and someone else has to suffer. Sometimes things are better left unsaid. It really depends on the situation, but if you’ve done something for which you feel terrible, and an apology is in order, have at it. If it’s something you have to grapple with on your own, get some support. Figure out what went wrong. Maybe you acted out of desperation. Maybe you’ve been putting your own needs on the back burner for so long, you justified one reckless act. Maybe you’ll receive forgiveness, maybe you won’t, but eventually, when you’ve learned everything you can about why you didn’t show up the way you wanted to, or the way you’d like to moving forward, you really have to forgive yourself. We all make mistakes, it’s part of the gig of being human. If you were selfish, thoughtless, reckless with someone else’s heart, try to make amends, and do better moving forward. One of the things that gives us compassion and a forgiving nature with others, is our own ability to forgive ourselves for those times we made poor choices.

It’s not realistic or desirable to control every thought and feeling you have; in fact, anything you reject will push back four times harder. You don’t have to be horrified by your thoughts, you just want to observe them, and choose the ones that strengthen and nurture you, and take into account the feelings of those you love. Sometimes we behave poorly because we’ve refused to accept what’s true for us, and that’s like sitting on an active volcano. You can’t deny who you are, or the song in your heart. If the people around you have asked you to do that, they’re asking too much. You have to be you. The more you’re able to do that, the less likely it is you’ll act in ways you’ll regret, because your whole life will be directed by knowing who you are and what you need to be at peace. We really only get in trouble when we aren’t clear about that.

Sending you love, and a huge hug,

Ally Hamilton

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