How learning to stay open-hearted helped me navigate through betrayal
“Losing people is hard but losing yourself while trying to keep others happy is even more expensive.” Humble The Poet
I loved Sarah. She was my friend. I was passionately loyal to our friendship and deeply protective of her happiness. I employed her in my business many years ago, that’s how we met. I was good at keeping my professional relationships as just that, friendly to my staff but not crossing the boundaries of developing friendships. It was easier that way. But Sarah was different, we clicked immediately. We shared common ground, similar interests, a sharp sense of humour and a passion for the job we did. And over time our friendship blossomed.
We did so much together, nights out, afternoon lunches, shopping trips and even holidays. I championed her in my business and financially invested in her development and personal growth. As our bond strengthened, I found myself confiding in her about the pressures and stresses that running a small business brings. My staff had always been my number one priority in my company. I’ve been told I have a tendency to be over generous, and I would often sacrifice my own time, and financial gain to ensure my staff were well looked after. It’s always been of utmost importance to me that they felt valued.
This generosity was reflected in an all-expenses paid business trip I had invited Sarah on. We were due to enjoy four days away abroad, one day of actual work, and three days of fun. In the few weeks leading up to the trip Sarah had messaged to say how excited she was to be going, I was too.
Just three days before Christmas and a few short days before we were due to go on our trip, Sarah came in to work and unexpectedly resigned. She announced she had fallen out of love with the industry we worked in, she wanted to try something new, she needed a change. It came as total surprise to me, and to add to the shock of her resignation, she also informed me she wasn’t going on our trip a few days later. In truth, I didn’t hold anything against her for wanting a change of career, but I was incredibly disappointed that our friendship hadn’t enabled her to be a little more honest with me. Her lack of consideration of how the decision not to go away would impact me not only as her friend, but also financially, seemed very selfish. Half of the world was about to shut down for the holidays, so it was too late to re-organise or postpone anything. I felt incredibly let down.
Looking back, I realise this behaviour was in fact a warning sign of what was about to come, but I chose to ignore it, my ego simply making excuses for Sarah’s handling of the situation. She cared too much for me to hurt me.
Despite my financial loss, I told Sarah I supported her decision to leave, we were friends and I didn’t want money to come between our friendship. I even decided to also waver charging her hundreds of pounds she owed my company for a training course she had recently undertaken. My loyalty to our friendship stood firm.
But over the coming weeks Sarah became withdrawn, her behaviour towards me changed and I started to suspect something more was going on. On the day she left, she hugged me and told me she’d see me soon. I handed her a parting gift and the card I had written her to let her know how much I valued her as a person and how I wished her every success on her onward growth.
A couple of weeks later everything became clear when a member of my remaining team asked to speak to me in private. When we sat down in my office to talk, she seemed embarrassed and unsure of how to start the conversation.
“Elizabeth, I don’t know how to tell you this, but Sarah didn’t want a break from the industry, she lied to you. She has in fact opened a competitive business and is actively enticing our clients away from us. She discussed her plans with us and also some of our clients before she left. She blocked you on her social media pages in hope you didn’t find out about it. I just don’t think it’s right after everything you did for her.”
The words hit me like a punch in the stomach, I was utterly and completely dumbfounded. As I sat there in my office trying to comprehend what I was being told I felt tears welling up in my eyes. This couldn’t be true? Surely Sarah wouldn’t do that?
But it was true. And over the coming weeks more and more things came to light about Sarah’s actions, revealing the extent of how dishonest and underhand she had behaved. At first, I felt deeply wounded, it hurt more than anyone could comprehend. This wasn’t simply about my company losing money, it was about the bonds of friendship. The love, loyalty, respect and trust you invest so deeply in such relationships. It cut like a knife and in truth I struggled with knowing how to process the pain.
Betrayal centres around our expectations of others. We create this life in our heads, a life that includes our expectations of our friendships, relationships and all the things in-between. We want events to pan out a certain way and we want people to treat us how we would them. But in truth our expectations are never real, they are just thoughts, assumptions and desires that we hold in our minds. And when those desires suddenly aren’t met we are confronted with feelings of disappointment, frustration or hurt. Our expectations come from our need to be happy, those same expectations stem from our ego. We cannot control how others behave; we can only control our reaction to others behaviour.
Sometimes we need to take some responsibility for our feelings of betrayal. On the few occasions I have felt betrayed in this lifetime, I can honestly say there were warning signs. Those little red flags that niggled in the back of my mind, but ones I chose to ignore. They can manifest as something as simple as smaller acts of selfishness by the person who went on to betray you, or a sense of doubt that you can’t shake off. In my case my ego just kept telling me the other person would never do anything to upset me. Acknowledging the fact that I ignored such warning signs helped me navigate through my disappointment and hurt more easily. I was partly responsible for being duped, therefore I needed to learn to own my feelings surrounding the whole situation more.
Do not lose your sense of trust in others. Initially after learning of Sarah’s dishonesty, I distanced myself from my staff. I didn’t want to be viewed as someone who could be taken advantage of. I felt I needed to protect my giving nature and I became more guarded. But it wasn’t long before I started to realise, that I couldn’t allow someone else’s behaviour to directly change my relationship with others. I had always had a really good relationship with my staff, one of openness and honesty. To suddenly become closed and shut down in the dynamics of my working environment felt really alien to me. What I chose to do instead was put more trust in myself. I might have felt like I had been taken advantage of, but I was reminded that it was in fact another member of my team who informed me of Sarah’s actions. The fact that people in my company still held enough respect for me to care about my feelings, helped restore some of my lost faith.
Whoever betrayed you is just seeking their own happiness. It’s our desire to be happy that partly drives us in life. When someone betrays us, they are simply following that desire. Driven by their own need to be obtain fulfilment or greater happiness. If we are honest with ourselves, we have all acted selfishly at some point in our lives. We have all been driven to do things that maybe we aren’t so proud of many years down the line. It serves us well to remember this. We are all human, and we are going to make mistakes. As long as we can learn from such mistakes, they become a valuable tool for our personal and spiritual growth.
We need learn to live within the boundaries of own moral values without the expectation that everyone else should do the same. All of us live within the parameters of an ethical code of conduct that we set for ourselves. Learning to accept that our own code of conduct may differ from those around us, can in fact help us navigate through any challenges brought about when those differences arise. It isn’t realistic to expect everyone in life to treat us exactly as we would them. What we may deem as unethical or selfish behaviour may be considered perfectly ethical and not self-centred to someone else. Instead we should try to focus on setting healthy boundaries within the relationships we experience. Our boundaries often reflect our own ethics out to the wider world.
Forgiving someone who has betrayed you doesn’t mean you have to invite them back into your life. I completely understood why Sarah had wanted to branch out on her own, in many ways I respected her for it. But that didn’t mean to say I had to agree with or respect how she had gone about handling the whole situation. You can learn to embrace all the wisdom that experiencing betrayal can gift you with, or you can cling on to playing the victim and wallow in your pain. Forgiving someone is actually an act of self-love, it frees us from resentment and bitterness. We can choose forgiveness, but forgiveness doesn’t always mean the person we have forgiven needs to remain in our life. Don’t feel guilty about moving forward without someone if it feels the right thing for you to do. Navigating betrayal is often a healing process and sometimes in order to allow ourselves the honour of this journey, we also need to learn to let go of those who do not have our best interests at heart.