When betrayal enters into a friendship, it can transform a source of great joy into a source of immense pain. Maybe a friend told a secret they swore up and down to keep confidential. Maybe they sided with someone who has acted abusively towards you. Or maybe in a heated moment, they deliberately pushed a painful button that they knew would hurt you the most.
Regardless of what the infraction looks like, the bottom line is that you no longer feel you can trust your friend. You no longer have that easy feeling of safety with them – whether that safety was emotional, mental, or physical.
Being betrayed by a friend is an experience many of us have or will encounter in life. In this week’s post, I will share three stages for healing from a friend’s betrayal.
#1: Get Safe
When a betrayal occurs, the feeling of safety and trust are often compromised. As with a trauma, you need to take a step back and get safe again. This could look like removing yourself from the conversation, blocking or removing the person from your social media, setting boundaries, staying away from the person in real life, or anything else that helps you fell safe.
Getting safe is not about being “mean” or “getting back” at your friend. It’s about taking care of yourself. It’s extremely important to practice your self-soothing skills and give yourself all the time you need time to reset from the experience. You will know when you are ready to move on to stage two, which is:
#2: Process What Happened
Once you have established safety for yourself, you’ll want to process the events and your feelings about them. You could talk to an objective person about what happened (I would avoid talking to mutual friends as this could lead to more issues), discuss your feelings with a professional therapist or counselor, or reflect on your own by writing in a journal.
During the processing stage, you may find it useful to examine the friendship as a whole. Be honest with yourself about trends and repeated behaviors within the friendship by asking yourself the following questions:
- Was this betrayal a one-off event, or part of a pattern? Have there been other hurtful behaviors over time?
- Does this friendship have the consistent hallmarks of a healthy relationship? Read about what these are here.
- If I’m being honest with myself, how do I feel in this friendship most of the time?
- How do I contribute to the problem? This is not about victim-blaming or taking responsibility for other people’s actions, but recognizing that friendships are a dynamic between two people and being willing to own your part. For example: do you contribute to an unhealthy dynamic by not communicating when something bothers you, expecting your friend to read your mind, or being passive aggressive? You can’t control anyone but yourself, so it’s important to reflect on how your own actions could be improved for the benefit of all your relationships.
#3: Move Forward
Moving forward will look different for every person and scenario, and there is no universal right or wrong way to proceed. The most important thing to keep in mind is that YOU get to choose what will work best for you. Your friend may want you to forget about the incident and just move on. Or maybe they recognize how much their behavior hurt you, have apologized, and are attempting to understand your point of view (even if it’s hard to hear). Regardless of what they want, don’t feel pressured to do something you’re not ready for, or be in a friendship you no longer feel is right for you. Keep the focus on yourself and your needs.
If you have done the emotional work and come to the conclusion that the healthiest option is to move on from the friendship, you have every right to make that choice. Even though it hurts tremendously now, take this experience as a lesson for what you don’t want in your friendships.
If you are considering giving your friend another chance, here are some questions to ask yourself first:
- If you tell them how their actions made you feel, will your friend be able to accept and listen, or will they get defensive, gaslight, or turn the blame on you? If they want to deny that they acted in a way that caused you pain, are they a safe person to have in your inner circle?
- If they apologized, do you feel in your gut that they are truly sorry? In her book The Power of Apology, therapist Beverly Engel outlines The Three R’s of a genuine apology: Regret (empathy for what you are feeling, acknowledging that their actions caused you pain), Responsibility (not making excuses or blaming others for their actions), and Remedy (expressing that they are willing to take action to make things right and repair the damage, including not repeating the harmful behavior).
- If you go back to being friends, are you willing to risk your friend betraying or otherwise harming you again? How will you respond if this happens?
- Are you staying in the friendship because you’re afraid of starting over or being alone? What would change if these fears were no longer a concern?
- Are they rushing you to “get over it” and let them off the hook for their actions? If so, how does this make you feel?
- Are you hoping that your friend will change, or can you accept them as-is?
I want to end by saying that you are worthy of the kinds of friendships you desire. Don’t let one, two, or a hundred bad experiences with the wrong people turn you off from finding the right ones.