What is Betrayal?

566-broken-heart-pics_1280x960We are betrayed in the very same close relationships where primal trust is possible. We can be truly betrayed only where we truly trust – by brothers, lovers, wives, husbands, not by enemies, not by strangers. The greater the love and loyalty, the involvement and commitment, the greater the betrayal. Trust has in it the seed of betrayal; the serpent was in the garden from the beginning, just as Eve was pre-formed in the structure around Adam’s heart. Trust and the possibility of betrayal come into the world at the same moment. Wherever there is trust in a union, the risk of betrayal becomes a real possibility. And betrayal, as a continual possibility to be lived with, belongs to trust just as doubt belongs to a living faith.

 If we take this tale as a model for the advance in life from the “beginning of things”, then it may be expected that primal trust will be broken if relationships are to advance; and, moreover, that the primal trust will not just be outgrown. There will be a crisis, a break characterized by betrayal, which according to the tale is the sine qua non for the expulsion from Eden into the “real” world of human consciousness and responsibility.

 It may well be that betrayal has no other positive outcome but forgiveness, and that the experience of forgiveness is possible only if one has been betrayed. Such forgiveness is a forgiving which is not a forgetting, but the remembrance of wrong transformed within a wider context, or as Jung has put it, the salt of bitterness transformed to the salt of wisdom.

This wisdom, as Sophia, is again a feminine contribution to masculinity, and would give the wider context which the will cannot achieve for itself. Wisdom I would here take to be that union of love with necessity where the feeling finally flows freely into one’s fate, reconciling us with an event.

Just as trust had within it the seed of betrayal, so betrayal has within it the seed of forgiveness. This would be the answer to the last of our original questions: “What place has betrayal in psychological life at all?” Neither trust nor forgiveness could be fully realized without betrayal. Betrayal is the dark side of both, giving them both meaning, making them both possible. Perhaps this tells us something about why betrayal is such a strong theme in our religions. It is perhaps the human gate to such higher religious experiences as forgiveness and reconciliation with this silent labyrinth, the creation.

A Blue Fire, James Hillman.
Introduced and edited by Thomas Moore, Harper Perennial, New York, 1991