READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.
There is a well-known Sufi story about a man who was walking through the forest and saw a fox that had lost its legs, and he wondered how it lived. Then he saw a tiger come up with game in its mouth. The tiger ate its fill and left the rest of the meat for the fox.
The next day God fed the fox by means of the same tiger. The man began to wonder at God’s greatness and said to himself, “I too shall just rest in a corner with full trust in the Lord and he will provide me with all that I need.”
He did this for many days but nothing happened, and he was almost at death’s door from starvation when he heard a voice say, “O you who are in the path of error, open your eyes to the truth! Stop imitating the disabled fox and follow the example of the tiger.”
No one gets through life without experiencing trauma. The unexpected happens. Feeling numb from tragedy and loss is a common thread for all humanity. No one will escape it. The Sufi story is universally applicable to all. When faced with misfortune we can respond like a helpless, legless fox or we can address misfortune by following the example of the tiger. Metaphorically, sorting and sifting whether you are responding to adversity as a disabled fox or empowered tiger often determines the impact of trauma in your life.
Betrayal in committed partnerships is an insidious experience for everyone. The betrayer lives a life of deceit and a double life toward someone to whom they promised protection and propriety. The betrayed partner often experiences the edge of uncertainty without knowing the reality of ongoing devastation. Family members are torn with confusion and anxiety watching a horror story unfold in front of their eyes. No one is ever better off when betrayal occurs.
The trauma of betrayal often triggers codependency that exists to varying levels. It would be a mistake to suggest that betrayed partners all suffer the same degree of codependent response or codependency at all. The pervasiveness of codependency is experienced far and wide throughout relationships in our society.
Historically, the essential experience of trauma with betrayal has been under-emphasized while promoting the codependency that is often present with betrayal. Rightfully, many today identify as hurtful the diagnosis of codependency without raising consciousness to the raw trauma that must be treated for those who have been betrayed. There has been an over-emphasis upon codependency and co-addiction when trying to be helpful to those who have been betrayed. The emphasis upon the impact of trauma has been helpful and necessary.
The importance of prioritizing and distinguishing the difference of trauma response from codependent response has been helpful for healing from betrayal. Yet, it is critical that the concern for trauma around betrayal not be blind to the possibility of co-addiction, the idea that a partner can be addicted to a partner, or the existence of codependency during the assessment of what needs to be treated. Each can appear in varying degrees from mild to intense.
So, to be sure, trauma is a universal pathology for all engaged with betrayal. It is hurtful to minimize codependent or co-addictive behavior which may or may not have originated from betrayal behavior. New terminology about these behaviors can be helpful. Melody Beattie was helpful in popularizing the dynamics of codependency in human relationships. It is helpful to build on the foundation of understanding that her writings established. Assessing impact of betrayal trauma will require identifying the consequences of the trauma and then triaging needed interventions depending upon what is presented. This requires much needed process and awareness from an experienced therapist to examine the presence and intensity of trauma and related behaviors.
Helping those victimized by the trauma of betrayal requires recognition of trauma indicators and application of helpful interventions. Those who are impacted by betrayal need careful appraisement and sensibility applied in the treatment of their response to betrayal. Only then can we help the patient move through their trauma of betrayal and help them shift from the paralysis of being a helpless fox to the reality of the empowered tiger.