How do you move beyond betrayal?
September 20, 2016 6:23 PM   Subscribe

Hello metafilter, A few months back, I had a break-up with a friend. At the time, I believed we were very close, and I turned to her because I was very sick, needed help, and couldn't find it anywhere else. Instead of offering help or sympathy, she instead sent me a "go away till you're better" letter two days later. It's broken my heart, and I can't seem to move past it.

A bit more explanation. She told me she felt threatened and that if I contacted her in the next month and a half, we couldn't be friends anymore at all. We used to chat daily, and I had visited her home only a month earlier. I considered her my creative confidant and a very, very close friend. We'd been swapping family secrets, hopes and dreams just a few weeks earlier. I don't think she's a bad person, and, to be honest, I don't really understand what happened, suffice to say, she doesn't want me around, and I don't want to make her uncomfortable or upset her, so I'm backing away. Maybe it's better if we're just not in each others lives at all.

Here's the problem, at the time, I was suicidal, and deeply ill, and the manner in which she told me she didn't want to be a part of my life...well, it felt like a deep betrayal. Whether it really was or wasn't is somewhat beside the point, that's how my brain registered it. It was deeply traumatic, and I am having a very, very hard time moving past it. Even other, unrelated sadnesses and frustrations, such as my cat becoming a little sick, seem to drag up the emotions of unworthiness and feeling unwanted by someone I care for which that event caused me to feel. It makes it difficult to believe that other people I trust won't hurt me in the same way. Since it happened, I often feel that people don't really like me at all, and are only pretending to because I have told them I care, or to prevent awkwardness. It's painfully difficult for me to believe in the sincerity of others in a way it never was before.

For whatever reason, my brain has registered all of these events as a trauma. I'm doing all I can to try and get things right, I'm seeing a counselor, starting EMDR therapy tomorrow, trying to be healthy and foster closer relationships with other people. I've unfollowed this friend online, erased her number and text history, hidden everything to do with her in my life...still, she comes into my brain all the time. There have been many, many nights where I have woken up from sleep having a panic attack about her, or I've had nightmares about her.

How do I move past this? I don't think she's a bad person, just someone who was scared, and bad at communicating, and unable to care for someone who believed they were dying. I don't want to hold this anger and hurt in me anymore, and I'm tired of feeling like she controls me. I'm not sure what else I can do to escape her and the hurt she gave me. Does anyone have any further advice?

And please, please, don't tell me "you have to let this go", or "you have to get over it". That's what I've been trying to do, and if it were as simple as that, I'd have done it. At this point, I am beginning to believe that the incident was so traumatic for me that it may have caused some kind of brain damage. If you guys know any other things I can try that might help move my mind away from her, or might help heal that damage, I would love advice there.
posted by Rosengeist to Human Relations (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I agree with you that your friend was probably scared and bad at communication. I think you should extend that same charitable line of thought to your other friends - it's likely that they do care and aren't really sure what to do or how to do it in a way that is healthy for them.

It sounds like you are taking the right steps by pursuing therapy, fostering other relationships, going no contact and taking care of yourself. Keep doing that stuff. Tell your therapist and get their recommendations as well.

For short term, quick stuff that has helped me:
* meditating - I'm not even good or consistent, but when I do it I feel a little better.
* yoga - type "easy yoga video" into google and follow along with one for at least 5 minutes.
* medication - there are medications for panic that have been amazing for me
* exercise - something good and sweaty for at least 20 minutes
posted by bunderful at 6:37 PM on September 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: When a good friend of mine was going through an absolutely devastating set of events her main supports were me and another woman. At one of my friend's lowest ebbs, this other support decided to withdraw her friendship, assistance, and kindness in a terrible way. She wasn't careful about her exit and inflicted a lot of pain on her way out. I was stunned as I had never seen someone turn from being compassionate and kind to being such a damaging force. It was a terrible trauma to my already struggling friend and this abandonment and betrayal destroyed a lot of her progress toward getting better.

While I can't speak for your other friends, I can say that some people are just unprepared to be a support to others even if they talk a good game. But, there are people who do understand what it means to help a friend through a crisis. And, they won't betray you and they'll see your worth when you can't see it yourself. Don't let one unhealthy/unbalanced person poison the well for you. And, while you may be searching for some clue as to why this friend turned, there probably was no clue. Sometimes you don't know who people really are until the situation is very serious and they finally reveal themselves. I'm sorry that this happened to you and, having witnessed something similar, I'm not sure I have many answers beyond that you can't make someone else's weaknesses your fault. This former friend's behavior has everything to do with her own problems and very little to do with you. It's confusing because it happened on you, but it's a part of her, not you. The trauma you're suffering is real, though. Perhaps you want to consider working with a therapist or program that addresses healing from emotional trauma or PTSD. I don't think that you have brain damage, but you do have trauma that needs healing and there are professionals who can help you. Good luck and I'm so sorry that this happened to you.
posted by quince at 7:08 PM on September 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

Best answer: As I was reading your post, I thought of EMDR. It is supposed to be very good at processing this kind of sudden trauma - helping your brain recognize it as just one thing that happened to you, not the truth about how the world works.

In the meanwhile, do things that help you connect to the goodness in the world. Meditation, being out in nature - what ever works for you. You might also find a gratitude journal helpful - in your case try to include some things that you are grateful for that were done for you (directly or indirectly) by other people. Just remind to you that you are the beneficiary of acts of kindness by other people every day (whether you believe they are sincere or not).

I think you are right - this was act of profound trauma, coming from someone you trusted deeply and at a time when you were very emotionally vulnerable. It makes sense that you can't "just let it go" It's like if you get a deep cut while cooking. People may say it was just an accident, the knife didn't mean to hurt you, but you are still bleeding, you need professional help and it will take time to heal. I think you are doing all the right things - I wish you a speedy recovery.
posted by metahawk at 7:27 PM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had a former friend let me down in a big way when I was going through a very hard time.

This after I had been seriously supportive of her for *years* and *years* when she was having a rough time.

I sent her a polite but firm email describing the ways in which she had hurt/disappointed me/let me down, and that our friendship wasn't working for me anymore, and I was ending it. Sending this email helped me stop feeling so angry, because I had expressed my feelings.

Then I blocked her on Facebook, twitter etc. and set up my Gmail filters so any emails from her would be deleted unread.

When I feel sad that we are no longer friends, I remind myself "She wasn't a good friend to me. She wasn't good at reciprocating emotional support, only receiving it. I deserve people for whom support is a two-way street."

I agree with what quince said: "I don't think that you have brain damage, but you do have trauma that needs healing and there are professionals who can help you."

Also spending time with friends who love and value you will help reassure you that this woman was a statistical outlier (and didn't deserve you.)
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 7:40 PM on September 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: You are lucky to have learned about her weakness, and you will get better. She doesn't realize she has a problem.
posted by Oyéah at 7:41 PM on September 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you're feeling a lot of unresolved business with her, and maybe some of the inability to stop thinking about it is because there's still a lot to work through before she (memories of her) can start being unimportant. As a journaling exercise, I would write a lot of letters to her. Write a letter where you tell her how angry she made you. Write a forgiveness letter, telling her all the ways you've tried to understand how she might have felt. Write another letter telling her how hurt and betrayed you feel. Write an angry letter just calling her names and getting it all out. Write a letter reminiscing about old times you had and speculating about whether anybody could have seen this coming (and maybe yes, you could find indicators of her self-centeredness). None of these, of course, are for sending to her, or for being read by anybody but you and perhaps your therapist. But if you sort through your emotions and express them thoroughly, one at a time, a solid block of writing for every way that you feel when you think about her, you will slowly work through a lot of your inner turmoil. When you have clarity, when there's not a huge morass of emotions surrounding her, you won't be tangled up in that experience and you will be much more able to think about new things and "move on", which is to say, spend more of your time thinking about something else, and have thinking of this/her be a much briefer and less painful thought.
posted by aimedwander at 8:16 PM on September 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: When something deeply upsetting happened to me, I read a blog post that said (this might be total BS) "you can kinda get addicted to trauma brain chemicals" and "your brain re-traumatizes itself by replaying the event." I have no idea if that's true, but it got me to notice that I was in fact replaying the event in my mind, and that it deeply hurt me anew every single time.

To solve that, I inserted a new person in the mental film I was replaying, someone who protected me from getting hurt. Rather than remembering the hurtful event over and over again, I began to play around with how a protective character could fit into it, almost like I was editing the film. ("Stop the tape. No, rewind a bit. Okay, what if someone walked up right then?") I had to play around a lot to figure out what that person looked like, said, and did -- some approaches would've further inflamed the situation. But when I finally got it right, that character began to show up every time and (increasingly successfully) stop me from getting hurt yet again. Now, when I try to remember what happened, I just remember a snapshot from the edited movie in which the new character is protecting me. (It might be more empowering to imagine your own actions differing. For me, I knew that this new character was actually part of me and the part I'd play in the future, so I'd say "whatever works!")

Good luck as you work to move through this and continue in your recovery.
posted by salvia at 8:30 PM on September 20, 2016 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Another thing that helps me that I forgot to mention before: watching adorable videos of cute animals on the internet. It sounds facile and silly, but it's worth a try.
posted by bunderful at 8:32 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah for EMDR! It's incredible. Seriously.

In addition to the magical mystical science of EMDR, bear in mind that the reason you feel hurt by what your friends did and said is because of your own meanings.

That is, you feel betrayed because that's what it would mean if you did it. Which is probably completely different from what those actions mean to them.

Hey, we all do this even though it is the root of many relationship problems.

If you can embrace the idea that other people hold their own meanings, and we can probably only know what they are by asking, it will save you a bunch of hurt.
posted by trinity8-director at 11:20 AM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks trinity8-director. Part of the problem is that I don't know what she was feeling or thinking, or what her reasons were for doing any of this. She got very closed off and refused to tell me what was wrong.

While yes, she may have meant well, or had her own beliefs about how she was reacting, I was specific that I felt suicidal and was desperate and still was turned away.

I have asked her why she did as she did, but she didn't say anything, and I very much doubt that she will ever say anything. As time has gone by, I have come to doubt her sincerity. Even if she told me what she felt...I'm not sure that at this point I could believe it.
posted by Rosengeist at 12:19 PM on September 21, 2016

I don't know what she was feeling or thinking

But she told you. As you said this summer, you exhausted her and made her feel harassed. She said that she had been "feeling threatened". She didn't trust you. She had stopped telling you what was going on with her family. She thought that you had been treating her "like a counselor" and she considered you "phobic" and "obsessive". From what you've written here, I suspect she considered you at least borderline emotionally abusive.

You "didn't view her aid or her sympathetic ear as out of the norm", but you had untreated suicidality, severe anxiety issues, and a tendency to obsess. There's no way that her emotional labor on your behalf was not out of the norm.

You've had several months of complaining to yourself about how she treated you. There's nothing more to be learned from that. You've convinced yourself over time that your pain means that you were denied a comfort to which you were entitled. You've convinced yourself that your obsessive thoughts mean that she is someone you need to "escape", but she has little or nothing to do with your inability to let this go. You don't need to escape someone who's already gone. That's on you.

Ruthlessly redirect your thoughts, every single time, toward gratitude for what she did give you.
posted by phantom powered at 8:15 PM on September 21, 2016 [10 favorites]

What phantom-powered said isn't very pleasant. It's probably true, though, to some extent - which doesn't mean she never liked you or always felt overwhelmed by your emotions and needs, just that it happened sometimes, and her feeling overwhelmed happened when you most were hoping for her support. That doesn't make either one of you a bad person. This concept, that nobody is 100% right or 100% wrong, that there are lots of different emotions going on, that's kind of what I was getting at with the idea of writing her a lot of different letters. Think of them as being to and from a lot of different aspects of your personalities. It gives you a chance to explore not just all the different ways you've been feeling, but also all the different ways she might have perceived things.
posted by aimedwander at 10:06 AM on September 22, 2016

Best answer: I can understand how this would really hurt you and make you unsure if you can trust people.

It really would have been nice if she could've gently and kindly set clear boundaries, instead of suddenly going from 0 to 60.

It would have been nice if she could've explained herself via statements about her own feelings and left out the harsh labels she placed on you ("obsessive"). To be labeled and then shunned would make me wonder if something was wrong with me (or as you put it, have "emotions of unworthiness").

For her to suddenly reveal that she'd been feeling that way for awhile would make me wonder who else was secretly pulling away, judging me, and not being authentic.

And for all this to be revealed when you were deeply in need -- no, you can't come in; because you're XYZ and I haven't been being fully open with you for some time -- ouch, I could see that feeling traumatic and like a betrayal (even though as phantom powered said, ultimately, none of us are entitled to anything; still, it would hurt).

Personally, I think it would be hard for me to re-open this relationship. She hurt you when you were at a very low point. And she's not the one who can heal the pain she caused you, as you realize.

I think I'd try to get her out of my head by telling myself that I never have to talk to her again. That might create space for me to focus on healing (it hasn't been that long! you were suicidal just 10 weeks ago!), then I'd see if I wanted to reopen things six months or a year from now.

You don't have to listen to her characterization of you. A therapist once told me that you can examine any feedback you receive about yourself at arm's length before accepting it, like it's a package you may or may not sign for. Maybe it's a rare gift, a piece of the truth about yourself. Maybe it's a grenade from someone toxic or hurtful. Maybe it's both and you have to separate the candy from the razor blades. (evict the soldiers from the wooden horse? My metaphors are getting strained.) If it's something you need to know and you reject it, well, another delivery will probably be along shortly.

You can also consider the hurtfulness of her approach to reflect her own limitations. Maybe she was just learning to set boundaries and failed to communicate them for so long that she just exploded. (It's also possible that she had tried and you didn't hear them, I don't know.) While she may well have set boundaries for a reason, perhaps a reason that would lead others to also set boundaries, the abrupt and blaming manner in which it was done says something about her ability to be gentle under the stress of that event. (And maybe that's quite understandable, depending on the circumstances of the event, I don't know.) My point isn't to blame her, just to say, we're all limited and she probably did the best she could, and maybe some others would've handled it worse while some could've handled it in a less hurtful way.

To me, your questions show thoughtfulness and progress toward healing. It seems good that you've moved from the desire to reconcile ("how can I fix things with her?") to a sense of betrayal and maybe even anger ("I don't know if I could even trust her"). You're definitely in a painful spot now, though. I think that's how some traumatic stuff is. First there's shock and a desire to hang on to the status quo. Only after some time does the pain and anger come up.

To repeat myself, I'm thinking that in your shoes now, I'd focus on the fact that you never have to see or talk to her again. Maybe sit in a nice, comforting, enclosed space, and just repeat to yourself, you never have to talk to her again, or any phrase that helps you feel sheltered from the possibility of experiencing this again.

Best wishes as you continue healing from your suicidal crisis and this event.
posted by salvia at 8:56 PM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Mod note: One comment deleted. AskMe's not a space for back-and-forth debate, and we ask posters to limit followups to needed clarifications. No commenter here can make anybody do anything, so if some advice isn't helpful, it's fine to just ignore it and focus on the advice that's more helpful for you.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 6:46 PM on September 24, 2016

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