Loving someone, truly and genuinely, places us in a position of vulnerability. To love
with our whole hearts even though there is no guarantee can be excruciatingly difficult.
To remain vulnerable is to determine to love someone regardless of whether love is
returned or not. There cannot be love without vulnerability, and vulnerability does not
exist for long if we do not choose to love.
Vulnerability may lead to disappointment, to anger, to hurt, to many things, but most
of us can roll with the punches and bounce back. Our main fear of vulnerability is our
worry that it will lead to betrayal.
Betrayal is an experience that very few of us know how to cope with. Betrayal leads to
offense, and offense is a prison that no one escapes unscathed. So how do we deal
with betrayal so that we don’t fall into offense? This is a complex topic and there is not
the time to deal with both betrayal and offense in the one blog post so I will leave
offense for maybe another day.
The answer to coping with betrayal does not lie where you might think.
It is not intuitive to us, nor may it be immediately apparent, why vulnerability and love
are the only answers to betrayal. You say, “What!? Wait, that can’t be true. The thing
that caused the problem is the answer to the problem? That can’t be right.” But herein
lies our misunderstanding. Vulnerability did not cause the betrayal, it only exposed you
to the betrayal. Believing that vulnerability caused your betrayal is like believing that
going swimming will end in you drowning.
The usual response to betrayal is to either close down or lash out. If we lash out, to
hurt in like measure the one who hurt us, we set ourselves on a path to destroy the
relationship. Both become hurt, both must heal from their injuries, and both pay a price
that is much higher than either realise. This option not only incurs heavy emotional and psychological costs, it establishes a model for future responses when betrayal occurs in
other relationships and thereby depletes our ability to be vulnerable with others. Under
other circumstances, we would rarely choose an option with such a high ongoing cost.
If we close down we do not avoid emotional and psychological cost either. Closing down immediately stunts our ability to trust, because we spend more emotional capital on
shielding ourselves from future hurt. Closing down sends the wrong signal by being
somewhat successful in reducing hurt in future relational circumstances. We acknowledge that our hurt has lessened, and therefore consider this model of response to be correct. But closing down forces us to operate in a diminished capacity that includes the numbing of other emotions because we cannot numb some emotions and not others. Our bodies do not work that way. And it is obvious that diminished emotions make us miserable, and that can open the door to depression. Clear thinking would naturally reject this option as well.
When we carefully consider our options we are left with only one conclusion; if loving
someone truly and genuinely places us in a position of vulnerability, then love that does
not survive betrayal is not true and genuine love. This leaves us with the non-intuitive,
unpalatable, ugly, exasperating realisation that being vulnerable and continuing to love is the answer to not being offended.
If you are reading this blog post because you have recently been betrayed, then what you are reading may be difficult for you to accept. Most of us prefer to hide in a cave and lick our bruises when injured, and opening old wounds is never a pleasant experience. I invite you to return to this post when you feel a little stronger because I understand that choosing to love someone enough to allow yourself to be made vulnerable is not a choice for the faint-hearted. Acknowledging that our decision to love will make us vulnerable helps prepare us when treachery arises in our relationships. We become kinder and gentler to those around us. We become more attuned to being grateful and more receptive to joy. We come to realise that the bitter taste of failure does not have to last forever. Love that continues to love, despite betrayal, is a love that strengthens other areas of our life, deepens the affection we have for those we love, and bears fruit in unexpected places. After a while, we discover that vulnerability is not weakness. We realise, in fact, that vulnerability makes room for courage. And courage is something that we all aspire to.
We all struggle with the notion of forgiving someone who has wronged us, and the thought of loving someone who has betrayed us is difficult to reconcile with our desire for retribution. This is where we need to show some maturity. Are we adult enough to make the obvious decision?
We do not get stuck because we can’t forgive; we get stuck because we won’t.