“The most common form of despair is not being who you are.” ― Søren Kierkegaard
When we are young and things go wrong in life, we will blame people, situations and a lack of luck. But if we strive to be accountable for ourselves and our fortunes, we will eventually see our role in sabotaging ourselves.
Instead of blaming everyone but ourselves, we see how we block our own shine.
Self-betrayal is one of the ways that we hurt ourselves. But as strange as it may sound, there is a reason we hurt ourselves.
Why we betray ourselves
Due to difficulties in our formative years with our caregivers, we had a choice to make — we go along with what our caregivers want or say, or we go after what we want and stick to what we believe.
We do this because we don’t want to lose the love and support we get from our caregivers. Even if it is inconsistent, conditional or barely there. It’s something and it’s better than nothing.
To not have love is death. Professor and researcher Matthew Lieberman stated that even though we don’t like to admit our need for others, a child who isn’t connected to their caregiver or environment is more likely to develop health and educational problems.
Isolation elicits suffering and humans are wired to evade suffering. That’s why drugs are so coveted and why going to therapy isn’t. We know that drugs take the pain away and therapy forces us to look at our pain.
So while the problems we have with our caregivers and our environment are bad, we don’t dare to risk losing what we have. We therefore bend to the opinions, decisions and actions of our loved ones, even though we have our own opinions, decisions and actions.
This is a slippery slope. Now that we have denied how we felt and we are loved because of it, we will continue to do this anytime there is a threat of the loss of connection.
Self-deception now makes its grand entrance. We really believe the lie we fed ourselves and live in accordance to it.
But what is especially sad is when we are guilty of the same thing our caregivers did. We threaten to withdraw love when others have their own feelings and perspectives. Thus, the cycle repeats itself.
How we betray ourselves
The way to curb self-betrayal is to know what it is when it shows itself. Here are the three ways.
You don’t give yourself what you need. For example, you often work yourself to exhaustion but instead of taking a break, you choose to keep pushing.
Firstly, you push yourself too hard. Secondly, you refuse to rest. You don’t care about the toll you’re taking on your body or mind. You just need to get the job done for someone else to approve of you and your work ethic, or maybe even to approve of yourself. Only by working yourself to the bone do you deserve commendation.
You are your own slave driver and you develop this self-concept that you’re a hard worker as if it’s a badge of pride. Really, it just shows that you don’t respect yourself enough to restore and rejuvenate yourself.
Only in extreme burnout or illness will you take a break, but once you’re close to wellness, your back at the same behavior that made you sick in the first place. If anyone else were to do the same thing, you’d tell them to take it easy, but you won’t take your own advice.
You might not even like the job, but you do it because it looks bad to not have money. Emotionally, you know this isn’t what you really want but someone who is well practiced at avoiding what they really want isn’t going to choose what makes them look forward to Monday morning.
Of course, this isn’t only just seen in work. It could be in a relationship where you’re tired of someone else’s crap but you stay because you can handle it and you don’t want to miss out on love and connection, even if it is scraps of love and connection.
What you saw, you didn’t see. What you heard, you didn’t hear. Or maybe you don’t know the context. Maybe you should give the benefit of the doubt. These are the things you tell yourself when you see a red flag, a problem or a point of contention.
This denial always comes at a cost. When the crap hits the fan, people lament that they knew this and that was going to happen and that they should’ve done things differently.
But when they are in a new situation with similar issues or even new issues, again they are in denial.
People need things to go in a particular way. Their happiness and peace of mind depends on it. Therefore, they will do and say nothing under the guise of believing in their romantic partner, boss, hired hand or the situation.
As John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
So no matter how badly we want things to work out in our favor so that we can finally be happy and safe, reality cannot be denied. Your senses and emotions weren’t playing a trick on you, so believe yourself.
However, there are times when we do acknowledge what we see, hear and feel but we minimize it. It’s not that bad. It didn’t hurt that much. I’m doing okay. These are the things we say to downplay how problematic something is to us.
Nevertheless, it’s still obscuring the truth and it will have consequences if the truth isn’t revealed and subsequent action taken based on the facts.
3. Playing zero-sum games
Humans are complicated creatures. Sometimes we have contradictory feelings inside ourselves. For example, we may feel like one career path is lucrative but another part of us wants to do something we love.
Here’s another example. You might develop feelings for someone’s spouse and want to start a relationship but another side chimes in and says that that is selfish.
We have to give airtime for all sides of the argument. To dismiss a side is to dismiss a part of yourself. You don’t want a situation where one side wins and the other side loses. You might gain something, but eventually there will be a loss too.
You might think it’s simple to just dismiss taking a career just because it pays or to dismiss wanting someone’s spouse because it is so obviously egotistical, but there may be something to acknowledge there. You don’t need to act on it, just allow each side to say how it feels. You can either write it down or talk it out to yourself.
Whatever you choose, it’s important to not suppress an aspect of yourself. Just as bad as it is for certain voices to be silenced in politics, it’s the same principle here.
There are people we vehemently disagree with, but are they as stupid as we paint them out to be? Or is it that you didn’t even take the time to hear why they believe what they believe?
It’s the same with us. You could hate the fact that you have feelings for someone’s spouse. But does it not communicate something? You could be unsatisfied in your own relationship or lack thereof. You might see the spouse as a good blueprint in what to look for in your own partner.
It is not that you have to act on one versus the other. It is not that one side wins and the other loses. Just hear yourself out.
We all know what it’s like to be betrayed by others. They didn’t care about how we felt. They didn’t care about what we wanted. They denied our reality. They made sure to crush our perspective in favor of their own.
As painful as that was, it is nowhere near as insidious as when we do this to ourselves. It is hard to observe yourself, but we have to practice because our happiness hangs in the balance when we betray ourselves for the sake of others.
But by knowing the ways we do this, we can stop ourselves and instead pay attention to how we feel, what we think, what we observed and give space for our various sides to express themselves.