Self-Betrayal is the Ultimate Betrayal

Self-betrayalPolonius’s counseled his son in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

This above all: to thine own self be true.

After my first wife and I separated, I dated and fell in love with a woman who lived some distance away. I was enamored with this person who seemed to be able to accept me as I was. Then one day she commented that I was living in my head… I was so far into my head in those days I didn’t know what she meant, but when she recommended that I attend a weeklong personal development lab, I agreed.

The personal growth lab experience was transformational. Remember, I was pretty messed up, having just come out of a long difficult marriage, so there was lots to work on. I gained clarity as I worked through some of the loose ends from my marriage breakup. I regained my connection to my heart.

When I got home I knew I could not be with this lady. It was not about her. I knew deep down if I made my life with her, I would be denying my calling. If I had just continued on with the relationship, I would have betrayed myself.

I cared for her, but difficult as it was, I had to tell her that our relationship was over. In her view I had betrayed her…and perhaps I did. I admit I felt guilty about it. But what else was I to do? I had learned by that age that you never want to step out of your integrity, because the ultimate betrayal is self-betrayal.

Occasionally you may feel betrayed by another. Betrayed is what I was feeling when my second wife called to announce our separation. In hindsight, it’s probable she was trying to avoid self-betrayal, since she did go through a number of major changes shortly after we separated. Betrayal is in part a matter of perception.

If someone tells you to behave in a way that isn’t you, that could be betrayal. It is self-betrayal when you step out of your own integrity to accommodate him. That is not being true to yourself.

Suppose, for example, you pride yourself on always keeping your commitments to others and paying your bills on time. But what if your partner continually pressures you to not pay this or that bill because there won’t be any consequences, or to not keep your commitment to so-and-so because he isn’t very important? If you remain true to yourself and refuse to give in to his pressure, he might even see your not going along with his wishes as a betrayal of him.

What are the consequences of allowing another person to persuade you to step out of your integrity? What happens if you are not true to yourself? It sets up a dynamic that eats away inside of you and brings out the worst in you. It diminishes your presence. It isolates you.

Yet, who among us has not at least occasionally slipped out of integrity? I invite you to reflect on how well you have managed your life to be true to yourself.

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Dr. Neill Neill retired his psychology practice at the end of 2013. He maintains an active coaching practice via telephone or Skype with select clients dealing with alcoholic husbands or ex-husbands. Check out his book, Living with a Functioning Alcoholic: A Woman's Survival Guide.

7 thoughts on “Self-Betrayal is the Ultimate Betrayal

  1. Good points. You raise for me another exploration that might alleviate the dilemma of personal integrity. In your paradigm, what is the purpose of relationships?

  2. I wish I could comment on how well I have managed to be true to myself. Thirty years of marriage to an alcoholic have led to co-dependence and an even more destructive pattern of what I learned today can be described as self betrayal. My increasing desire to “spend time” with my husband and “fit in” with what he likes to do finds me drinking along with him. This is totally out of character for me.

    After consuming too much, my ugly feelings surface and I become quite ugly. I have been on a 6 month binge to save my marriage and my relationship to this man that I am having a hard time admitting he loves the party more than our relationship. I have decided that I am now sicker than he is. I don’t know what to do to save myself other than to begin by stopping drinking with him. Perhaps when my mind begins to clear the next steps will be more clear.

  3. Today I feel an incredible amount of remorse, sadness and lowness, plus an incredible amount of release.

    Growing up in an alcoholic, neglectful and abusive family, the only thing I have been doing for the last 30 years, i.e. since i was 10, is self betrayal. I was selling myself to the outside world for a bowl of soup, allowing abusive and scam people to be part of my life. I was allowing my bosses wife to flirt with me…. then she gets into her nice car and drives away as I sort myself to walk home.

    I was paying tithes to fund the preachers lavish life and a hell lot of self betrayal and self hate.

    But I am hopeful that this signifies onset of my healing.

  4. In order to reconcile with my husband following his affair, self betrayal seems necessary. My core values of honesty and integrity must be altered. The internal struggle is gut wrenching and seems impossible to handle most days. I would like to hear your thoughts on making peace with self betrayal and a spouse’s marital betrayal as it relates to the ability to save the marriage. Thanks.

  5. Dear Kim,

    I cannot agree with your assumption that you must betray yourself. You have not betrayed your core values of honesty and integrity. Coming to terms with what your husband did it is certainly a struggle, but the struggle is with whether or not you can forgive and accept, while not condoning his behavior. If you can forgive and accept, then you would be in a position to help him deal with his marital betrayal and his self betrayal. If you cannot get to that place, then you may have to move on to stay in integrity.

    Something else to think about: it could also turn out that his affair was a subconscious effort to end the marriage. Again you have a choice.

  6. Thanks for your response. I view having to modify my core values that make up my marital expectations as self betrayal. The bar I have set for other people is treating me decently. Not a very high bar. To face the reality that my spouse failed to meet that low expectation has greatly disappointed me. Honesty, respect, faithfulness, and kindness qualities make up me and my expectations of a marriage. To continue the marriage I must change the expectation and that is where I see the self betrayal occurring.

    Your comment on the affair potentially being a subconscience choice to end the marriage is something I really had not considered. He is doing all the right things to save the marriage. Counseling, changing ingrained traits, finding himself and appearing to want to save the marriage. Ball for this marriage is really in my court.

    I have benefitted from your articles. Thank you for your insights.

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