4 Ways to Process The Emotions of Betrayal

There is a Bible passage that often causes a weird emotional response as I read it. Scripture should impact not just our minds, but our emotions. When I read this text there is often a stirring in my stomach. The Scripture reminds me of a few very painful experience in my own leadership and life. It forces me to reconcile again the emotions of betrayal.

All of us know what it feels like to be betrayed. It’s more common in leadership than you might imagine.

To understand the passage, it helps to be able to count to twelve. (Or at least eleven.)

Here’s the passage:

And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. Acts 1:13

Do you see what jumped out at me?

Count them. There are eleven names. Eleven. Not twelve.

One name is missing. One person was no longer in the group. I know enough Scripture to know why.

For three years there were twelve. They had been Jesus’ disciples. His closest companions. His trusted friends. Jesus had invested time, energy and life into them. Now there were eleven. One was missing.

The betrayer.

If you don’t know the story, another named Judas betrayed Jesus. For a sum of money he handed Jesus to the authorities where He was arrested, beaten and crucified. Of course, it was used for a divine purpose, but one of the disciples betrayed the others and Jesus.

Let that sink in.

Have you ever considered the emotions of betrayal for the remaining disciples? Did they miss their friend? In spite of his betrayal, he was a close companion on a mission. A team member. There must have been some attachment. Would there have been moments of bitterness, anger, or rage? Were they sad? Was there one in particular who got hurt most? He was closest to the betrayer, perhaps.

I don’t know. But I do know people and team dynamics so it prompts me to ask the questions.

As I reflected on their experience, I couldn’t help remembering some of my own times of betrayal. There have been a few significant, very painful times in leadership (and life) where I was severely disappointed by people I trusted most.

Have you ever experienced the emotions of betrayal?

We don’t talk about it much in leadership or ministry, but maybe we should. Those emotions are real. They are heavy. And, they are common.

Have you been hurt by your own betrayer? You trusted him or her. You may have even called them friend. They let you down. Disappointed you. Betrayed you.

Anyone who has served in any leadership position has experienced betrayal at some level. It could have been the gossip started by a supposed friend or a pointed and calculated stab in the back. Either way it hurts.

Learning to deal with, process, and mature through the emotions of betrayal may be one of the more important leadership issues. Yet we seldom deal with the issue.

How do you handle betrayal?

A few suggestions to battle the emotions of betrayal:

Grieve

Give yourself time to process. Be honest about the pain. Confess it to yourself and perhaps a few close friends. (I’m not suggesting you spread the pain farther than you have to. It only creates more drama. Unless there are legal issues involved it is best to keep the circle small.)

Don’t pretend it didn’t matter. It does. You were injured by someone you trusted – maybe someone you love.

Forgive

As much as it hurts, refusing to forgive or holding a grudge will hurt you more than the betrayer. (If you are a believer you have no option. It’s a command of God.) Embrace and extend grace. In the now cliche-ish words, “Let it go!”

If there are realistic consequences you can let those occur – and may need to for the protection of others. But in your heart let it go. Forgiveness is a choice not dependent on the other person’s response. It is the most freeing decision you can make. It may take time to do this, but the longer you delay the more you are still held captive by the betrayal.

Analyze

It is good at a time of betrayal to consider what went wrong. Was it an error in judgement? Do you need stricter guidelines for yourself or those you lead? Would it have happened regardless?

You can’t script morality but you should use this as a chance for a healthy review of the parameters in which the betrayal occurred.

Continue

You can’t allow a betrayal to distract you from the vision you have been called to complete. Equally important, don’t allow this time to build up walls where you never trust again or unnecessary structure which burdens the rest of the team.

There will always be betrayers as long as there are people. Jesus had them. They show up unexpectedly at times. And, if you read on in Acts, they replaced the twelfth person again. They moved forward in spite of betrayal. Eventually you will have to take a risk on people again. It’s the only way to lead in a healthy way.

Betrayers will come. The way we deal with them often determines the future quality of our leadership.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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