I was having a discussion the other day. We were discussing English speaking therapists in Paris. The whole concept is a bit difficult. First you have to find one. Which is in itself difficult. Then you have a small pool to choose from because this isn’t the Anglo world where you have access to 500 therapists. The cost also sucks because you have to pay out of pocket. You could find a remote American therapist (or English) but some therapy is lost because you’re not in person. The conclusion was inconclusive.
As an American, mental health has always been something we talk about openly. Having a psychiatrist was once considered the height of fashion and snobbery. Anyone who’s anyone had a “shrink”. Speaking about our feelings has never been taboo. But then again speaking about anything and everything is not taboo in our country.
Psychiatry isn’t considered a bad thing in France either. One of my exes once told me that France is the most medically prescribed country in the world. Doctors in all their forms are well regarded. Psychiatry has long established itself in Parisian culture.
I consider myself well versed in psychology. We’re encouraged to take it as juniors in high school, from then on Psych 101 is apart of every college freshman’s core curriculum. I expect every American has a basic knowledge of psychological concepts. It’s everywhere in our pop culture. And for the most part we gain emotional intelligence on a variety of topics.
But there are a few subjects we aren’t taught. Grief, heartbreak, loneliness, they’re all topics that are heavily expounded upon. Betrayal isn’t one of them.
Betrayal. Ponder if for a second. We’ve all heard the term but how many of us have actually gone through it? We’ve read about it, watched it in a movie, but most of us have never had it touch us personally. But then I got to know what Caesar felt like when Brutus stabbed him.
What made me explore the topic was going through it. Being forced to confront it makes it hard to ignore. In general we shouldn’t. It should be one of those feelings we learn about so we can have the tools to overcome it if we ever have to deal with it. But we aren’t equipped for it, and as such I wasn’t prepared to deal with it.
I am an emotional person. For a long time I have always ignored that fact. Mostly because nothing affects me strongly enough to bring out my emotions. Most of the time I don’t care. I say it’s because I’m selfish, because I live on my own little island, and because I am chronically incurious about others. For whatever reason it takes something really significant for me to care.
Unfortunately what happens is because I so rarely feel these emotions I so rarely confront emotions. I’m emotionally intelligent, I know what they mean, but when I do have them, I’m not always adept at handling them. I learned this more than ever at the start of the pandemic.
The pandemic itself had no effect on me. I am an introvert (despite being very good at befriending people). I love being at home. And I spent it in Texas where lockdown only lasted one month. I didn’t have the mental breakdown that others in the world faced. Mostly I have been unaffected by it. My life remained unchanged.
However something else effected me during this time. It was my own struggle. My own permanent hell, that just so happened to take place during a pandemic.
You see I was madly in love with someone. Hopelessly, madly, obsessively, devoted, in love with someone. I had never been before and it was an emotion I did not know, and hence did not know how to deal with. And when the world shut down this person decided to take that and annihilate me. This person who I thought I knew, someone who claimed to love and care about me, who swore he would never abandon me, destroyed me for his own shits and giggles.
That’s when I learned about betrayal. That’s when I had to confront abandonment. I had learn not just what it was, but the steps needed to move on from it. It’s not been an easy thing to cope with.
I guess I should give a bit of back story. While I am someone who cares little for most things in life, when I do care about something, or someone, I am all in. I guess a part of me thinks because I so rarely develop these feelings, or in this case hadn’t had these feelings before, they must be extremely significant and that bond must be protected at all costs. So I develop a loyalty that is unbreakable.
You’ve heard “ride or die”? I’m that in it’s most extreme sense. And as someone who gives that kind of loyalty, I expect it in return. So you can imagine how hard of a fall it is when you realize “most people ain’t shit” and they will hurt you for very little.
In this situation I had given everything I had, and learned what it was like to have someone take a blow torch to it. I had learned, not just what betrayal was, but what it was like to be betrayed, what is was like to be abandoned, and what it was like to be lied to by someone I would have done anything for. I had assumed the intimacy we had created meant friendship and respect. For him it did not.
Betrayal never comes from your enemies, it can only come from someone you love. I had poured everything into this person. They had taken my love, my trust, my undying devotion and loyalty, and said 'fuck you' and ripped me to shreds. I couldn’t handle it.
As I have stated, I am emotionally intelligent. As someone who loves psychology, emotional intelligence is something I like to believe I excel in. But this was one emotion that confounded me. I had not prepared myself to understand it beyond something poet’s and the great classicists write about. It’s not something we are ever taught to prepare for. Possibly because if we think about it we might think it into existence?
When you are betrayed you are confronted with two paths. Most people choose one or the other. The first is vengeance. The other is forgiveness.
Forgiveness sounds like the admirable path to take but in actuality it does not help you. Rarely is forgiveness appropriate without work being done on the other person's part. Accountability is not taken and your feelings are not respected. You don't feel any better for having done it. My sense of justice is too extreme, my ethics too strong, and my moral compass unassailable to give unmerited forgiveness. You shouldn't either.
Vengeance seems like the most fulfilling, but betrayal doesn’t stop the love that you felt for that person. Because you can only feel betrayal when you have felt love, what happens when you seek revenge is that it only feels good for a second, you then feel bad for hurting someone you still love, which only ends up hurting you more.
So how do you heal the hole left inside of you? You have to understand that the only betrayals that inflict serious, lasting damage are the ones where an intimate bond has been torn. Intimacy leads to empathy, and empathy makes you merge with another person, you are then able to feel their emotions as keenly as you feel your own. So when an intimate bond is ripped apart, it’s as if you’ve lost part of yourself. You’re torn in half.
If you’ve read some of my posts from around that time, you’ll know that it was crushing for me. I felt like I had lost an arm “or a torso”. A huge hole had been ripped in me. I couldn’t figure out how to put myself back together.
Having to deal with that made me seek out ways to put an end to it. The only way I could stop feeling that way was to learn about it. That in turn led me to discover some ways to make it easier on myself.
One of those ways is to take a step back. Don’t let yourself drown in those emotions. Believe me it’s easier said than done but after some time, or even years, you can learn to choose not to let those feelings consume you. It’s hard, but if you can learn how to stop it for a second, and then a minute, and then an hour, eventually you will learn to detach yourself.
In that same vain don’t try to pretend. Don’t pretend to feel better for other people. If you feel it, feel it. Let yourself have those emotions. Don’t bottle them, but don’t make them worse. Have your mourning period. But don’t stay longer than you need to.
Learn to tell “time will heal everything” to shove it. It is a form of denial that doesn’t allow you to confront the pain you are feeling. Begin to make your own plan on your own timeline. Tell yourself you will make time to heal and do what you can, whatever that is, to take those steps. Come to terms with that you might feel okay one day and be a complete mess the next. It’s normal. Your emotions are going to be all over the place because you are not dealing with an emotion that is natural to you. If you were it would be easier. Accept that it won’t be.
Most importantly find other people who understand what you are going through. It might seem counterintuitive, and like it leads to wallowing, but it will actually help you to be around other likeminded people because those people won’t expect you to hide your feelings. They know what it’s like because they’ve had to do the same recovery as you.
Another step is to be of service to others. You’ve now learned what it’s like to be let down by someone. I would expect that you would not want someone else to feel those same feelings. So do what you can to help other people. Helping others makes you feel good, while doing a good deed. It’s a win-win situation.
You also have to learn to stop caring about the person who betrayed you. You feel hurt and loss because you cared for them, because you loved them. But they didn’t love you. They don’t deserve your care. Once you stop thinking about how they feel; whether it’s hurting them, loving them, or worrying for them, you'll be able to help yourself. Their feelings don’t matter and their lives have no bearing on your own. This is one instance where it’s okay to be selfish.
Lastly be self aware. One of the tenets of emotional intelligence is self awareness. You cannot change things if you don’t confront them in yourself. For some ignoring is their go to coping mechanism, but doing so means you will never heal.
Am I fully healed? No. But I no longer tell myself that I will be this way forever. There are many things about myself that I have lost, good things that I considered invaluable. But I’m learning to accept that I won’t get them back.
Do I always have good days? No, but I don’t expect myself to. So I continue to work on myself and work through these things. I know that I cannot do it on my own. I know that I need guidance. I know that I need the help of a professional who can help me understand and help me to work through things.
I am not someone who seeks out “self help”. I don’t read books on “becoming a new me”. But I am self aware, I am emotionally intelligent, and I don’t feel therapy falls into “self help”, mostly because it’s not “self” based. It’s being helped by a medically trained professional who attended medical school just like any other doctor. The only difference being they don’t treat physical ailments but mental ones.
I firmly believe that therapy is a great resource, a tool, to help overcome moments in life that we have trouble with. Do you need to see a therapist every week for the rest of your life? No. In fact many therapists know that they are not a permanent fixture in your life. Some people enjoy therapy for years, and some people go to them only when they cannot make sense of things. It is solely up to you, but having an objective voice, to listen to you and advise, can be immensely fulfilling and helpful.
I have not yet found a professional in Paris. I do know that I do not want a French doctor. I only had one in the past, but nothing she said made sense and I realize there isn’t just a language barrier, there’s a barrier in the type of therapy offered, and the school of thought they adhere to. I’m not trying to find a Freudian (poor Freud has had most of his theories debunked), but I would like someone who I can relate to (there are many schools of thought, practices, theories, and some are more well known to Americans).
If you ever want to join the discussion and talk to others who have insights into the community here (recommendations, advice, etc) feel free to message me. The expat community is a great tool for finding things that we feel we no longer have easy access to. Someone somewhere has also looked and can help lead the way. You just have to ask.
I hope my tips on betrayal were helpful. I’m still learning to understand it, understand what I went through, how it affected me, and how it’s changed me. I never wanted to experience it. It’s certainly not something I would recommend, but some of us may experience it at some point. At the very least you’re now more prepared for it than I was.
I hope that day never comes, but if it ever does, I hope you find an objective voice to guide you through it. And if you ever need to find someone in France join the community. Therapy is a wonderful thing and not something to ever be afraid of. You’re taking the first step to mental health, to self awareness, and emotional intelligence, that’s something to be immensely proud of.