We’ve all heard of betrayal. Most of us have probably experienced some form of betrayal. Perhaps, a best friend, colleague, or even a family member sold you out for something that you felt was less significant than your relationship with that person. Most of us have had a sweetheart that was swept away by our best friend behind our back. Betrayal. But what about self-betrayal?
Self-betrayal, as described in the book, Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute, occurs whenever you act contrary to what you feel you should do for another. Consider this simple example. If I commit to being the best brother that I can be to my sister, if I see my sister struggling to extend care to my mother, I will offer my support to her immediately. However, if my sister says that she needs my help with my mother, but I fail to respond appropriately, that is, as she says she needs, it, I have committed an act of self-betrayal. That is, I have acted in a way that I know is contrary to what I should have to help out.
I find this to be a powerful paradigm for how to live out my faith. How can I consider myself a person of faith, a person committed to helping people develop their own faith, if I do things that counter this intention? How can any of us who identify as spiritual, religious, or otherwise called to serve the world call ourselves committed to these identities when we act contrary to our convictions? All of us do this from time-to-time.
It doesn’t take difficult situations or crises for us to betray our faith. Everyday living can do it. If you commit to a healthy lifestyle, but continue eating a high-fat, high-sugar diet, you are betraying your own values. Likewise, if you take a vow to cherish your partner in good times and in health, but find it difficult to bring your partner a cup of coffee in the morning, you, too, are betraying yourself. You are likely justifying it by saying to yourself that your partner doesn’t deserve your good deed.
The downside of self-betrayal, also known as self-deception, is that once you betray yourself, you begin justifying your bad behavior and seeing the world through distorted lens. This in itself causes you to blame others for not carrying their fair share, which puts you “in the box” of more self-deception. Once in this box, it is hard to see your own contribution to the vicious cycle. In fact, according to the Arbinger Institute, you bring others “into the box” with you and provoke the problems that you cite others for having.
There is a way of out of this pattern of self-betrayal, this betrayal of your faith. You begin by first recognizing your pattern, acknowledging your own situation, then by viewing those around you as persons who have their own set of needs that you can help fulfill. Once you view each individual as “a person” then focusing your attention on them in order to help them be who they are called to be, to accomplish in life what they want to do, you get out of the box.
Acting on your best intentions in real-time—making that extra cup of coffee, changing the baby’s diaper, stopping to help a co-worker solve a problem, giving generously to a cause you are committed to, etc.—gets you out of the box; stops the cycle of self-betrayal.
Our faith calls us to action, not just to believe in a certain way. Whether you are trying to follow the 8-Fold Path, the Ten Commandments, or the 12 Steps, each of us knows how to stay out of the box. Knowing is not the same as doing. More importantly, acting on behalf of others is how we build and develop our faith.
I hope you’ll really consider this notion of self-betrayal. I have and can honestly say that it’s giving me a new perspective on myself. I’ve got work to do, also!