I’m working on the monumental task of transcribing all my journals. I started keeping journals when I was eight years old. I’ve only transcribed to age fifteen. Yeah, I’ve got a LONG way to go! But as I was working on the task this week, I was reminded of an experience I had that I can only appreciate in hindsight. Looking back I can see how small acts of self-betrayal nurtured by me in my youth led to larger acts of self-betrayal and adulthood, and eventual self-loathing.
An Example of Self-Betrayal
When I was a teenager in California, I auditioned for a dance/vocal troupe that performed locally around the county. I’d never had dance or singing lessons of any duration (one month of voice and about the same of dance through a free after school program when I was nine-years-old). We just didn’t have the money for expensive lessons when I was a kid. I still wanted to try out though, so I did.
I had to have an interview with the director first. She gave me an audio recording of the music I’d be singing at my audition so I could practice. I got home and listened the song. It was a song I knew well. I sang along, but when it got toward the end the pianist hit a wrong chord on a very poignant part of the lyric. I knew it was wrong. I’d sung the song hundreds of times. I just wasn’t sure what to do about the mistake. I reasoned that because the pianist had played the wrong notes with such confidence that she’d probably play them that way again. After all, who was I to point out her mistakes? It would be easier to simply work with them. So, I came up with a “brilliant” plan. I would change the note I sang to blend with the with the chord she had played.
I should have trusted my judgement and brought the error to the director’s attention before performing. Because. . .
The same pianist was indeed at the audition. She began to play the song as the director looked at me with a smile. In fact, she smiled the entire time. . .until I got to that One. Horrible. Note.
Here was the climax of the song and I hit it COMPLETELY OFF KEY. And wouldn’t you know the pianist played the entire song correctly for the audition!!
I’ll never forget the look on the director’s face when I butchered that note. She was shocked and appalled. And I felt like a complete idiot. I KNEW the song. I KNEW the right note to sing. But I was afraid of pointing out someone else’s error—someone who was older, wiser, and that I saw as an authority above my youthful naiveté and ignorance. So, I kept quiet and tried to adapt.
I was still accepted into the troupe. I think out of sheer pity (and the fact that the director was a long-time friend of my dad’s). BUT I was put in a group with younger girls, NOT with the teens my age. I was never given a solo. Never given a chance to redeem myself. Never allowed to shine. After a year, I auditioned for the Drill Team at my high school and dropped the performance troupe.
Sometimes it’s hard to speak up. Sometimes it’s easy to feel like everybody else knows better than you what’s going on. If you find yourself always trying to adapt instead of embracing the truth or speaking up, I would encourage you to reconsider. Honor yourself and your ability to make judgments for your life. Honor your voice and your ability to speak.
I realize that even if I had sung the note correctly and turned out a stellar performance, I still may not have been placed in the older group. But if I had spoken up, at least I could have felt good about my performance; I could have sung the song correctly! I could have built some trust in myself and my own judgment. I could have practiced using my voice. I could have nurtured some confidence. All good reasons to honor myself!
We learn from our mistakes and successes. We learn from staying silent when we should speak. Likewise, we learn from speaking when we should stay silent. We learn from not trusting ourselves when we should trust ourselves. . . everything by experience.
I didn’t speak up for myself at fifteen. And although I learned how to speak up for myself in my first marriage, I usually didn’t honor my boundaries and needs. I self-betrayed by giving in to what other’s wanted just to keep the peace. That only brought self-loathing.
It’s one thing to compromise. We all need to do that at times. But it’s entirely different to feel yourself so insignificant that you never give yourself what you need or want. It’s also one thing to speak up, and another thing to actually follow through on the things you have expressed. You can honor yourself in word and self-betray in deed. Both must align to truly foster feelings of self-respect.
But whether in word, deed or both, when we self-betray, we lose a sense of who we are. That’s a high price to pay.
Recovering from Self-Betrayal
Like many things, self-betrayal is a habit. It’s a habit of subconscious reaction to the people and influences around you. Self-betrayal is like a shadow that covers up the real you and dims your light. It asserts that who you are is not good enough, not right, and not acceptable somehow. It puts everything and everyone above your well-being. It’s where you give a little of yourself away to appease someone else. It’s one way of trading self-worth for something you perceive you’ll get in return, like peace, or acceptance, or love, or attention. And it usually administers a potent sting of regret when you realize what you should have done instead.
But the good news is: You can reprogram habits!
Learning to observe your patterns of reaction to influences around you, listening to your heart and giving yourself what you need (aka self-care) can help get you on the road to self-recovery.
What Does Correcting Self-Betrayal Look Like?
Let me break down my story above to walk you through an example of some of the skills required to make the change from self-betrayal to self-respect.
Notice Betrayal Behaviors
My self-betrayal occurred when I didn’t approach the director about the obvious note mix up. I was worried about being seen as obnoxious or whiny. I was worried about challenging “authority” figures (a big generational issue in my family of origin that we’ve thankfully outgrown). I was worried about being wrong. I didn’t have the confidence to address the issue. At fifteen, I also didn’t have the maturity to see the problem with not addressing the problem! I had no idea what self-betrayal even was!
The first step is recognizing the problem. Think of an experience where you were unhappy with the outcome because you weren’t true to your heart or true to what you know–where you gave in something even though you didn’t want to. This is self-betrayal.
Skill to Develop = willingness to admit the problem exists.
You can’t change what you won’t acknowledge. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t make you a loser when you have something to change. It actually makes you a winner when you recognize that a change is necessary. It indicates that you’re both strong enough and humble enough to address weakness. Acknowledgment gives you power, the power to choose. It precedes the development of strength.
Begin Building New Habits
New habits begin by acknowledging current patterns. You want to break down your auto-pilot actions by butting into your mind and asking questions of your behavior.
Skill to Develop = Self-Reflection
In general, you can build habits of self-reflection by spending a few minutes each day writing in a journal about what you’re feeling and thinking. Notice yourself. As you get better at this noticing daily thoughts and feelings you can begin to recognize specific patterns.
Next, work on noticing habits of self-betrayal. Do they happen often? Only in certain situations? Only with certain people? Only at certain times of the month? How do you cope? Do you turn to certain behaviors to compensate?
In the case of self-betrayal situations, you might also ask yourself:
- Did I ask for what I wanted/needed? If not, can I pinpoint why I didn’t speak up?
- In what way(s) was I untrue to myself? Try and discern the reason(s) behind why you didn’t speak.
Skill to Develop = self-observation
Self-observation is watching and noting what your tendencies are over time.
In order to give yourself a new, healthy experience, you have to feel you are worth the effort. The best way to build self-worth, is to invest time and energy into yourself. Give yourself what you need. I’m not talking about neglecting all other responsibilities. But do give yourself some time to nurture your needs on a regular, if not daily basis. If you are creative, highly sensitive, an NF, an empath, or healing emotionally you may more self-care than the average person.
Skill to Develop = Self-Care
Think of one specific action you can take immediately to give yourself something you need today. If it’s something you need regularly, work it into your daily schedule.
Over time you can create new, healthy habits of relating to yourself and others. You can feel confident and secure in using your voice and being who you are. If you need assistance, seek help from a qualified therapist.
Example of Self-Betrayal Avoided
While I was writing this article, my husband asked me if I wanted to come help him at the neighbor’s house with some service. I wanted and needed to finish this article, so I said no. After he left, I suddenly felt worried, like I should go. So, I stopped and observed my feelings and realized that I was actually worried about the disapproval and possible judgment of my neighbors because I wasn’t there helping alongside my husband. I could feel the potential for self-betrayal looming over me. Should I go and increase my stress level by ignoring that fact that I needed to work and had a deadline? Or should I honor myself, finish my work and then go? I made a decision. I finished the article. I was still able to go over and help when I was done, and able to spend several hours the next day serving this same neighbor from a place of genuine giving, rather than a fear-based, stressed out, approval seeking state of self-betrayal.
It gets tricky sometimes to make these decisions. We want to be seen as altruistic, giving, kind people. But we also each have needs, obligation, and things that need to get done. There’s not always a clear answer. I’ve learned (and am learning on greater levels) to tell the difference between fear-based “shoulds” and intuitive, authentic “shoulds”. When I feel intuitively that I need to be somewhere, even if I don’t know why, I go. But tonight’s “should” was not intuitive or love-based. It was fear-based. And my thoughts of judgment and worry revealed the truth.
I’ve realized that I can’t be everything to everyone. If I say no sometimes it doesn’t make me a bad person. It doesn’t even make me selfish. We each get to choose our priorities. I give a lot to others, but if I don’t serve myself in that mix, pretty soon there won’t be anything left to give.
Sometimes we hold ourselves up to a standard like Christ, or Buddha, or Mother Theresa. It’s wonderful to aspire to these examples, but is it really fair? Should we judge our efforts, needs and offerings against the most perfected of humanity? Or against anyone for that matter? Should we be condemning ourselves if we haven’t reached someone else’s level of accomplishment ?
Would it not be better to build healthy habits at a manageable and personalized rate? Isn’t continual, small improvement better than no improvement at all? Let’s be kind to ourselves. Include yourself in your giving. Try to make informed choices by knowing what you’re thinking and feeling. None of us are perfect at this life. Do the best you can. Don’t beat yourself up if you fail to honor yourself flawlessly. That’s not realistic. To be human is to be in a constant state of fluctuation. Honor that fact too.
This Week’s Challenge
If you’re not in the habit of practicing self-observation, grab a notebook and give yourself 5 minutes before the end of the day to observe how you feel. Notice how your feeling emotionally and physically. Write it down. No judgement.
If you’re pretty good at self-observation, and you’re trying to overcome self-betrayal habits, watch yourself this week, try and listen to your thoughts when you’re making a decision. Are you coming from a clear and authentic place? Or are you making decisions out of fear? Try and make one small choice to give yourself something you need.
Additional Resources on Self-Betrayal
Here’s a great article from Psychology Today that explains how self-betrayal can lead to addictions and other problems.