How many times in your life have you felt betrayed or let down by other people, yourself, or society as a whole? When we feel betrayed the emotions it evokes are so primal, they seem to go to the very core of our being. Toltec wisdom reminds us to use our emotions as guideposts to personal freedom. Once we learn to view betrayal differently that feeling can become a gateway toward greater intimacy and a deeper connection to ourselves.

We all know what betrayal feels like but what is it really? The word comes from an old French verb that means to hand over or deliver up. The dictionary defines it as treachery, the disappointment of ones hopes and expectations, or to reveal, disclose, show, or exhibit.

I have found that betrayal can serve two very useful functions in my life that have very little to do with blaming the other person. They both have to do with me; my feelings of betrayal reveal my ability to communicate clearly and my willingness to take responsibility without blaming or judging myself or the other person.

Using any emotion in our life as our ticket to freedom first involves a willingness on our part to see things differently. When I look at betrayal I can focus my attention on what I perceive as treachery or look at my own expectations. Whenever I have an expectation I am setting myself up to be disappointed, especially if my expectations are not clearly negotiated.

Many of us have had the unrealistic expectation that people will treat us differently. They might lie to everyone else but they will tell us the truth. They will cheat on their former lover but they will be faithful to us. They will gossip about other people but they will keep our secrets and when they don’t treat us differently we feel betrayed. People are consistent unless they are actively working on changing a behavior.

Many of the disappointments in our lives are based on unspoken expectations. When I honestly looked at my past relationships I realize that I expected people to behave according to my internal rules and regulations. I never really took the time to find out what their expectations were or to tell them clearly what mine were.

My definition of friendship includes spending time with the other person so I expected that from my friends. One woman I knew consistently said she wanted to be friends but never wanted to spend time together. I would call her and ask her to do something and she would always say no. I often felt disappointed. When I finally talked to her about this I found out she was equally upset by my constant invitations to do things together. She was too busy to spend time with me. Her defintion of friendship did not include spending time together. Once our expectations about friendship were clearly defined it was clear being friends would be impossible unless one of us became willing to change our definition of friendship.

When we negotiate an expectation with another person we also have to realize that people are not always in touch with what is true for them. We may say on thing when we really mean something else. We don’t intentionally lie to one another but our ‘truth’ often changes based upon internal or external circumstances. Does that mean we need to stop trusting everyone? No, but what it does mean is that we don’t try to make another person responsible for our happiness. Frequently, if we have trouble trusting people there is a good chance we have the expectation that people will betray our trust. If we have that expectation we will often choose to trust people who aren’t trustworthy. As we look at our expectations we learn to trust our own inner knowing above all else. We use past disappointments as a reminder to listen to our own inner voice.

I have found that if I base my happiness on another person I eventually feel let down or betrayed. Ultimately I am the only person responsible for my happiness. If I expect my friends, lovers, or the world as a whole to ‘make me’ happy I doom myself to a life filled with disappointments. If on the other hand I realize I am in charge of my happiness I can be happy regardless of the events in my life. Focusing on the feeling of betrayal prevents me from looking at the role my beliefs and expectations play in the creation of my happiness.

Unspoken expectations cause so many misunderstandings and conflict in relationships. Until they are spoken they can’t be resolved either. If I start feeling disappointed, let down or betrayed it is time for me to take a long, hard look at my expectations. Instead of focusing on the emotions I’m feeling I find it more productive to ask myself what I wanted from the person or situation.

I find writing a very powerful tool for inner exploration. I start by writing a letter to the person with absolutely no intention of ever sending it. I start out by fully expressing my emotions. I write about my anger, sadness, fear, and disappointment. After I clear out my emotions I take a few moments to get centered. I take a few deep breaths and allow myself to get quiet. Then I ask myself the following the questions: What did I want from the person or situation? Are those desires realistic? What were my expectations? Are they something I need to give to myself? Do I need to communicate my expectations? If so, to whom do I need to communicate them? And am I willing to do that?

In intimate relationships and close friendships it is often harder for me to see my expectations. Frequently I would rather be right than be happy. It is easier for me to see that I was upset with an acquaintance because I expected her to communicate her request in a more thoughtful manner but when a lover isn’t thoughtful it is harder to admit that my expectations were the cause of my upset. Do I ignore my feelings? No. Can I communicate my upset? Absolutely, but blaming someone else for how I feel doesn’t change much. If I admit my feelings are my own, clearly communicate my expectations, and then listen to what the other person expects and needs we both will know one another a little bit better. By becoming aware of our expectations and expressing them we have a much greater chance of allowing the relationship to become more intimate and we are both freer to be ourselves. I can make my decisions based on what I want while taking into account what the other person wants and needs as well.

My expectations stop me from experiencing life as it is and instead I experience what I expect. In order to experience each moment of my life fully I must be myself – without judgments, without expectations, and without fear. Knowing that I can change my experience of life by changing my expectations makes it easier to release my judgments, expectations, and fears.

If I stop focusing my attention on what happened and instead focus my attention on what I can change – myself and my reactions – life can become one magical experience after another. Even the most profound betrayal can be an opportunity for me to deepen my connection with myself. I can understand my expectations, see how they affect my choices, and choose anew. As I looked within I learned to listen to my inner voice, to trust myself, and to clearly negotiate my expectations.

Betrayal can be my greatest guide; it will lead me to my expectations every time. And if I’m willing to change my expectations I can be happy no matter what is going on in my life.

With love and aloha,