Stages of Grief Over Betrayal
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Phil WaldrepPhil Waldrep is the founder and CEO of Phil Waldrep Ministries and the wildly popular Women of Joy, Gridiron and Celebrators conferences. Waldrep’s vision to speak encouragement into the lives of people unite powerful Bible teachers and speakers now inspires nearly 60,000 annual attendees. He is also author of the acclaimed parenting book, “Reaching Your Prodigal.”
When Phil Waldrep’s friend betrayed him a second time, the hurt of this man’s actions caused a struggle that wasn’t easy to recover from. Waldrep walks us through the various stages of grief he dealt with.
Stages of Grief Over Betrayal
Bob: As a pastor and Bible teacher, Phil Waldrep knew that, if someone betrayed him, he had a responsibility before God to forgive that person. But when betrayal happened, Phil recognized there were some things about forgiveness he still needed to learn.
Phil: I had always misunderstood forgiveness. I thought if I forgave someone, it meant I had to immediately restore the relationship to the same level it was before the betrayal; meaning, if I forgave him, that meant I had to hire him again. I’m like, “No! Forgiveness does not mean I have to restore the relationship at the same level it was before the betrayal.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, September 15th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What does it look like to forgive a betrayer? What’s included in that forgiveness and what isn’t? We’re going to talk today with Phil Waldrep about that. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think most people are familiar with the famous five stages of grief—you know, that when somebody experiences grief, there are these stages you walk through.
Dave: I’ve been going through those for years with the Detroit Lions. [Laughter]
Ann: You have, actually!
Bob: —as the chaplain.
Dave: I think I’m still in anger.
Bob: The losingest chaplain in the NFL. [Laughter]
It’s interesting—because you can follow people on a journey, often, when they’ve experienced deep grief. We’re talking this week about the issue of betrayal. There are stages that we go through, when we experience betrayal, that kind of mirror those stages of grief; but there [is] some uniqueness to this as well.
Dave: I also think you don’t get to the other side of betrayal—to forgiveness—without going through. It isn’t like: “I can fly over this tunnel,” “I can drive around…”—no; you have to go through that dark tunnel. It’s going to be chaotic, and it’s not going to be fun; but at the end of it, there is light; but you’re not going to get there unless you go through.
Bob: You’re saying that, if somebody becomes aware of betrayal, and their first response is, “I forgive you,” they probably—
Dave: —probably not.
Bob: —haven’t really dealt with this at all.
Ann: I think there is a lot of talk around the grief process, but I don’t think there’s a lot of help in the betrayal process.
Bob: Well, there is now—[Laughter] —because Phil Waldrep, who is joining us on FamilyLife Today, has written on this. Phil, welcome back.
Phil: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Bob: Phil is a ministry leader, an author, a speaker. We’ve talked about the fact that I think of him as the go-to person on the issue of prodigals with what he’s written and how he’s spoken on that. Now, the book he’s written, called Beyond Betrayal, gives us a path to follow when trust has been violated and when we’ve experienced betrayal, whether it’s in a marriage and family setting or in a workplace setting.
You’ve already shared with us about your own experience of profound betrayal with a friend and coworker, who was leading a double life and, ultimately, had to leave the ministry. His marriage ended as a result of what came out. That awareness that your friend had betrayed you was just the beginning of what became a years’-long journey for you to walk the path of healing from the betrayal you experienced.
Phil: It was; and for me, it was understanding that this process would take time. I began to think that there were certain things that happened that I would be beyond it; for example, okay, his last day in the office; and now he’s gone; and I’m beyond it/moved out of the area; I will be beyond it.
None of those things I was able to get beyond the betrayal, because the issue was not him; the issue was me. Now, granted, he was the one who sinned/he was the one who betrayed me; but at this point, it’s God dealing with my life and helping to heal the hurts in my life, but also helping me to come to the place where I could genuinely forgive him and behold once again.
Bob: This was somebody who had represented himself one way in terms of ministry work, saying, “I’m going to go to this city for this reason”; there was another purpose that you didn’t know about. “This money is for this”; there were other purposes. When all of this came to light, you entered into what is kind of the beginning point when you understand betrayal—you got angry; didn’t you?
Phil: I did. In fact, before I got angry, I denied it. Even when I got through the experience, you still try to find reasons to say, “This didn’t happen,” or to say—sometimes people have even said: “Well, I knew it was going to happen,” “I saw it coming,”—“We’re going to be strong.” But I kept trying to deny it in my own life; because for me, I was feeling guilty because: “How can I have been so dumb?”
One of the things that didn’t help—and let me say this for all of those, who are listening, who have been through a betrayal—your spouse has been unfaithful—there are always/I call them “the friends of Job.” You remember Job in the Old Testament?
Phil: Friends come; you’re going through a crisis, and they give you advice. I’ve always thought it was rather interesting—when you read the Book of Job, we find in the first three chapters what happened to Job; but for the next twenty-seven or twenty-eight chapters is the advice of his friends.
When you go through a betrayal, there are a lot of people who will step into your life to give you advice. Now, usually the advice starts this way: “Well, I thought about coming and telling you what I saw and what I knew,” and then you get angry at them!
Phil: “Why didn’t you come tell me? Why didn’t you…” They’re trying to—they’re really trying to sympathize with you or empathize with you; they really are trying to be helpful. Then, of course, they start telling you all of their betrayals. Generally, they haven’t healed from their betrayals, so then we start having pity parties; and we start comparing, “Well, your betrayal is worse than my betrayal.”
In fact, it’s interesting—one of the harshest letters that I’ve received, after Beyond Betrayal/this book came out, was from a lady, who said, “You don’t know what betrayal is.” She told me about her very painful marriage. I wrote her back and I said, “No, marriage is—when a spouse has been unfaithful, I think that is probably the deepest betrayal you can experience,” and very close to that would be a sexual abuse situation. I am in no way comparing a business to that; but the pain is still real, regardless of what the betrayal is.
Once I got through the denial, and I had to come to the realization, I did get angry. Now, people think of anger as throwing things and screaming at people; I didn’t do that. For one thing, I’m in ministry— [Laughter]
Ann: So you just faked it!
Phil: You know, I have to do that alone with the Lord.
But inwardly, I was angry towards the Lord—I was, “How could You let this happen? Why didn’t You let me see what was going on?” I was angry toward Him. I was angry, at one point for a brief time, towards his wife, because she knew; but she was dealing with her own pain. Why didn’t other people, who I found out later were aware of some things, but they didn’t come tell me? I was so angry. You know, Paul said, “Be angry and sin not.” I don’t think anger in and of itself is sinful; I mean, Paul made that very clear. It’s what I do with that anger.
You know, when I see people, who get involved in human trafficking, that makes me angry; but I want to channel that in a constructive, helpful, productive way. But when anger reaches and grips your heart, and it begins to control you, and control your thoughts and your actions, that’s not healthy.
Bob: That’s what the Bible means when it says that: “The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
Bob: If we’re not handling it rightly, it can be very destructive.
Dave: And most people don’t—
Bob: That’s true!
Dave: —even in ministry.
So you didn’t throw things—you said—what’d you do?
Phil: Well, you know, there’s something—and I recommend this in my book, Beyond Betrayal—there’s something I did that I have done for years, but I had not done it to that level. I’d always been a person who kept a journal. Now, I originally kept a journal because there are so many things going on in ministry you forget—and “I was here,” and “I was there,”—and you want to preserve that for your family and for ministry.
But I never really poured my feelings into my journal. I began to sit down every day and, in my journal, told the Lord, and even in some cases my friend, on paper, exactly what I was feeling.
Ann: Sounds like something David did.
Phil: That’s true! In fact, you know, when you read the Book of Psalms—I tell people the Book of Psalms is really a book of David’s feelings of betrayal—
Phil: —he put how he felt.
Now, there were times that I wrote things on paper—I have to be honest—I shredded it when I got through. I don’t even know if I want to read it again. But what I discovered was, by putting words to paper, it allowed me to process what was taking place. Unfortunately, many times when we’re angry, we verbalize it to other people; and you can’t take back words you say. You can’t take back what you said to your child, or your spouse, or your neighbor, or your best friend, or your pastor what you said in anger.
You know, as someone who travels and speaks in churches all the time, one of the reasons why I talk about betrayal is—I discovered most people in the church have never processed the betrayal in their church well. Now, we call that unforgiveness, but they haven’t processed it. One of the things I want to have people do is process it. For me, to deal with the anger stage was put it to paper/write it down.
Bob: I think of my own journey here; and my tendency, Phil, is going to be to jump past how I’m feeling and go to how I think I’m supposed to be feeling and write that down. That’s because: “I’m a good Christian; and I know good Christians aren’t supposed to feel this way, so I’ll just compartmentalize how I’m feeling and write down how I think I’m supposed to be feeling.”
Ann: You’re much more self-controlled than I am! [Laughter]
Bob: But that’s not what David did; that’s not what the Book of Psalms does. There’s something that’s actually—God wants us to enter into and own up to and say: “No; let’s not go to where you’re supposed to be. Let’s go to where you really are, and let’s be honest about that; because that’ll help you get to where you need to be.”
Ann: I think this is a really good step, because I know that I felt a betrayal with a woman that I knew. I felt like she had, not only betrayed me, but then she was gossiping about me. Instead of going to God and journaling what I was feeling, I would get on my computer, and I’m getting ready to send an email. I’m telling you—I just vented all of it. But I was wise enough, then, to take that to God and say—I’m right about to hit the “Send”—and I said, “Lord, can I send this?” because I wanted to; because in betrayal, you want to hurt the other person.
Every single time I was about to hit that “Send,” God would bring me back to Luke; and every time, I would hear this: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad…” Every time, I felt like God was saying, “Love your enemies; do good to those who hurt you.” Not that you don’t put boundaries up; but every time I felt like, “Okay, I need to go to God before I go to my computer and send an email, because God is the one that can sift through the anger and the betrayal first.” That’s been helpful.
Phil: There were a few days when I wrote those emails.
Ann: You did?
Phil: Yes; but here’s what I did—the Lord told me I could write all the emails I wanted and I could send them, provided that I used an email address that came back to me.
Ann: Oh, see that’s smart. [Laughter]
Phil: I sent it; I got the feelings of having sent it, but then it went over here to an email box that only went to me. That sounds trivial, but—
Ann: It’s therapeutic.
Phil: —but it’s very helpful to put it to paper. That’s what David did.
Bob: There’s another part of this anger that—you talk about this in the book—in betrayal, we move into isolation. Do we isolate ourselves, or do we find ourselves isolated because of the betrayal?
Phil: We isolate ourselves because we don’t want to be hurt again. I think there’s a natural tendency for us to think, “A person or persons [have] hurt me. The best way to prevent future pain is to isolate myself from people.” We think—if we build this big wall around our heart—“If I build it high enough to keep people out, I’ll never be hurt again.”
The problem is—a wall high enough to keep people out is a wall high enough to keep love out. God created us for relationships, and He created us for love. If He didn’t, He would have created the earth with millions of little islands and given us all our own island. [Laughter] But He didn’t do that; He created us to interact with people.
So we don’t want to isolate ourselves emotionally. You know, you can be physically present and yet be absent all at the same time. You know, you want to be present; you don’t want to hurt the people who hurt you. I don’t know who said this; I’ve searched several places and I find it is always attributed to someone who’s anonymous, but it really spoke to me—it said, “If you don’t heal what hurts you, you will bleed on people who didn’t cut you.”
Ann: Ooh, that’s good.
Phil: That really helped me to understand that I was—you know, it was affecting my wife; it was affecting my kids; it was affecting other people in our ministry, even though I thought I was walking with God and I was spiritual.
Bob: Your point’s a great one. We isolate because we’ve just had the experience of a violation of trust and what we thought was love and safe—it’s not—so we think, “Well, I can’t go near relationships anymore, because that’s the danger/that’s the threat.” We have to recognize: “No; God made us for relationships; first for a relationship with Him, and then for a relationship with others. Isolation’s not an option that we can live with.”
Phil: Right, and it’s not healthy. I mean, there’s a reason why our Lord created the church; it was for us to be with people, who had been through their own experiences. One of the things that was helpful to me was I found myself drawn to some older senior adult believers that I know, 20 years ago/50 years ago, had gone through a betrayal. Some of them were willing—75-, 80-, 85-year-olds—would go to lunch with me, and they just let me tell my story. Then they looked at me—and they didn’t tell me their stories; because most of them, I knew their stories—but they walked through what the Lord had taught them. They kept assuring me, “You’re going to get there with time.”
I’ll tell you one of the things I learned during that experience that was so helpful for me. I had always misunderstood forgiveness. I’ll explain how: I thought, if I forgave someone, it meant I had to immediately restore the relationship to the same level it was before the betrayal; meaning, if I forgave him, that meant I had to hire him again.
A lady recently—we were talking, and she was struggling with forgiveness—and she said, “You know, my ex-husband molested our child. But if I forgive him, does that mean I have to bring him back into the household?” It was a stepfather situation. I’m like, “No! No, no! Forgiveness does not mean I have to restore the relationship at the same level.”
In fact, it’s speculation, but it’s worth considering: “What if Judas had repented? What would have been his role in the New Testament church? Would he have been at the level of an apostle, or would he have just been an average member?” Now, that’s total speculation, and it’s a little dangerous to go there, but think of that thought for just a moment. Forgiveness does not mean I have to restore the relationship at the same level; only trust can do that.
Bob: Yes; here’s the illustration I’ve used. Your 18-year-old son comes home; and he says, “Mom/Dad, I was driving too fast tonight and I got into a wreck; and it dinged up the fender…” You say, “Are you okay?” “Yes; I’m okay.” “How much damage to the car?” “Well, I think it’s pretty damaged.” He says, “I’m so sorry; I shouldn’t have been driving that fast; will you forgive me?” You say, “Of course we forgive you.” Then he says, “Can I have the keys to Mom’s car?” You go, “No, we’re not giving you the keys to Mom’s car. We have some work to do.” Forgiveness and rebuilding trust are two completely different functions.
Now, you can’t start rebuilding trust if forgiveness hasn’t happened; but you can’t assume that, because forgiveness has happened, trust has been restored or that it can ever be fully restored, given the level of the betrayal.
Phil: You know, it’s interesting—in the Bible, we are told to encourage people, love people, exhort people; and we’re told many times to trust God. But do you know that there’s not one verse in the Bible that tells you to trust people?—not one—because trust must be earned. We trust people either based on our personal experience or through someone we trust in their experience.
You know, I came here today to do this interview. Granted, that’s because I’ve been here before; but if it was my first visit, I’m like, “I don’t know these people. Are they going to do what they say they do? No; but there are people that I know/that I trust, who have been here before.” Now, that’s a simple illustration, but it’s the same thing in life.
When someone has shattered the trust, they need to understand it takes time to build that trust. You know, I don’t walk out of here today and walk out here and see somebody on the street I’ve never seen before/never met, and I say, “Look, I need to run down here. Would you mind holding my wallet while I go?” You don’t do that, because I don’t know that person. Trust is something that takes time. Once it is shattered, it has to be put back together with time.
That’s the reason why, again, I say: “Every person, who is the betrayer, you must be accountable. If you’re trying to rebuild your marriage, you have to say, ‘You can look at my phone every time; here are all of my passwords. If I’m somewhere, and I’m a little longer than I need to be, I’m going to call. You have permission to call.’” I say to the betrayer: “That may be a little bit of a burden to you, but you need to understand that’s the only way you’re going to rebuild trust.”
Dave: I mean, you can knock down a Lego® set in five seconds; and it’s going to take a day, maybe, to rebuild.
Here’s a question: “Can you forgive someone and not be reconciled in the relationship?”
Phil: I think so.
Phil: I’ll tell you the reason why; and again, I’ll use the painful experience of sexual abuse. A dear friend, who was terribly sexually abused when she was a child by her father—and years later, he came to know the Lord—and he wanted her forgiveness. She walked through that experience; she forgave him; but she said to him, “Dad, I don’t want you around my children. I just don’t feel comfortable with you being around my children.” People judged her for that; they said, “Oh, you shouldn’t do that.” She said, “No; I’m not comfortable. I’ve forgiven my dad.”
For me, and I think scripturally, forgiveness means: “I give up my rights to revenge. When I get the opportunity to get even with you, I choose not to get even.” That means, if I’m in a situation and someone says something nice about the person who betrayed me, I don’t feel this need to settle the score, or to correct the gossip, or to send emails. No; I can sit there and say, “I wish God’s best.” I don’t have to clarify to everybody what they did to me. Forgiveness means that I don’t get the right to be even.
I’ll tell you—one of the days/there were a couple of days that I knew I had forgiven the person who betrayed me. One of those was—20 years later, I get a phone call. He’s applied for a job, and they wanted a reference. I’m thinking, “What am I going to say?” I told the Lord, “Lord, I need wisdom,” and it was like the Lord just spoke to my heart and said, “Answer their questions.”
They asked me two or three things concerning his work ethic; and they said, “Thank you,” and hung up the phone. I didn’t say anything unkind; I didn’t say anything untruthful. The Lord let me have that experience to realize I really had forgiven him.
Dave: One of the fruit or benefits of real forgiveness is freedom.
Dave: You’re not controlled anymore by that person, and you had freedom. When I forgave my dad—I’ve stood on my church stage many times and said to the men and anybody, really—“I’m free.” I wasn’t free until I was 35 years old. I don’t think I became a man until 35; because I was sort of in bondage to a man, who walked out on me when I was a little boy; and I couldn’t forgive him. Actually, I could; I chose not to until I allowed God to do it.
But the freedom that comes when you can love them, and wish them well, and give up your right to punish is something that’s beautiful. You experienced that. In that moment, you had freedom to go, “I don’t have to control this situation; I can bless him.”
Phil: And they don’t control me anymore.
Ann: That’s a big one.
Bob: You have to know there are people who can relate to the pain we’ve talked about today/can relate to the isolation we’ve talked about today. They’re not at a place where they can relate to the freedom or to the forgiveness. They’re still on this journey and in process. This is where I think you need people around you, who are not like Job’s friends—[Laughter]—but who will sit with you; and in your pain, be with you. You need people who can coach you and counsel you. You need a book like the book Phil’s written, Beyond Betrayal: Overcome Past Hurts and Begin to Trust Again.
In fact, we’re making your book available this week, Phil, to any of our listeners who have experienced betrayal; or if you know someone who is going through this and you want to help them, get a copy of Phil’s book, Beyond Betrayal. It’s our thank-you gift this week when you support the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today. This is something we have been helping couples with for decades, because betrayal in marriage is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome. When trust has been violated, trying to rebuild trust is not something you do overnight. You don’t do this in a few weeks with a couple of counseling sessions. This takes time, and it takes consistency; it takes humility; it takes a work of the Holy Spirit.
FamilyLife Today exists to help effectively develop godly marriages and families, first of all to keep betrayal from happening, but to help us understand how to respond when it does happen and how to rebuild a relationship. Again, if you can help with a donation to help the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today continue, go to FamilyLifeToday.com—donate online—or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and be sure to ask for your copy of Phil Waldrep’s book, Beyond Betrayal. It’s our appreciation gift to you for your partnership with us, here, in the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We are grateful; and we’re happy to send a copy of Phil’s book out to you as a way of saying, “Thank you.”
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about the process of rebuilding trust: what that includes; how you can figure out if somebody really is trustworthy again or not. That’s not an exact science. We’ll talk more about it tomorrow. Phil Waldrep will be with us again; I hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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