A few months back a (male) friend obtained a compromising photo of me. He sent it to a friend because he was promised to be paid for it. He swore up and down that he deleted the picture and I would be given the money for it. I never expected to be paid for this, but he was a friend I trusted at the time and chose to believe the picture was deleted. Fast forward a few months. I’m at a party talking to a different friend who blurts out, “he didn’t delete the picture.” I learned he’d saved it and been showing people and bragging. When I confronted him he of course denied it. I told him how angry and embarrassed I was and have since cut off all ties to him.
My question for you is how do I cope with this embarrassing event? I realize there is not much to be done in terms of erasing all that has happened, but how can I get past it and trust people who claim to be friends? What can I do to heal the wounds this has given me?
You asked me what you can do to cope with this embarrassing event, and what steps you need to take in order to heal from this betrayal. These are good questions, and I have three ideas for you to consider, ideas I believe will help you initiate healing.
- The painful circumstances of our life are often, if not always, an invitation to address an even deeper issue than the one at hand. Think of it as the universe tapping you on the shoulder, eager to get your attention. You can ignore the tap, but rest assured, the universe will not give up. If there is a lesson to be learned, the tapping won’t end until you master the learning. I encourage you to perceive this painful experience as a gift—as an opportunity for growth. It is that perception that will empower you to do the work you need to do in order to heal.
- Only compassion can soften the blow of betrayal.
- Only love can heal humiliation.
- A Lesson To Be Learned
I want to go back to your initial interaction with your friend around the photo—despite his having shared a compromising picture of you, for money no less, you chose to focus on his assurance that he deleted it, and to trust him. You chose to trust someone who did not deserve to be trusted. My question to you: Why? Why did you choose to trust that he would not betray you again?
When we trust people we know to be untrustworthy, it is a sign that we have a big emotional need, and we are using the person in front of us as a means to meet that need. The need usually has its origin in a childhood loss—one primal in nature—and we are so busy chasing the means to meet that need, that we often end up compromising our self-respect in the process.
The need can be many things, but usually centers around maintaining the illusion of a bond…the illusion of closeness…the illusion of care….the illusion of love. We choose illusion because in our life, the real thing has been hard to come by. Because of that, we don’t just desire it, we crave it, and will sacrifice our self-respect to get it.
Trust is an expression of faith in a person—we experience the person as honest, available, reliable, and we trust. We know the person to be careful with our feelings, and we trust. If someone breaks trust, the burden shifts to that person to do right by us. I would bring these questions to the person who breaks trust:
- Why were you willing to risk hurting me?
- Why were you willing to sacrifice my trust in you? What was more important than that?
- Do you genuinely regret what you did? Why?
- Are you willing to make every effort to earn my trust back, by being honest, available, and reliable, over time?
Self-respect involves the willingness to see situations, to see people, as they are, to trust that perception, and then act upon that information in a way that sustains our personal dignity. Women are very good at getting the intuitive-perceptive piece right, but when that knowing collides with some other need we might have, or some other lacking we may possess, we often ditch the truth in favor of satiating the need.
In retrospect, you can see that after the initial betrayal, after his failure to act in any way as a friend would act, he no longer had the privilege of having your trust or having you in his life. But you let him stay in your life, because he satisfied a need. What was that need? Have you ever had that need before? When is the first time you recall sacrificing the truth of a situation because what you needed was bigger? If you can answer that question, you will discover the wound that the universe is trying to get you to address.
- Only Compassion Can Heal the Blow of Betrayal
Your friend failed to show you respect, he had no regard for your emotional space, and he used you the way one uses an object. While that sounds harsh, I am hard pressed to spin it any other way. I imagine he exploited you/the situation, in order to elevate his social status. When we tag on to exploitation of another for the sake of our own gratification, it is a sign that we are deeply diminished in the self-worth department. We use/exploit others as a quick fix to a deep longing. Believe it or not, your friend is as powerless as he made you feel.
But feeling powerless is not being powerless. Our power resides within—at our core—in the heart of our spiritual self. To access that core, we must access our ability for compassion. We regain our power with compassion. Compassion is the willingness to understand another.
This guy’s treatment of you reveals to me his fragile sense of masculinity, his adolescent view of women and sexuality, and my hunch is that he moves through the world with shaky self-esteem, and just enough bravado to compensate for that. Until he reclaims his true self and his genuine masculinity, which always involves respecting women, he will continue to harm others, and in so doing, he will perpetuate his own diminished well-being.
It’s not anyone’s job to fix him—he needs to heal himself, but it does help to understand what may have fueled his reckless disregard of you. In that way, you can de-personalize the treatment, which will help you recover enough energy to heal yourself. Without that understanding, without compassion, our energy gets used up by suffering and resentment, and then there is little left for taking good care of our self.
Compassion is empowering. Compassion for others allows us to be gentler with our own self.
- Only Love Can Heal Humiliation
I want you to love yourself. If you can’t imagine what that looks like, then imagine a young girl you are especially fond of coming to you, having endured a betrayal that left her humiliated. What would you say to her? How would you help her to hold her head high, even if others around her are whispering or mocking her? What reserve would she need to tap into in order to feel safe enough to feel proud and dignified, despite being treated in such a demeaning way?
Within us there is an infinite reserve of unconditional love—it is called grace, and it is ours for the asking. We simply have to become aware of it—we need to access it and tether our whole heart to it. Love heals. (Please see my sketch of the inner gingerbread person).
As soon as you begin to become conscious of your spiritual essence and the unconditional love within, the edges of shame, of humiliation, soften. You are precious, you are love. Humiliation is the result of thoughts—let it go.
And remember, suffering is always an invitation into the heart of love.
PS: An inquiry into Compromising Photos
Why do you send pics of yourself? Did the sharing come from a place of genuine empowerment and joy, or was it a cooperative gesture with the culture at large—a “this is what you do” sort of gesture?
Sharing a sexy photo of ourselves in and of itself is not a mistake. But I do think it’s important to get honest and ask, why did I share such a photo? In a safe space of genuine intimacy, sharing a sexy photo might be a fun and flirtatious gesture—one of many ways to stay close and connected in an intimate way. But I’m not so sure the “nude pic phenomenon” is about anything other than girls pleasing boys.
No judgment here—I just want to press the issue. Who thought it up? Who asks for the pics? Who is the vulnerable one in the exchange? How is it that it has become a cultural norm that girls offer up their bodies in pictures to be objectified by adolescent boys who came of age in a pornified culture?
If we are willing to objectify our own self, we are giving permission to others to use us—after all, that’s what objects are for—to be used. We only love objects insofar as what the object can do for us.
In our quest for sexual expression and liberation, we need to remember that there is nothing liberating about being used.