Betrayal Part 2 (of 3)

By James Hillman

Continued from Part 1

The experience of betrayal is for some as overwhelming as is jealousy or failure. For Gabriel Marcel, betrayal is evil itself. For Jean Genet, according to Sartre, betrayal is the greatest evil, as “the evil which does evil to itself”. When experiences have this bite to them, we assume an archetypal background, something all-too-human. We assume that we are likely to find a fundamental myth and pattern of behavior by which the experience can be amplified. I believe the betrayal of Jesus to be such an archetypal background, which may give us further understanding of the experience from the point of view of the betrayed one.

I’m hesitant to talk about the betrayal of Jesus. So many lessons may be drawn. But that is just the value of a living symbol: from it can be drawn an endless flow of meanings. And it is as psychologist in search of psychological meanings that I again trespass on theological grounds.

In the story of Jesus we are immediately struck by the motif of betrayal. Its occurrence in threes (by Judas, by the sleeping disciples, by Peter) — repeated by Peter’s betrayal thrice–tells us of something fateful, that betrayal is essential to the dynamics of the climax of the Jesus Story and thus betrayal is at the heart of the Christian mystery. The sorrow at the supper, the agony in the garden, and the cry on the cross seem repetitious of a same pattern, restatements of a same theme, each on a higher key, that a destiny is being realized, that a transformation is being brought home to Jesus. In each of these betrayals he is forced to the terrible awareness of having been let down, failed, and left alone. His love has been refused, his message mistaken, his call unattended, and his fate announced.

I find that our simple Jewish joke and that great symbol have things in common. The first step of betrayal by Judas was already known beforehand. Forearmed, Jesus could accept this sacrifice for the glorification of God. The impact must not yet have fully hurt Jesus, but Judas went and hanged himself. Peter’s denial was also foreknown, and again it was Peter who went and wept bitterly. Through the last week, the trust of Jesus was in the Lord. “Man of sorrows”, yes, but his primal trust was not shaken. Like the boy on the stairs, Jesus could count on his Father–and even ask His forgiveness for his tormentors–up until the last step; he and the Father were one, until that moment of truth when he was betrayed, denied and left alone by his followers, delivered into the hands of his enemies, the primal trust between himself and God broken, nailed to the irredeemable situation; then he felt in his own human flesh the reality of betrayal and the brutality of Jahweh and His creation, and then he cried the 22nd Psalm, that long lament about trust in God the Father:

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? Oh my God, I cry in the daytime and now answerest not; and in the night… Yet thou are holy… Our fathers trusted in thee: They trusted, and thou didst deliver them… They trusted in thee, and were not confounded… Thou art He that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me trust when I was on my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from my birth: thou art my God from my mother’s belly. Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help…

And then come these images of being set upon by brutal bestial forces:

Many bulls have compassed me, strong bulls have beset me round. They open wide their mouths against me as a lion… the dogs have compassed me. The company of evil doers have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and feet…

This extraordinary passage affirms that primal trust is in the paternal power, that the cry for rescue is not a cry for mothering, but that the experience of betrayal is part of a masculine mystery.

One cannot help but remark upon the accumulation of anima symbolism constellated with the betrayal motif. As the drama of betrayal unfolds and intensifies, the feminine becomes more and more apparent. Briefly, may I refer to the washing of the feet at the supper and the commandment to love; to the kiss and the silver; to the agony of the Gethsemane–a garden, at night, the cup and the salty sweat pouring like drops of blood; to the wounded ear; to the image of the barren women on the way to Golgotha; to the warning from a dream of Pilate’s wife; to the degradation and suffering, the gall and bitter sop, the nakedness and weakness; the ninth hour darkness and the abundance of Marys; and I refer especially to the wound in the side at the helpless moment of death, as Eve was torn from Adam’s side. And finally, the discovery of the risen Christ, in white, by women.

It would seem that the message of love, the Eros mission of Jesus, carries its final force only through the betrayal and crucifixion. For at the moment when God lets him down, Jesus becomes truly human, suffering a human tragedy, with his pierced and wounded side from which flows the water and blood, the released fountain of life, feeling, and emotion. (This blood symbolism has been amplified extensively in the works of Emma Jung and M.L. von Franz on the Grail.) The puer quality, the position of fearless safety of the miracle preacher, is gone. The puer God dies when the primal trust is broken, and the man is born. And the man is born only when the feminine in him is born. God and man, father and son no longer are one. This is a radical change in the masculine cosmos. After Eve was born from sleeping Adam’s side, evil becomes possible; after the side of the betrayed and dying Jesus was pierced, love becomes possible.

The critical moment of the “great let down”, when one is crucified by one’s own trust, is a most dangerous moment of what Frances Wickes would call “choice”. Matters may go either way for the boy who picks himself up from the floor; his resurrection hangs in the balance. He may be unable to forgive and so remain fixated in the trauma, revengeful, resentful, blind to any understanding and cut off from love. Or he may turn in the direction which I hope to sketch in the rest of my remarks.

But before we turn to the possible fruitful outcome of betrayal, let us stay awhile with the sterile choices, with the danger which appear after betrayal.

The first of these dangers is revenge. And eye for an eye; evil for evil; pain for pain. Revenge is natural for some, coming immediately without question. If performed directly as an act of emotional truth, it may be cleansing. It may settle the score without, of course, producing any new results. Revenge does not lead to anything further, but counter-revenge and feuding. It is not psychologically productive because it merely abreacts tension. When revenge is delayed and turns into plotting, lying low and waiting your chances, it begins to smell of evil, breeding fantasies of cruelty and vindictiveness. Revenge delayed, revenge refined into indirect methods can become obsessional, narrowing the focus from the event of betrayal and its meaning to the person of the betrayer and his shadow. Therefore, Saint Thomas Aquinas justifies revenge only when it is against the larger evil and not against the perpetrator of that evil. The worst of revenge, psychologically, is its mean and petty focus, it’s shrinking effect on consciousness.

The next of these dangers, these wrong though natural turns, is the defense mechanism of denial. If one has been let down in a relationship, one is tempted to deny the value of the other person; to see, sudden and at once, the other’s shadow, a vast panoply of vicious demons which were of course simply not there in primal trust. These ugly sides of the other suddenly revealed are all compensations for, an enantiodromia of, previous idealizations. The grossness of the sudden revelations indicates the previous gross unconsciousness of the anima. For we must assume that wherever there is bitter complaint over betrayal, there was a background of primal trust, of childhood’s unconscious innocence where ambivalence was repressed. Eve had not yet come on the scene, was not recognized as part of the situation, was repressed.

I mean by this that the emotional aspects of the involvement, especially the feeling judgments–that continuous stream of evaluations running within every connection–were just not admitted. Before betrayal the relationship denied the anima aspect; after betrayal the relationship is denied by the anima resentments. An involvement that is unconscious of the anima is either mostly projected, as in a love affair, or mostly repressed, as in an all-too-masculine friendship of ideas and “working together”. Then the anima can call attention to herself only by making trouble. Gross unconsciousness of the anima is simply taking the emotional part of the relationship for granted, in animal faith, a primal trust that there is no problem, that what one believes and says and “has in mind” about it is enough, that it works all by itself, ca va tout seul. Because one failed to bring overtly into a relationship the hope one had for it, the need for growing together in mutuality and with duration–all of which are constellated as ultimate possibilities in any close relationship–one turns the other way and denies hopes and expectations altogether.

But the sudden shift from gross unconsciousness to gross consciousness belongs to any moment of truth and is rather evident. And so it is not the main danger.

More dangerous is cynicism. Disappointment in love, with a political cause, an organization, a friend, superior, or analyst often leads to a change of attitude in the betrayed one which not only denies the value of the particular person and the relationship, but all becomes a Cheat, causes are for Saps, organizations Traps, hierarchies Evil, and analysis nothing but prostitution, brainwashing, and fraud. Keep sharp; watch out. Get the other before he gets you. Go it alone. I’m alright, Jack–the veneer to hide the scars of broken trust. From broken idealism is patched together a tough philosophy of cynicism.

It is well possible that we encounter this cynicism–especially in younger people–because enough attention has not been paid to the meaning of betrayal, especially in the transformation of the puer eternus. As analysts we have not worked it through to its significance in the development of feeling life, as if it were a dead end in itself out of which no phoenix could arise. So, the betrayed one vows never to go so high again on the stairs. He remains grounded in the world of a dog, Kynis, cynical. This cynical view, because it prevents working through to a positive meaning of betrayal, forms a vicious circle, and the dog chases his own tail. Cynicism, that sneer against one’s own star, is a betrayal of one’s own ideals, a betrayal of one’s own highest ambitions as carried by the puer archetype. When he crashes, everything to do with him is rejected. This leads to the fourth, and I believe main, danger: self betrayal.

Self-betrayal is perhaps what we are really most worried about. And one of the ways it may come about is as a consequence of having been betrayed. In the situation of trust, in the embrace of love, or to a friend, or with a parent, partner, analyst, one lets something open. Something comes out that had been held in: “I never told this before in my whole life”. A confession, a poem, a love-letter, a fantastic invention or scheme, a secret, a childhood dream or fear–which holds one’s deepest values. At the moment of betrayal, these delicate and very sensitive seed-pearls become merely grit, grains of dust. The love letter becomes silly sentimental stuff, and the poem, the fear, the dream, the ambition, all reduced to something ridiculous, laughed at boorishly, explained in barnyard language as merde, just so much crap. The alchemical process is reversed: the gold turned back into feces, one’s pearls cast before swine. For the swine are not others from whom one must keep back one’s secret values, but the boorish materialistic explanations, the reductions to dumb simplicities of sex drive and milk hunger, which gobble everything up indiscriminately; one’s own pig headed insistence that the best was really the worst, the dirt into which one casts away one’s precious values.

It is a strange experience to find oneself betraying oneself, turning against one’s own experiences by giving them the negative values of the shadow and by acting against one’s own intentions and value system. In the breakup of a friendship, a partnership, marriage, love affair, or analysis, suddenly the nastiest and dirtiest appears and one finds oneself acting in the same blind and sordid way that one attributes to the other, and justifying one’s own actions with an alien value system. One is truly betrayed, handed over to an enemy within. And the swine turn and rend you.

The alienation from one’s self after betrayal is largely protective. One doesn’t want to be hurt again, and since this hurt came about through revealing just what one is, one begins not to live from that place again. So one avoids, betrays oneself, by not living one’s stage of life (a middle-aged divorcee with no one to love) or one’s sex (I’m through with men and will be just as ruthless as they) or one’s type (my feeling, or intuition, or whatever, was all wrong) or one’s vocation (psychotherapy is really a dirty business). For it was just through this trust in these fundamentals of one’s own nature that one was betrayed. So we refuse to be what we are, begin to cheat ourselves with excuses and escapes, and self betrayal becomes nothing other than Jung’s definition of neurosis uneigentlich leiden, inauthentic suffering. One no longer lives one’s own form of suffering, but through mauvaise foi, through lack of courage to be, one betrays oneself.

This is ultimately, I suppose, a religious problem, and we are rather like Judas or Peter in letting down the essential thing, the essential important demand to take on and carry one’s own suffering and be what one is no matter how it hurts.

Besides revenge, denial, cynicism, and self betrayal, there is yet one other negative turn, one other danger, which let us call paranoid. Again it is a way of protecting oneself against ever being betrayed again, by building the perfect relationship. Such relationships demand a loyalty oath; they tolerate no security risks. “You must never let me down” is the motto. Treachery must be kept out by affirmations of trust, declarations of everlasting fidelity, proofs of devotion, sworn secrecy. There must be no flaw; betrayal must be excluded

But if betrayal is given with trust, as the opposite seed buried within it, then this paranoid demand for a relationship without the possibility of betrayal cannot really be based on trust. Rather it is a convention devised to exclude risk. As such it belongs less to love than to power. It is a retreat to a logos relationship, enforced by word, not held by love.

One cannot re-establish primal trust once one has left Eden. One now knows that promises hold only to a certain point. Life takes care of vows, fulfilling them or breaking them. And new relationships after the experience of betrayal must start from an altogether different place. The paranoid distortion of human affairs is serious indeed. When an analyst (or husband, lover, disciple, or friend) attempts to meet the requirements of a paranoid relationship, by giving assurances of loyalty, by ruling out treachery, he is moving surely away from love. For as we have seen and shall come to again, love and treachery come from the same left side.

Continue reading: Part 3 of 3

From the (out of print) collection Loose Ends by James Hillman ©1975 Spring Publications.

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