Why being betrayed hurts so much, no matter what stage of friendship you’re in
Family and Friends

Why being betrayed hurts so much, no matter what stage of friendship you’re in

You don’t have to be ride-or-die besties for betrayal to cut deep. In fact, failed new friendships can often hurt just as much.

When we think about the most painful betrayals, we’ll often picture life-long friendships falling by the wayside, or profound emotional connections fizzling.

But while not every friendship betrayal will end in flames as violently as that of Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy, even in surface-level relationships, with new friends, colleagues or acquaintances, deceit can hurt just as much. 

“Humans are tribal creatures and we have evolved to depend on each other practically and emotionally,” explains Olivia James, a Harley Street trauma specialist.

Trust is a huge part of our survival as humans, so when somebody betrays that trust, it can make you question everything. And because our friends are chosen, their deception can cut deep.

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“Friendship betrayal in particular hurts so much because friends are people who we have actively chosen to bond with,” adds Jessica Alderson, co-founder and relationship expert at So Syncd.

“We have used our own judgement to decide that they are someone we trust and want in our lives. Not only does the betrayal itself hurt, but it can also cause us to question our own judgement around relationships and it can make us wonder whether other people close to us might act in a similar way,” she says.

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“One of the most difficult friendship break-ups of my life was with someone I’d only known for two weeks,” Rianna*, 24, tells Stylist. She met Katie* while travelling, and their relationship quickly grew close. 

“When you’re travelling, relationships are accelerated because you spend so much time together,” Rianna shares.“Even after a week of knowing her, we already felt really close. We spent every day together and had already planned on visiting one another when we got home.”

Katie soon started inquiring about a casual relationship she’d started with someone else from the travel group. “I assumed she was genuinely interested in me,” Rianna says. “She asked me a lot about my feelings for him, what the sex was like and how invested I was in the relationship.

“Afterwards, when we went out as a group, the two of them disappeared together. Given that they weren’t close friends, and there was no reason for them to leave together, I immediately assumed they slept together.”

“I felt really upset by it – not because I had a lot of feelings for the person, but because I felt really manipulated by the way she tried to get information out of me beforehand. I have friends of 12 years who have never even come close to betraying me, so I took it as a pretty bad sign that she’d be willing to go behind my back like this within just weeks of friendship.”

Rianna says she initially felt embarrassed that she was so affected by the behaviour. “It made me feel stupid and that I should trust people less. One of the things I like about myself is my ability to make genuine connections with people, especially new friends, quickly. But now I wonder if I was too gullible.”

“I had really thought that Emma would become a long-term friend for me and I valued my relationship with her far more than the casual fling. But I guess I’m mourning more of what could have been than what was lost.”

How to cope when a friend betrays you
How to cope when a friend betrays you

Can a new friendship survive betrayal?

Whether a friendship can survive depends on the betrayal, the type of friendship and the individuals involved. When something like this happens, you need to make a clear decision about whether you think the friendship should end or if you want to try to work it out. Even if you both want to overcome the betrayal, there’s no guarantee it will happen.

Alderson says that the first step to overcoming a friendship betrayal is to accept your feelings.

“You probably feel deeply hurt and that’s completely normal. If you do decide to try to overcome betrayal, you need to have an honest conversation with your friend. Share your thoughts and then take the time to listen to their point of view. When you feel hurt, there is a natural tendency to focus on your own feelings but it’s essential to hear them out. . Until you communicate with someone, you don’t know what they are thinking and you might not know the full story.

“Don’t feel the need to make a quick decision because traumatic emotional events often require processing time. When you feel ready, reconnect with your friend and let them know how you think you should progress. If you choose the path of overcoming the betrayal, it probably won’t happen overnight. It will likely be a process involving regular, honest communication. Only you will know whether it’s worth the effort.”

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