In the last reflection I referred to working with people who have suffered a betrayal and want to rebuild their life. How do I help them? Moving forward is not the same as denying the past. Moving forward acknowledges and works through the past, but it refuses to wallow in it, instead preferring to build a healing and meaningful future. So when I work with betrayed people I explore with them what they have lost, and the grief it arouses. We do grief work. As we do that I listen compassionately, guiding them to look inwards and find helpful words, and the other works to give voice to what is going on within. They become more clear about the loss and its meaning, in a way which enables them to better navigate it and move forward.
As with other losses, often this client and I will see that a central part of their grief regards the losses of value. Things that matter greatly to them have been treated as unimportant. This may include a devaluation of who they are, or of what the relationship meant, or of the identity and character of the person who betrayed them ("He isn't the person I thought I knew and loved"). At this point a self-protective instinct often kick in, in the form of psychological defence mechanisms. A primary example is anger, and as per our last reflection this means trying to hurt the person, at least in our imagination, and sometimes by other means. Or it means devaluing them, which is why people put each other down after a break-up.
That is a common and understandable reaction - as Nussbaum said in our last reflection, it serves psychological functions - but from the perspective of what is good, and of who it is good to be, or to strive toward being, this is a bad way to respond. As another philosopher, Iris Murdoch, once said “Man is a creature who makes pictures of himself and then comes to resemble that picture.” People who aim low become low. If you aim for the stars you will at least hit the tree tops.
Just thinking about the reason for your anger will arouse it. But there is a psychological trick you can play, which will turn things around. To use this trick you have to tolerate a temporary increase in anger, but it works. Things in the mind are often, as Freud put it, soldered together. Things become associated. If you crashed your car in a roundabout at sunset you may become anxious driving through them at that time of day for a while, at least until the association wears off. You can create mental associations within yourself, linking two things together by repeated practice. So whenever you become angry you can immediately turn your mind to a "transition" focus. This means having a clear vision of healing or improvement or valuing that you turn your mind to whenever you realise you have become angry. The anger then becomes a trigger for the transition to something which is the contrary of it. To something which is more worthy to you, ultimately, than the anger which may be so tempting for a time.
And this is the ultimate point: you became angry because of a devaluation that was out of your hands. But it is within your hands to revalue. You cannot control what another person does, but you can control what you do, in the world and within your own mind. It is devaluation that created your anger. You can end the anger by doing the opposite, by creating value. That is the true answer to the problem. You can choose to become more than the anger, to become a person of character, a person who is loving and just. Perhaps you already are that person, but he or she is eroded as you give in to anger. He or she grows stronger as you assert those values in the face of your anger, and even use the anger to grow in them through the trick of association. In doing so, not only do you overcome your anger, you become a better person. Living a life of value, bringing something good to the world. If you have the courage to really face up to things, you will see that this is what you really want, and admitting that means you discover a deep source of energy and determination within yourself that drives you to become this better person.