Visual descriptors of betrayal as a metaphor have often been derived out of the concept of passion, given that double crossing someone conjures up feelings of anger, resentment and cries of retribution. Realising that we have been wronged produces a surging injustice which is much more physical than other hormonal responses that we may experience. Betrayal is a complex matrix of negative emotions, encompassing the grave violation of the social contract which we all aspire to adhere to and sincerely believe that no one will breach.
We yearn to trust people with our vices and insecurities, only for them to make a mockery of our open arms and inner vulnerability. It is the blunt smashing of an illusion, where the demands and trust which we place in others succumb to the stark reality of a much lonelier place in which we truly inhabit. Despite the pedestal we bestow upon loyalty and faith, these are frail commodities that can be easily manipulated for selfishness, much to our dismay. Our visceral responses to this are, then, clearly justifiable.
But in a sense, I don’t think it is necessarily fair to describe betrayal entirely as an internal rage, despite how real it feels when it manifests as outward behaviour. Although the emotive response to the inflicted trauma is incredibly overwhelming, we often become trapped in our inability to disassociate our reaction from our noxious betrayer’s actions. In Dante’s ‘Inferno’, he documents his descent through Hell via concentric circles representing various degrees of transgressions, the Ninth Circle (the most serious of all transgressions) symbolising ‘treachery’.
Unlike the other Circles, which reflect the popular depictions of Hell as ablaze with eternal fire, Dante finds himself bound by unyielding ice and freezing winds alongside Satan in the final layer of Hell. Whilst the symbolism may illustrate treachery as cold, callous acts that strip sinners of their human warmth, it shows how, ultimately, betrayal refuses to let us move forward. We become obsessive over how someone we consider as trustworthy, ever-present or acting in our best interest can fail us with such little regard for our sacred humanity. This obsession, if not dealt with properly and processed, can leave us frozen in a never-ending cycle of blame and rejection.
It is important to keep in kind that betrayal is almost always payback (malicious or otherwise), rather than pre-meditated without provocation. The eponym of betrayal, Judas Iscariot, has been attributed with a number of reasons for why he decided to betray Jesus Christ, some of which believe that he blamed Jesus for failing his country and its values. Even if Judas’ betrayal was for no apparent monetary or political gain, it would have certainly been motivated by disillusion pervading various aspects of his personal life, so much so that he was willing to sacrifice another’s in an attempt to rectify his own lack of contentment. To betray someone is a reflection of the betrayer’s character, not the victim’s, as someone who is willing to go to the greatest of lengths to artificially pacify their dissatisfaction with the world using the goodwill of their friend.
For the majority of us in the present day, betraying another rarely changes our own personal circumstances or social status in any meaningful way, relegating us to exist in the stasis of a frozen lake. Chipping away at the core of another can never truly treat the rotting of the betrayer’s. And for those who have been betrayed, harbouring disbelief as to why such an event could have happened and how that person could have wronged us so badly submits us to the same fate; permanent fixtures within glaciers of our own torment. Thaw out and let go.
“All a man can betray is his conscience.” – Joseph Conrad