The best books on betrayal

The Books I Picked & Why

Loose Ends: Primary Papers in Archetypal Psychology

By James Hillman

Book cover of Loose Ends: Primary Papers in Archetypal Psychology

Why this book?

Hillman’s essay on Betrayal sat inside my belly like an irritating grain of sand that turned into a pearl of inner Wisdom. He said trust cannot be fully realized without betrayal because prior to betrayal we are naive. It is only after betrayal when we know the risks—only then, is genuine trust established. However, this is not about trusting your ‘betrayer’ …it is about learning to trust yourself — your inner source of wisdom and creativity that inspires you to create value out of all of life’s experiences, and rewards you with the courage to create your life anew, independent of circumstance.

Though Hillman focused on father betrayal wounds, the message is universal: “Forgiving is not forgetting…it is the remembrance of the wrong within a wider context."

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The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity

By Esther Perel

Book cover of The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity

Why this book?

In my counselling practice, I am privy to intimate details—the pain and agony of betrayal—for both the betrayed and the betrayer. When a client is in the thick of it, I recommend Esther Parel’s book. Peppered with a multitude of examples from real people’s lives, well-researched facts, and stats, Perel provides a reality – check: a contemporary snapshot into what happens in our high-tech media-driven society, when the contradiction between our hyper-sexualized culture and our ideals about fidelity collide, and how blurred the boundary between the two has become, regardless of sexual orientation and gender.

Instead of easy cookie-cutter advice, this book breaks through the feelings of isolation, hurts, shame and regrets by opening the gate to honesty and genuine intimacy.

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Myths, Rites, Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader, Volume 1

By Mircea Eliade

Book cover of Myths, Rites, Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader, Volume 1

Why this book?

Among the proliferation of contemporary self-help books, Myths, Rites and Symbols elucidated what I consider to be a 'missing link’. As Eliade described ancient and indigenous initiatory rites of passage I discovered there are specific stages of transformative growth after the shock of betrayal. Initiation ceremonies often begin with isolation and separation—an existential crisis designed to train a novice (and the reader) to confront symbolic death and embrace the unpredictable vicissitudes of life’s ordeals as spiritual tests. The process awakens self-discovery and inner wisdom, which inspires a spiritual rebirth, renewed creativity, and a purpose-driven return to life.

Eliade planted a seed in my imagination: reframe separation as a ‘sacred separation’—and use the shock of betrayal (and its many ordeals) as part of a grand, personal ceremony of initiation.

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Man’s Search for Meaning

By Viktor Frankl

Book cover of Man’s Search for Meaning

Why this book?

This is the best book to help us reckon with the ruthless cruelty engendered by betrayal of our innate humanity through inhumane actions. By chronicling the ignominy of being a Jew incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp—dealing daily with life-threatening realities, witnessing genocide, and hoping to survive—psychiatrist Viktor Frankl observed how we wrestle with suffering. Finding the capacity to be with our suffering without denying it or diminishing it, offers opportunities for “turning life into an inner triumph” that no one can take from us.

Suffering, and our response to it, determines our destiny. In clear, precise story-telling Man’s Search for Meaning invites the reader to look at their own life through a purposeful lens in which their own self-determined destiny comes into focus.

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Dangerous Friend: The Teacher-Student Relationship in Vajrayana Buddhism

By Rig'dzin Dorje

Book cover of Dangerous Friend: The Teacher-Student Relationship in Vajrayana Buddhism

Why this book?

Dangerous Friend is an Eastern wake-up call for Western ‘seekers’ and ’would-be spiritual teachers’. Drawing from Vajrayana teachers, Rig’dzin Dorje clarifies betrayal is a “final portal of freedom…in which we are able to question…our narcissistic determination to maintain the illusion of duality.” As a transpersonal psychologist, I’ve noticed sometimes Western seekers who hunger for enlightenment imagine devotion to their Spiritual Teacher will give them a ticket to ride a wave of bliss into nirvana.

A teacher must betray a student’s fantasies, attachments, and delusions, (including those about their teacher), in favor of devotion to the teachings. Despite a desire to have others be accountable to us, and responsible for us, this book confirms the necessity to cultivate Self-compassion and awareness—and to turn inward for liberation.

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