The complete version of this excellent and important article has been out of print for some time, although there is an edited version in A Blue Fire, Hillman’s ‘greatest hits’ collection. I’m indebted to Black Sun Journal, for posting this and hope that they don’t mind me reposting it – it is, of course © copyright James Hillman, and I encourage you to buy and read his published work.
There is a Jewish story, an ordinary Jewish Joke. It runs like this: A father was teaching his little son to be less afraid, to have more courage, by having him jump down the stairs. He placed his boy on the second stair and said, “Jump, and I’ll catch you.” and the boy jumped. Then the father placed him on the third stair, saying “Jump, and I”ll catch you.” Though the boy was afraid, he trusted his father, did what he was told, and jumped into his father’s arms. Then the father put him on the next step, and the next step, each time telling him, Jump, and I’ll catch you, and each time the boy jumped and was caught by his father. And so this went on. Then the boy jumped from a very high step, just as before; but this time the father stepped back, and the boy fell flat on his face. As he picked himself up, bleeding and crying, the father said, “that will teach you: never trust a Jew, even if it’s your own father.”
This story–for all its questionable anti-Semitism–has more to it than that, especially since it’s more likely a Jewish story. I believe has something to say to our theme–betrayal. For example: Why must a boy be taught not to trust? And not to trust a Jew? And not to trust his own father? What is it mean to be betrayed by one’s father, or to be betrayed by someone close? What does it mean to a father, to a man, to betray someone who trusts him? To what end betrayal at all in psychological life? These are our questions.
We must try to make a beginning somewhere. I prefer in this case to make this beginning “In the beginning”, with the Bible, even though as a psychologist I may be trespassing on the grounds of theology. But even though a psychologist, I do not want to begin at the usual beginnings of psychologists, with that other theology, that other Eden: the infant and its mother.
Trust and betrayal were no issues for Adam, walking with God in the evenings. The image of the garden as the beginning of the human condition shows what we might call “primal trust”, or what Santayana has called “animal faith”, a fundamental belief–despite worry, fear, and doubt–that the ground underfoot is really there, that it will not give away at the next step, that the Sun will rise tomorrow and the sky not fall on our heads, and that God did truly make the world for man. This situation of primal trust, presented as the archetypal image of Eden, is repeated in individual lives of child and parent. As Adam in animal faith at the beginning trusts God, so does the boy at the beginning trust his father. In both, God and father is the paternal image: reliable, firm, stable, just, that Rock of Ages whose word is binding. This paternal image can also be expressed by the Logos concept, by the immutable power and sacredness of the masculine word.
But we are no longer in that garden. Eve put an end to that naked dignity. Since the expulsion, the Bible records a history of the trails of many sorts: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Laban, Joseph sold by his brother’s and their father deceived, Pharaoh’s broken promises, calf worship behind Moses’ back, Saul, Samson, Job, God’s rages and the creation almost annulled–on and on, culminating in the central myth of our culture: the betrayal of Jesus.
Although we are no longer in that garden, we can return to it through any close relationship, for instance, love, friendship, analysis, where a situation of primal trust is reconstituted. This has been variously called the temenos, the analytical vessel, the mother-child symbiosis. Here, there is again the security of Eden. But the security–or at least the kind of temenos to which I refer–is masculine, given by the Logos, through the promise, the covenant, the word. It is not a primal trust of breasts, milk and skin warmth; it is similar but different, and I believe the point worth taking that we do not always have to go to mother for our models as the basics in human life.
In this security, based not on flesh but on word, primal trust has been reestablished and so the primal world can be exposed in safety–the weakness in darkness, the naked helplessness of Adam, the earliest man in ourselves. Here, we are somehow delivered over to our simplest nature, which contains the best and least in us, the million year old past and the seed ideas of the future.
The need for security within which one can expose one’s primal world, where one can deliver oneself up and not be destroyed, is basic and evident in analysis. This need for security may reflect needs for mothering, but from the paternal pattern within which we are talking, the need is for closeness with God, as Adam, Abraham, Moses, and the patriarchs knew.
What one longs for is not only to be contained in perfection by another who can never let one down. It goes beyond trust and betrayal by the other in a relationship. What one longs for is a situation where one is protected from one’s OWN treachery and ambivalence, one’s own Eve. In other words, primal trust in the paternal world means being in that garden with God and all things but Eve. The primeval world is pre-Eve’l, as it is also pre-evil. To be one with God in primal trust offers protection from one’s own ambivalence. One cannot ruin things, desire, deceive, seduce, tempt, cheat, blame, confuse, hide, flee, steal, lie, spoil the creation oneself through one’s own feminine nature, betray through one’s own left-handed unconsciousness in the treachery of the anima who is that source of evil in Eden and of ambivalence in every Adam since. We want a Logos security where the word is truth and it cannot be shaken.
Of course, a longing for primal trust, a longing to be at one with the old wise Self, where I and the father are one, without interference of the anima, is easily recognized as typical of the puer aeternus who stands behind all boyishness. He never wants to be sent down from Eden, for there he knows the name of everything in creation, there fruit grows on the trees and can be had for the picking, there is no toil, and long interesting discussions can be carried on in the cool of the evening.
Not only does he know; he expects to be known, totally, as If God’s omniscience is focused all upon him. This perfect knowledge, this sense of being wholly understood, affirmed, recognized, blessed for what one is, discovered to oneself and known to God, by God, in God repeats itself in every situation of primal trust, so that one feels only my best friend, my wife, my analyst truly understands me through and through. That they do not, that they misperceive and fail to recognize one’s essence (which must anyway be revealed through living and not concealed and turned in on itself), feels a bitter betrayal.
It would seem from the Biblical tale that God recognized that he is not help enough for man, that something other was needed more meet for man than God himself. Eve had to be created, evoked, pulled out of man himself, which then led to the break of primal trust by betrayal. Eden was over; life began.
This way of understanding the tale implies that the situation of primal trust is not viable for life. God and the creation were not enough for Adam; Eve was required, which means that betrayal is required. It would seem that the only way out of that garden was through betrayal and expulsion, as if the vessel of trust cannot be altered in any way except through betrayal. We are led to an essential truth about both trust and betrayal; they contain each other. You cannot have trust without the possibility of betrayal. It is the wife who betrays her husband, and the husband who cheats his wife; partners and friends deceive, the mistress uses her lover for power, the analyst discloses his patient’s secrets, the father lets his son fall. The promise made is not kept, the word given is broken, trust becomes treachery.
We are betrayed in the very same close relationships where primal trust is possible. We can be truly betrayed only where we truly trust–by brothers, lovers, wives, husbands, not by enemies, not by strangers. The greater the love and loyalty, the involvement and commitment, the greater the betrayal. Trust has in it the seed of betrayal; the serpent was in the garden from the beginning, just as Eve was pre-formed in the structure around Adam’s heart. Trust and the possibility of betrayal come into the world at the same moment. Wherever there’s trust in a union, the risk of betrayal becomes a real possibility. And betrayal, as a continual possibility to be lived with, belongs to trust just as doubt belongs to living faith.
If we take this tale as a model for the advance in life from the “beginning of things”, then it may be expected that primal trust will be broken if relationships are to advance; and, moreover, that the primal trust will not just be outgrown. There will be a crisis, a break characterized by betrayal, which according to the tail is the sine qua non for the expulsion from Eden into the “real” world of human consciousness and responsibility.
For we must be clear that to live or love only where one can trust, where there is security and containment, where one cannot be hurt or let down, where what is pledged in words is forever binding, means really to be out of harm’s way and so to be out of real life. And it does not matter what is this vessel of trust–analysis, marriage, church or law, any human relationship. Yes, I would even say relationship with the divine. Even here, primal trust would not seem to be what God wants. Look at Eden, look at Job, at Moses denied entrance to the Holy land, look at the newest destruction of his “chosen people” whose complete only trust was in him. [I am implying that Jewish primal trust in God was betrayed by the Nazi experience, requiring a thoroughgoing re-orientation of the Jewish attitude, of Jewish theology, in terms of anima, a recognition of the ambivalent feminine side of both God and of man.]
If one can give oneself assured that one will come out intact, maybe even enhanced, then what has been given? If one leaps were there are always arms to take one up, there is no real leap. All risk of ascent is annulled–but for the thrill of flying through the air, there is no difference between the second step, the seventh or the tenth, or 10,000 meters up. Primal trust lets the puer fly so high. Father and son are one. And all masculine virtues of skill, of calculated risk, of courage, are of no account: God or Dad will catch you at the bottom of the stairs. Above all, one cannot know beforehand. One cannot be told ahead of time “this time I won’t catch you”. To be forewarned is to be forearmed and either one won’t jump or one will jump half-heartedly, a pseudo risk. There comes that one time where in spite of a promise, life simply intervenes, the accident happens, and one falls flat. The broken promise is a breakthrough of life in the world of Logos security, where the order of everything can be depended upon, and the past guarantees the future. The broken promise or broken trust is at the same time a breakthrough onto another level of consciousness, and we shall turn to that next.
But first let us return to our story and our questions. The father has awakened consciousness, thrown the boy the garden, brutally, with pain. He has initiated his son. This initiation into a new consciousness of reality comes through betrayal, through the father’s failure and broken promise. The father willfully shifts from the ego’s essential commitment to stand by his word, not to bear false witness by lying to his son, to be responsible and reliable come what may. He shifts position deliberately allowing the dark side to manifest itself in and through him. So it is a betrayal with a moral. For our story is a moral tale, as are all good Jewish stories. It is not an existentialist fable describing an acte gratuit; nor is it a Zen legend leading to liberating enlightenment. It is a homily, a lesson, an instructive piece of life. The father demonstrates in his own person the possibility of betrayal in even the closest trust. He reveals his own treacherousness, stands before his son in naked humanity, presenting a truth about fatherhood and manhood; I , a father, a man, cannot be trusted. Man is treacherous. The word is not stronger than life.
And he also says, “Never trust a Jew,” so that the lesson goes yet one step further. He is implying that his fatherhood is patterned after Jaweh’s fatherhood, that a Jewish initiation means as well an initiation into an awareness of God’s nature, that most untrustworthy Lord who must be continually praised by Psalm and prayer as patient, reliable, just, and propitiated with epithets of stability–because he is so arbitrary, emotional, unpredictable. The father says, in short, I have betrayed you as all are betrayed in the treachery of life created by God. The boy’s initiation into life is the initiation into adult tragedy.
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 throughmauvaise 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.
I would like now to leave the question of what betrayal means to the son, the one betrayed, in order to return to another of our earlier questions: What might betrayal mean to the father? What it meant to God to let His son die on the cross we are not told. What it meant to Abraham to lead his son to sacrifice we are also not told. But they performed these actions. They were able to betray, just as Jacob the patriarch entered into his estate by betraying his brother. Could it be that the capacity to betray belongs to the state of fatherhood? Let us look further at this question.
The father in our story does not merely show his human imperfections, that is, he does not merely fail in catching his son. It is not merely weakness or error. He consciously designs to let him fall and cause him pain and humiliation. He shows his brutality. The same brutality is shown in the treatment of Jesus from his capture to his crucifixion, and in the preparations of Abraham. What happens to Esau and to Job are nothing else than brutal. The brutality comes out again in the animal skin Jacob wears to betray Esau, and the great beasts God reveals to Job as the rationale for his torment. Also, in the images of Psalm XXII as we saw above.
The paternal image–that just, wise, merciful figure–refuses to intervene in any way to ameliorate the suffering which he himself has brought about. He also refuses to give an account of himself. The refusal to explain means that the explanation must come, if it comes at all, from the injured party. After a betrayal one is in no position to listen to the explanations of the other anyway! This is, I believe, a creative stimulus in betrayal. It is the betrayed one who must somehow resurrect himself, take a step forward, through his own interpretation of what happened. But it can be creative providing he doesn’t fall into and stay in the dangers we have sketched above.
In our story, the father does explain. Our story is after all lesson, and the action itself as educative as an initiation, whereas in the archetypal tales and in much of daily life betrayal is not explained by the betrayer to the betrayed, because it happens through the autonomous left side, unconsciously. In spite of the explanations, our story still shows brutality. The conscious use of brutality would seem a mark common to the paternal figures.The unjust father reflects unfair life. Where he is impervious to the cry for help and the need of the other, where he can admit that his promise is fallible, he acknowledges that the power of the word can be transcended by the forces of life. This awareness of his masculine limitations and this hardheartedness imply a high degree of differentiation of the weak left side. Differentiation of the left side would mean the ability to carry tension without action, going wrong without trying to set things right, letting events determine principles. It means further that one has to some extent overcome that sense of uneasy guilt which holds one back from carrying out in full consciousness necessary though brutal acts (By conscious brutality, I do not mean either deliberately perverse brutality aimed to ruin another, or sentimental brutality as found sometimes in literature and films and the code of soldiers. )
Uneasy guilt, tendermindedness, makes acts double-binding. The anima is not quite up to the task. But the father’s hard heart is not double-binding. He is not cruel on the one hand and pious on the other. He does not betray and then pick up his son in his arms, saying, “Poor boy; this hurt me worse than it hurt you.”
In analysis, as in all positions of trust, we are sometimes led into situations where something happens that requires a consciously brutal action, a betrayal of the others trust. We break a promise, we’re not there when needed, we let the other down, we alienate an affection, betray a secret. We neither explain what we do, nor pull the other off his cross, nor even pick him up at the bottom of the stairs. These are brutalities – and we do them, with more or less consciousness. And we must stand for them and stand through them, else the anima renders our acts thin, listless and cruel.
This hardheartedness shows an integration of brutality, thereby bringing one closer to nature — which gives no explanations of itself. They must be wrested from it. This willingness to be a betrayer brings us closer to the brutish condition where we are not so much minions of a supposedly moral guide and immoral Devil, but of an amoral nature. And so we are led back to our theme of anima-integration, where one’s cold-heartedness and sealed lips are as Eve and the serpent whose wisdom is also close to nature’s treachery. This leads me to ask whether anima-integration might not also show itself not only in the various ways we might expect-vitality, related news, love, imagination, subtlety, and so — but whether anima integration might not also show itself in becoming nature-like: less reliable, flowing like water in the paths of least resistance, turning answers with the wind, speaking with a double tongue – conscious ambiguity rather than unconscious ambivalence. Supposedly, the sage or master, in order to be the psychopomps who guides souls through the confusion of creation where there is a fault in every rock and the paths are not straight, shows hermetic cunning and a coldness that is as impersonal as nature itself.
In other words, our conclusion to the question: “What does betrayal mean to the father? ” results in this – the capacity to betray others is akin to the capacity to lead others. Full fatherhood is both. Insofar as psychological leading has for its aim the other’s self-help and self-reliance, the other will in some way at some point be led down or let down to his own level, that is, turned back from human help, betrayed to himself where he is alone.
As Jung says in Psychology and Alchemy (pp. 27-8):
I know from experience that all coercion – be it suggestion, insinuation, or any other method of persuasion – ultimately proves to be nothing but an obstacle to the highest and most decisive experience of all, which is to be alone with his own self, or whatever one chooses to call the objectivity of the psyche. The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation.
What then is trustworthy in the good father or psychopompos? What in this regard is the difference between the white magician and the black? What separates the sage for the brute? Could we not, by means of what I have been presenting, justify every brutality and betrayal that man might commit as a sign of his “anima-integration”, as a sign of his attainment to “full fatherhood”?
I do not know how to answer this question other than by referring to the same stories. We find in all of them two things: the motif of love and/or the sense of necessity. The Christian interpretation of God’s forsaking Jesus on the cross says that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son for its redemption. His betrayal was necessary, fulfilling his fate. Abraham so loved God that he prepared to put the knife to Isaac in offering. Jacob’s betrayal of Esau was a necessity already announced in the womb. The father in our story must have so loved his son that he could risk the broken bones and broken trust, and the broken image of himself in his son’s eyes.
This wider context of necessity or love leads me to believe that betrayal – going back on a promise, refusing to help, breaking a secret, deceiving in love – is too tragic an experience to be justified in personal terms of psychological mechanisms and motives. Personal psychology is not enough; analysis and explanations will not do. One must look to the wider context of love and fate. But who can be certain when love is present? And who can say that this betrayal was necessary, fate, a call of the Self?
Certainly a part of love is responsibility; so too is concern, involvement, identification – but perhaps a surer way of telling whether one is closer to the brute or the sage is by looking for love’s opposite: power. If betrayal is perpetuated mainly for personal advantage (to get out of a tight spot, to hurt or use, to save one’s skin, to gain pleasure, too still a desire or slake a need, to take care of Number One), then one can be sure that love had less the upper hand than did the brute, power.
The wider context of love and necessity is given by the archetypes of myth. When the event is placed in this perspective, the pattern may become meaningful again. The very act of attempting to view it from this wider context is therapeutic. Unfortunately, the event may not disclose its meaning for a long, long time, during which it lies sealed in absurdity or festers in resentment. But the struggle for putting it within the wider context, the struggle with interpretation and integration, is the way of moving further. It seems to me that only this can lead through the steps of anima differentiation sketched so far, and even to one further step, towards one of the highest of religious feelings: forgiveness.
We must be quite clear that forgiveness is no easy matter. If the ego has been wronged, the ego cannot forgive just because it “should”, notwithstanding all the wider context of love and destiny. The ego is kept vital by itsamour-propre, it’s pride and honour. Even where one wants to forgive, one finds one simply can’t, because forgiveness doesn’t come from the ego. I cannot directly forgive, I can only ask, or pray, that these sins be forgiven. Wanting forgiveness to come and waiting for it may be all that one can do.
Forgiveness, like humility, is only a term unless one has been fully humiliated or fully wronged. Forgiveness is meaningful only when one can neither forget nor forgive. And our dreams do not let us forget. Anyone can forget a petty matter of insult, a personal affront. But if one has been led step by step into an involvement where the substance was trust itself, bared one’s soul, and then been deeply betrayed in the sense of handed over to one’s enemies, outer or inner (those shadow values described above where chances for a new living trust have been permanently injured by paranoid defenses, self-betrayal, and cynicism), then forgiveness takes on great meaning. It may well be that betrayal has no other positive outcome but forgiveness, and that the experience of forgiveness is possible only if one has been betrayed. Such forgiveness is a forgiving which is not a forgetting, but the remembrance of wrong transformed within a wider context, or as Jung has put it, the salt of bitterness transformed to the salt of wisdom.
This wisdom, as Sophia, is again a feminine contribution to masculinity, and would give the wider context which the will cannot achieve for itself. Wisdom I would here take to be that union of love with necessity where feeling finally flows freely into one’s fate, reconciling us with an event.
Just as trust had within it the seed of betrayal, so betrayal has within it the seed of forgiveness. This would be the answer to the last of our original questions: “What place has betrayal in psychological life at all”? Neither trust nor forgiveness could be fully realized without betrayal. Betrayal is the dark side of both, giving them both meaning, making them both possible. Perhaps this tells us something about why betrayal is such a strong theme in our religions. It is perhaps the human gate to such higher religious experiences as forgiveness and reconciliation with this silent labyrinth, the creation.
But forgiveness is so difficult that it probably needs some help from the other person. I mean by this that the wrong, if not remembered by both parties – and remembered as a wrong – falls all on the betrayed. The wider context within which the tragedy occurred would seem to call for parallel feelings from both parties. They are still both in a relationship, now as betrayer and betrayed. If only the betrayed senses a wrong, while the other passes it over with rationalizations, then the betrayal is still going on – even increased. This dodging of what has really happened is, of all the sores, the most galling to the betrayed. Forgiveness comes harder; resentments grow because the betrayer is not carrying his guilt and the act is not honestly conscious. Jung has said that the meaning of our sins is that we carry them, which means not that we unload them onto others to carry for us. To carry one’s sins, one has first to recognize them, and recognize their brutality.
Psychologically, carrying a sin means simply recognizing it, remembering it. All the emotions connected with the betrayal experience in both parties – remorse and repentance in the betrayer, resentment and revenge in the betrayed – press towards the same psychological point: remembering. Resentment especially is an emotional affliction of memory which forgetting can never fully repress. So is it not better to remember a wrong than to surge between forgetting and resenting? These emotions would seem to have as their aim keeping an experience from dissolving into the unconscious. They are the salt preserving the event from decomposing. Bitterly, they force us to keep faith with sin. In other words, a paradox of betrayal is the fidelity which both betrayed and betrayer keep, after the event, to its bitterness.
And this fidelity is kept as well by the betrayer. For if I am unable to admit that I have betrayed someone, or I try to forget it, I remain stuck in unconscious brutality. Then the wider context of love and the wider context of fatefulness of my action and of the whole event is missed. Not only do I go on wronging the other, but I wrong myself, for I have cut myself off from self-forgiveness. I can become no wiser, nor have I anything with which to become reconciled.
For these reasons I believe that forgiveness by the one probably requires atonement by the other. Atonement is in keeping with the silent behavior of the father as we have been describing him. He carries his guilt and his suffering. Though he realizes fully what he has done, he does not give account of it to the other, implying that he atones, that is, self-relates it. Atonement also implies a submission to betrayal as such, its transpersonal fateful reality. By bowing before the shame of my inability to keep my word, I am forced to admit humbly both my own personal weakness and the reality of impersonal powers.
However, let us take care that such atonement is not for one’s own peace of mind, not even for the situation.Must it not somehow recognize the other person? I believe that this point cannot be overstated, for we live in a human world even if victims of cosmic themes like tragedy, betrayal, and fate. Betrayal may belong within a wider context and be a cosmic theme, but it is always within individual relationships, through another close person, in immediate intimacy, that these things reach us. If others are instruments of the Gods in bringing us tragedy, so too are the way we atone to the Gods. Conditions are transformed within the same sort of close personal situation in which they occurred. Is it enough to atone just to the Gods alone? Is one then done with it? Does not tradition couple wisdom with humility? Atonement, as repentance, may not have to be expressis verbis, but it probably is more effective if it comes out in some form of contact with the other, in full recognition of the other. And, after all, isn’t just this full recognition of the other, love?
May I sum up? The unfolding through the various stages from trust through betrayal to forgiveness presents a movement of consciousness. The first condition of primal trust is largely unconscious and pre-anima. It is followed by betrayal, where the word is broken by life. For all its negativity, betrayal is yet an advance over primal trust because it leads to the ‘death’ of the puer through the anima experience of suffering. This may then lead, if not blocked by the negative vicissitudes of revenge, denial, cynicism, self betrayal and paranoid defenses, to a firmer fatherhood were the betrayed can in turn betray others less unconsciously, implying an integration of a man’s untrustworthy nature. The final integration of the experience may result in forgiveness by the betrayed, atonement by the betrayer, and a reconciliation – not necessarily with each other – but a reconciliation by each to the event. Each of these phases of bitterly fought and suffered experiences which may take long years of fidelity to the dark side of the psyche, is also a phase in the development of the anima, and that has been, despite my emphasis upon the masculine, the main theme of this paper.
From the (out of print) collection Loose Ends by James Hillman ©1975 Spring Publications.