How to Deal With Betrayal From a Family Member or Toxic Friend

Updated on June 13, 2019
Layne Holmes profile image

Layne believes in sharing life experiences. Acceptance and surrender are two important ingredients for personal growth.

What does it take to forgive?
What does it take to forgive? | Source

When Someone Close to You Betrays You

Many of us have been betrayed at some point—by family, in friendships, in relationships, and in business. As isolating as it may be to be let down by people close to you, it's important to realize that you are not alone. No one is immune to being let down. So, it's less about how you were betrayed and who betrayed you, and more about how you handle it and rebound from the feeling of being let down and the hurt of the deception.

The Worst Ways Someone Can Betray You

  • Infidelity
  • Sabotage
  • Backstabbing
  • Gossip
  • Abandonment
  • Theft
  • Humiliation
  • Judgment
  • Disloyalty
  • Lying

Advice on How to Get Past Betrayal

I have been betrayed in life, and I know I've betrayed others. I've experienced it in love and friendship, via broken promises and breaches of trust. My most recent experience of betrayal runs deep, however, because it involved my sibling and was so unexpected.

My Personal Story

Life was pretty stable and balanced when my parents were both alive. We had a family business which we all were a part of since the time we were young—we all lent a hand, and it supported our family for years.

Just after my father passed, my oldest sibling and her partner cleared out all business documents from our family home. I was in school and working a second job at the time, thank goodness, but it happened abruptly and without any communication. I, therefore, lost my primary job and my health insurance as did my other sibling—we were totally excluded from the company. Shortly after, they moved the business to an undisclosed location.

It is not uncommon to be in shock when someone has wronged you.
It is not uncommon to be in shock when someone has wronged you. | Source

What Do You Do When Someone Has Betrayed You?

What hurt me the most about this whole scenario is that I wouldn't have done what my sister did to my sibling and me. Three years later there is such a stark contrast in lifestyles. It is hard not to be affected by my sister's careless wealth management in the face of my dad's passing and the life they live.

When we children—we all felt my dad's absence due to his dedication to work and his desire to support his family with his business. I remember watching him build designs in the back of the garage when I was four—I would play with his scrap wood and tools. I always looked up to him, and his achievements meant a lot to me—it was part of our identity as a family.

At First I Was in Shock

The first emotion I experienced was shock and a bit of denial. It's impossible to see the person who betrayed you with the same eyes and convince yourself that they didn't do what you know they did. I found every excuse in the book to justify my sister and her husband's behavior. Maybe they are going through financial hardship—my dad surely would've explained what he had wished to happen—I thought. I convinced myself that my sister did indeed care for me, that her decision was ethical, and that everything was ok.


  • Face the music and acknowledge what happened
  • Don't make excuses for the other person
  • Know that betrayal is not a reflection of your worth, but the other person's morals and ethics
  • Understand that what has happened was out of your control (do not beat yourself up, even if business-related; sometimes it just takes learning)

Reality Starts to Set In

After slowly opening up to people close to me (my significant other and a few close friends), I started to get some feedback. I was hoping for neutral feedback, and I certainly received it. Indeed, I was able to confirm how messed up everything was. I was advised to get a lawyer (no, I couldn't hire a lawyer for family matters—think of how they would see me). I never did.


  • Let yourself be mad
  • Look for advice from a trusted source
  • Look at things in black and white (no gray)
  • What's done is done
  • Just because you have a relationship with this person does not mean anything if the mutual respect isn't there
  • Get real with reality. You were cheated (this applies to relationships too); accept that you were tricked, duped, made a fool, naive, whatever you want to call it.

Betrayal is a horrible feeling, but there are ways to break free.
Betrayal is a horrible feeling, but there are ways to break free. | Source

Take Action and Make a Plan

When I say take action, action can be a lot of things. If you are in a relationship and were cheated on, you need to decide if you are willing to stay and repair that relationship (think long-term, can trust ever be repaired?), if you were cheated in business, figure out what legal laws may protect you or how to rebound from financial hardship. If you were abandoned, think about how you can remain strong and support yourself—reach out to those who you trust. If you are feeling overwhelmed by emotions, go see a counselor and vent.


  • Consider the long-term and think about what will make you happy and help you to find closure.
  • Make up your mind about that person—can you ever trust them again? Have they apologized? Would you accept it? What if they never do?
  • Take care of yourself. Put yourself first.
  • Learn your lessons. Don't repeat this mistake again (being naive, letting your guard down, not speaking up, telling too much).

Make Up Your Mind About This Person

Decide what kind of relationship or category this person will fall into in your life. If it's a significant other who cheated on you, maybe acknowledge the fact you will never be able to trust them again. If they keep coming back into your life, tell them it's over . . . change your number, move. If it's a business partner or someone who stole from you, never let them in again. They showed you once how they can be. In my situation, I knew my relationship would forever change with my sister. Think about self-preservation!


  • Keep those who have proven themselves as worthy of your trust near you; get support.
  • Always keep your guard up around this type of person—don't give too much of yourself away, ever. Not again.
  • Decide if their mistake has changed your relationship towards them for good; if yes, cut your losses.
  • Don't feel as though you have to give of yourself; you don't always have to be a "good person." Protect yourself emotionally around them.

Speak your truth.
Speak your truth. | Source

Speak Your Truth

I simply cannot feel the same way about my sibling anymore. It's so sad and hurtful to admit this. She has not acted with transparency in her life . . . and that is her choice. My choice is not to give too much of myself away. I have to see her at holiday events still, but I generally keep things dry. A year ago, I wrote her a three-page letter. I explained all of my feelings. It was a very charged moment, and it didn't go over well. I'm pretty sure I got the middle finger in my face. That hurt and infuriated me, but it felt good knowing I spoke my truth.


  • Write a letter—this is more passive, but it's super therapeutic. Let it sit a few days and then revisit it so that you make sure it's written exactly how you want it.
  • Tell them to their face how you feel (if it's safe and makes sense)
  • See a counselor and vent
  • Explain why you are creating healthy space or distance

Learn to Accept and Move On

I finally had to decide that life unrolled the way it did because it is out of my control. I could not have foreseen the actions of my sibling. I have accepted that my identity and my life path will come solely from my life choices. What she has chosen for her path is for her own reasons.


  • Accept what has happened
  • Know that you cannot change history
  • Make a decision to trek on independent of the hurt
  • Focus on yourself and your trajectory
  • Don't worry about them (trust me, they aren't worried about you, do not waste your energy).

Can You Forgive? Healing From the Hurt

You've probably heard before about how forgiveness will bring you peace. To forgive someone who has wronged you is the ultimate step towards spirituality. I truly believe this, and it's okay for me to admit that I have yet to forgive my sibling.

I have learned to forgive though. I've forgiven failed relationships in the past and hurt from loved ones on various levels. I'm sure too that we've all dealt with gossip and lies in our formative years. You can certainly learn to forgive. I think the secret here is knowing when you are ready—you will feel it in your heart.

I'm not quite there yet, but I am aware that the day I forgive is the day that I will experience ultimate freedom from the hurt. I wish you the best in your journey, too.

Video: How to Forgive Someone

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Layne Holmes

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