My close friend Batya recently shared with me a deep, dark secret that she claims she has never told anyone. She said it was something she felt tremendous shame over, and finally had to talk to someone about it. In the moment, I was able to listen to her with compassion and without judgment. I felt good about myself that she chose me to confide in and that I was there for her. Before she started sharing, she swore me to secrecy and told me that it was something so embarrassing that she never, ever wanted it to get out to anyone and that she trusted me to keep her secret for her.
At the time, I had every intention of being the loyal friend she expected of me and felt that I would never utter a word of it to anyone. I reassured her that she had nothing to worry about and that her secret was safe with me.
A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a mutual close friend, Tova, and blurted out Batya’s secret to her. Honestly, I’m still in shock that I did something so awful and that I crossed such a serious line. I keep trying to figure out why I would do something so disloyal and stupid. The only thing I can come up with is that maybe I wanted to let Tova know that I was such an important friend to Batya — that she would select me of all people to be her confidante. I know it sounds so juvenile, even as I’m writing this, but I just can’t figure out any other reason why I would betray such a special friend, or anyone for that matter. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I desperately wanted to take them back, but, of course, you can never get the toothpaste back in the tube. The damage was done forever.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, Tova told a close friend of hers, and through the grapevine it finally got back to Batya that I was the messenger of something that Batya felt most sensitive and embarrassed about. Batya then called me up, screamed and cursed at me, and told me that she planned on never talking to me again and that I should never, ever reach out to her again. Our friendship is dead!
I feel so awful about this whole saga that I can’t stop thinking about it. Batya made it clear that she never wants to hear from me — not a phone call, text, or email. I know I have to respect her wishes, even though I would love to beg for forgiveness. Frankly, I would do anything to get her forgiveness, but she is not giving me the opportunity.
I can’t shake this awful feeling that I did a terrible thing and that I will never be forgiven. It’s hard to feel this way. Since Batya made it clear that she never wants to hear from me ever again, how can I ever move forward? I want to feel better. I’m distracted with these uncomfortable feelings; sometimes it’s like my skin is crawling. What can I do to get back to my old self again?
Well, it seems like we are on the same page regarding the severity of your action. As you well know, you did a terrible thing to your close friend Batya. You betrayed her in one of the worst ways possible. You presently feel ashamed, uncomfortable, and, it seems, remorseful. I’m not sure how much of the remorse is directly tied to your actual betrayal or to the fact that it’s left you feeling so uncomfortable. But either way, life is not feeling particularly wonderful for you at the moment.
You say you want to move on and shed these difficult feelings. They are probably getting in your way of leading a more peaceful and satisfying life right now. Frankly, I don’t think you get to expect to feel like your old self again—not so fast and maybe not for a while. Sometimes, we are supposed to sweat! We are supposed to suffer intensely because of the damage we created, and we have to man up and take it on the chin.
I can’t even imagine what Batya is feeling at the moment, knowing that her most shameful secret is now out in the open. She will never get a do-over. She will never get a chance to think twice about trusting you with anything of importance. She will never be able to once again protect her privacy and reputation. All that has been taken away from her — forever. Therefore, why would you think you have the right to want to feel OK right now? Why should your life go back to your previous “normal,” when Batya’s life will probably not feel that way for a long time?
Batya has made it clear that she is not interested in forgiving you. Certainly not right now. Maybe at some point in time she will change her mind, and maybe not. But for now, her decision is to let you sit with what you have done and feel the burn. And so I can’t comfortably give you advice right now about how to soothe yourself so that you can move forward. There is a price to pay and also a difficult lesson to learn. Usually, it’s easier for us to learn lessons from painful experiences than from uncomplicated ones.
With time, the sharpness of what you’ve done will naturally start getting a bit duller, as all things ultimately do. And with enough time, you will be able to move on with your life and no longer have this event define your daily wellbeing. But it’s important that you never give yourself a full free pass over what you’ve done. Even when this memory becomes something you rarely think about, hopefully you will still cringe any time you remember the day you betrayed Batya’s trust and threw it all away.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.