He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.

Sigmund Freud.
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. ” – James Hillman.


In his remarkable exploration of the dark iridescence of betrayal, Jungian analyst, James Hillman invites us to an analytical adventure through the bitter bridge of betrayal, between trust and forgiveness. He centres his stream of thought in the central current of a Jewish tale.

The Jewish tale

Hillman ventures to peel off the layers of this seemingly anti-semitic story to extract the inner essence. For this he takes on a theological standpoint so as to excavate the archetypal underpinnings by referring to the tales of betrayal in the holy Bible- from genesis to crucifixion.

In the pre-eve or pre-evil times, Adam walked with God in the safe havens of a primal trust. But the foundations of this naivete is shaken when God creates Eve, the archetypal feminine, the anima, out of Adam’s rib. This is when Adam becomes a man. This differentiation of anima, facilitated by God, became instrumental in actualizing the original sin. Paradise lost is thus man’s initiation to the reality of life beyond comfort zones.

Hillman’s biblical analysis reaches the full arc as it culminates in the betrayal of Jesus. He points out how Jesus, who forgives Judas, the sleeping disciples and Peter tastes real betrayal at God’s silence when he get crucified. When a spear peirce through Jesus’s rib, the son of God finally becomes a man and repeats the tale of a broken rib. Around this moment, the feminine element in the story is more evident- as through the barren women on the way to Golgotha, the dream of the Pilate’s wife, Mary and the women who discover the resurrected Jesus, signifying the awakening of anima.

With this mythical backup, Hillman enlists a few insights into the psychological necessity of betrayal. Primal trust, according to Hillman, is masculine. It offers security rather than nurturing care. Breaking it is a necessity for the puer to be replaced by the man. This happens by awakening the feminine within, the anima. Anima is the vitality that extends to both the nurturing and terrible depths. Hillman narrates these two diverged roads in detail.

The roads diverged in the mind: The aftermath of betrayal

In the rest of the essay, Hillman’s takes us through a psychological montage of the experience of betrayal. He explores why people betray and why betrayal is an inevitability, as it is the chaos that makes trust and forgiveness possible, meaningful. He states that the ability to betray is akin to the ability to lead. It is in this inevitability of betrayal that trust differentiates out of passive naivety. Such trust is an act of courage as it makes a choice while acknowledging the possibility of betrayal, lurking beneath.

Hillman concludes on a hopeful note by describing how forgiveness can be a game changer. He points out how betrayal can turn out to be an opportunity to experience forgiveness, as he suggests how forgiveness is not an act of will, but something that happens to the ego. It is a personal journey, to be embarked on one’s own, though atonement and acknowledgment helps to initiate it quicker.

Hillman suggests that forgiveness does not require reconciliation with the betrayer, but rather it urges one to reconcile with one’s own past. Thus forgiveness is not a burdensome expectation for the offended but a means to relieve oneself from misery. In this light, it is meant for both the betrayed and the betrayer. Forgiveness, thus become our key to move on and grow through what we go through so as to become better people.

Show forgiveness; enjoin kindness; avoid ignorance

The Quran 7:199

Read Hillman’s revelatory essay here

One thought on “On Betrayal

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