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Archive for February 2011

Friendship, Betrayal, and Confidentiality

Being truly known by another person, exposing our insecurities, weaknesses, hopes and fears can be one of the most significant benefits of friendship.  With friendship, trust is paramount and confidentiality is an expectation. When we are friends, we assume our secrets are safe.  At some point or another, most of us have experienced the hurt and betrayal that occurs when someone we thought was a friend violates our trust, breaks confidentiality, uses information told in confidence against us, and spreads private information, often twisting it or “spicing it up.”

What causes someone we considered a friend to do this?  There are several possible reasons.  Perhaps the person is:

  • Miffed at you for some reason, whether justified or not, and chooses this passive-aggressive way to get back at you
  • Resentful, jealous or competitive regarding your achievements or relationships
  • Trying to earn “points” or favor with the person they are telling
  • Wanting to express the same thoughts to the person without bearing the responsibility for speaking the words.  Maybe they always wanted to tell “Sally” that she is a tyrant at work, but decided not to. When you say the same, it is easy for her to go tell Sally that you said it. She gets the satisfaction of speaking her mind, but leaves all the consequences for you.
  • Maybe they have a misguided notion that they are doing the person a favor. Usually the recipient is not happy to receive the “news” and the one telling it is discredited and looked upon with suspicion. Rest assured, if a person is quick to tell you everyone else’s business, it won’t be long before they are spreading yours.
  • Perhaps they feel “caught in the middle” if they are friends with you both. In that case they should excuse themselves from the information/conflict.
  • Have a character/personality defect. Some people express their inner unhappiness and boredom by “stirring the pot,” creating discord where they can. For some with low self-esteem, this is a way that they can temporarily feel important; however, it only makes them feel worse in the long-run as they struggle with guilt and come to terms with what they have done.
  • Sometimes it’s as simple as the person let something slip out or didn’t realize that the information was delicate or intended to be kept private.

It can be very painful, if not devastating, when someone we trusted brings havoc to our personal or professional lives, so how can we avoid this situation? If you are an open and trusting person who shares freely, you are more likely to experience this problem. Here are some suggestions that might help:

1.    The first and sometimes most difficult solution is to simply not say anything about a person or situation that you would not want repeated or broadcast in the 5 o’clock news.  People love to spread negative information, but have you noticed that compliments get spread far less frequently?

2.    Don’t talk about a person to another person who knows that individual.  Even if the person with whom you are sharing your aggravating encounter also feels the same way about the person, know that today’s enemies can become tomorrow’s best friend.  Once your trusted friend has a change of heart and becomes best friends with the person, she won’t be telling her new friend any of the things she herself said, but she might be more than happy to share your less-than- flattering opinions.  Then you become the “odd man out.”

3.    Don’t feel safe confiding in someone just because they have also shared with you. Chances are, they will feel no problem sharing your sensitive information, conveniently leaving out their own words from any of their reports.  Sometimes people confide a little or solicit negative information simply so they can go share it.  If someone at work asks you “So what do you think of the new changes?” give a neutral or positive answer and keep any critique to yourself.

4.    Find a truly safe place to confide—your spouse, or a friend or relative who lives out of town and/or is not involved in the same social and work circles as you are.

5.    Save it for the therapist’s office. Your counselor, (along with your doctor and attorney), is bound by law to honor confidentiality. Mental health professionals adhere to legal and ethical standards and are subject to discipline if violated.  Your counselor is one person you can trust to tell your problems to, discuss your aggravations, and with whom you can freely share your thoughts, fears and plans, who will not judge you or betray you.  When I think about how truly rare this guarantee is in life, I am humbled by my responsibility and awed by how special the client/counselor relationship is.  No matter what you tell me (with obvious and spelled-out exceptions), I will not be discussing your issues with anyone else. Because of this guarantee, you are free to risk opening up, looking honestly at your strengths and weaknesses, grappling with painful issues, and knowing that this material will never be used against you.  It is a rare and powerful gift!

If despite your best efforts you find yourself on the receiving end of some back-stabbing, slander or other malevolence from someone you trusted, give yourself a hug and know that you’re not alone–we’ve all been through it at some point.  Eventually we learn to be more judicious with our words and our trust.