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I kept hearing them: stories of betrayal.

Sometimes, it was something a friend of mine was going through, and other times it was hearing what happened to so-and-so’s friend, so-and-so. But every time, it was the same thing:

As someone started to step into more personal power, more success, more light, a close friend–the person they would least have expected it from–would betray them.

The betrayals:
Copying work.
Breaking confidentiality.
Suddenly breaking off all contact.
Sending an email that’s damning.

Being online, there’s a certain toughness that you develop when these things happen amongst anonymous internet strangers. When anonymous internet strangers read one blog post and write a damning email, or leave a message in the comments that something is “stupid,” these aren’t pleasant experiences, but everyone who steps into online visibility understands that they will inevitably happen.

To have someone close to you do this right after you’ve finally stepped into your light, is a different terrain altogether.

The Betrayal of the Light

When we start to step into our light, whether it’s a limelight of visible success or the light of living from a place of more contentment/joy/love/power, the people around us will have a response.

For some, the response is one of sheer delight: You did it! I’m so happy to see you so happy! You’re the proof that it can be done! Good for you–when can we celebrate?

For others, the response is very, very different.

“The betrayal of the light” is what I call the phenomenon of people shutting down or acting out, in response to seeing someone else’s light emerging.

It looks like…your online business takes off, and suddenly a friend emails to say that you’re too full of yourself. Or you start to feel happy and joyful in your life, and a family member is noticeably avoiding you. Or you knock it out of the park with a launch, and find out that your mastermind group (who hasn’t knocked it out of the park with their launches, yet) is gossiping about you behind your back.

Why Does It Happen?

If you’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of betrayal, you know that it’s painful. It can leave you doubting and questioning yourself, worrying that the person sees something awful in you that you don’t even realize you’re projecting.

People who betray the light–people who shut down, criticize, or avoid in response to your success–are suffering. It’s hard to sit with feelings of, “I worked hard, too, so why am I not in the light?” or “Every time I’m around her joy, I feel so aware of what a mess my own life is.”

People who betray the light are assuming that there are only a few slices of goodness in the world, and they’re struggling with feelings of scarcity–you got your slice, so where’s mine? What if none is left?

People who betray the light are…actually betraying themselves. Responding to someone else’s good fortune by criticizing, writing the person off, shit-talking, or violating integrity are all betrayals of the self. Those actions don’t bring the person any closer to actually stepping into their own life’s version of a good fortune.

What if They’re Right?

There’s a tendency in self-help for people to invoke the clause of, “If they don’t support you, they shouldn’t be in your life!”

Reality is more nuanced than that. Most of us feel defensive when we hear criticism. It’s healthy to ask ourselves: What if this criticism is valid, and I’m too defensive to hear it?

It’s very adult to be willing to look at someone’s criticism and turn it over, without running away.

But here’s where we need a dose of discernment: there’s criticism intended to effect change for good and see a broader picture, and there’s criticism intended to level you and break you down.

The criticism that it’s helpful to listen to is the kind where someone is making it clear that their intentions are to change something for good and see a broader picture. People who are critical of institutionalized racism as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, for instance, are doing that.

Criticism that only aims to break someone down by assaulting their character, or that aims to break someone down through backend social maneuvering (shit-talking, gossip, passive-aggressiveness) is parasitic.

A parasite dissolves its host. Parasitic energy dissolves everything in its path, and is not working for good.

Take-down blog posts? Parasitic.
Passive-aggressively ignoring someone in order to communicate “I’m mad at you”? Parasitic.
Dropping a bomb of rage and expletives on your head? Parasitic.
Sending you a nasty email? Parasitic.

If you’re trying to figure out whether someone has legitimate concerns that they’re trying to bring to your attention, versus when someone is on a take-down mission because they’re feeling wildly insecure, the path they choose for delivering their message is your foremost clue.

Deciding to bow down in the face of parasitic criticism is you, betraying your own light. Betraying your own light will not save someone else from their own pain. It will not fix the relationship. It will only ever spiral into more parasitic energy.

How You Cope

So if you’re experiencing the betrayal of the light–you’re stepping into something bigger and the people around you are triggered as all get-out–how do you cope?

How you cope is this: you cry, because it hurts. You feel the feelings.

And then, you call on the light that you just stepped into.

You call on the light of…your mentors. Your most loyal fans. The friends who have been celebrating you the entire time and who knew you when you were just starting out.

You call on the light of the joy that you’ve found. You ask yourself, “What was my path to this joy? How can I recreate more of it? Bring in more of of it?”

Leave Doors Open

There’s one more step that’s helpful, that is the truest expression of what it means to live in light and walk your talk.

The step is this: leave doors open.

Again, the common self-help advice is to just ditch anyone who isn’t supporting your current cause.

Instead, remember that people do painful things when they are in pain. Instead of burning a bridge, leave the door open to the idea that at some point, they might decide that what they’re doing doesn’t feel good to them, or to you, and that they want to change.

This isn’t the call to put up with poor behavior. Go ahead and create a healthy distance from dysfunction. This is just the simple acknowledgement that you’re human, I’m human, they’re human.

The mistakes I’ve made one year become my lessons to apologize and make amends for, in the next. Same goes for you.

It’s an expression of love to erect healthy boundaries (see here and here).

It’s also an expression of love to maintain a personal philosophy that people are capable of change, and to love yourself enough to take a step away from them if their behavior is harmful.

That is what it looks like, to step fully into the light.