“The Betrayal of Disengagement”

by Tammy Strobel on November 5, 2012

I’m reading Brené Brown’s book, “Daring Greatly”, for the second time because there is so much to learn from Brené’s research. I’m about half way through the book and I keep coming back to a wonderful section in Chapter 2. In this section of the book, Brené discusses vulnerability myths and betrayal. She notes:

“I’m talking about the betrayal of disengagement. Of not caring. Of letting the connection go. Of not being willing to devote time and effort to the relationship. The word betrayal evokes experiences of cheating, lying, breaking a confidence, failing to defend us to someone else who’s gossiping about us, and not choosing us over other people. These behaviors are certainly betrayals, but they’re not the only form of betrayal. If I had to chose the form of betrayal that emerged most frequently from my research and that was the most dangerous in terms of corroding the trust connection, I would say disengagement.

When the people we love or with whom we have a deep connection stop caring, stop paying attention, stop investing, and stop fighting for the relationship, trust begins to slip away and hurt starts seeping in. Disengagement triggers shame and our greatest fears — the fear of being abandoned, unworthy, and unloveable. What can make this covert betrayal so much more dangerous than something like a lie or an affair is that we can’t point to the source of our pain — there’s no event, no obvious evidence of brokenness. It can feel crazy-making.”

I keep coming back to these two paragraphs because it sums up something I’m experiencing in my personal life. I won’t go into the details because it isn’t appropriate. I will say that experience involves my family and right now people I love — including me — are hurt, sad, and feel betrayed.

Today, I’m trying to keep my heart open and to live by my values. And those values include acting from a place of kindness and compassion, rather than anger. From my perspective, the conflict is a result of complete disengagement. On the surface it seems easier to hide from difficult conversations and to stop talking completely. But I think that kind of behavior can be more hurtful because you’re more likely to hold onto anger, resentment, and feel betrayed. And as Brené noted, betrayal can cause people to feel unworthy and unloveable.

Yesterday, I was telling Logan’s Grandma that the past year has been incredible. My first print book came out, I’m teaching ecourses and we moved closer to family. All of those things make me happy. On the other hand, if you had told me five years ago that my dad wouldn’t be here and that my family would be experiencing upheaval, I would have said that you were crazy. It’s funny how happiness and loss are so intertwined.

Tomorrow, I turn 34 years old and I’ve learned three key lessons over the past year, including:

1. Life is uncertain and if you want to be happy it’s essential to listen, to be flexible, and to keep your heart open.

2. Loss is painful and inevitable. Yet, you can find joy and happiness even in the midst of suffering.

3. You have to ask for help and engage if you are going to survive loss.

As I move forward into the next year, I’m going to engage, be present in each moment, and honor my dad’s life by living my values.

Be well,
Tammy

1 Anonymous November 5, 2012

Just about to start Brene’s book today. Just wanted to say thank you for continuing to write and take photographs. I’ve been following your journey for a while and always find it so inspiring…

2 Macy Miller November 5, 2012

Wonderful post Tammy, couldn’t come at a better time for me as well. Thank you and all the best wishes for you!
Macy

3 Maria Northcutt November 5, 2012

Wonderful post! I wanna read that book. I definitely think you´re on to something, living in the moment is my motto!

4 Kiersten November 5, 2012

Hi Tammy – I’ve been reading your blog for awhile, I love the simplicity. I am striving and blogging about the same thing. I wanted to add to this discussion, because I was in a similar position and still am. But I am on the “other” side. I am the one disengaging.

The person I was disengaging from could not understand it and was bitterly upset, hurt and angry with me for the disengagement. I can understand that and I also know that it was the right thing for me to do. Sometimes the hard discussion is not enough, sometimes those difficult discussions always end up in the same place. There is often blame and shame and the only thing to do is perhaps letting time go by. Allow the person to disengage. If it is a good relationship and worth coming back to, it will happen organically. I think.

I don’t mean to ignore or cut off someone. Sometimes, however, it is a conscious and healthy choice to disengage from a relationship that is not productive…..

I understand how that can be painful.
lots of love,
K

5 Tammy Strobel November 5, 2012

Thank you Kiersten. I do agree with your comment. I’ve been on the “other side” too and have had to disengage from very unhealthy relationships. In this particular situation, I don’t believe the strategy is helpful because there are assets and kids involved. I would be fine with the disengagement, if honest conversations (with all parties) had taken place. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened (at least not yet).

Be well,
Tammy

6 Nichole November 5, 2012

Wishing you a happy birthday tomorrow. I always think birthdays are important, honoring the day you chose to enter the school of life. Being blessed to have been give the opportunity. I celebrate my parents birthdays as way to honor them, instead of giving so much power to the day they died.
In regards to the upheaval happening currently within your family-I can say two things; everyone grieves differently and difficult times often bring forward someones true character. Time will tell/show you alot.Hang in there. Wishing you all the best.

7 Tammy Strobel November 5, 2012

Thank you Nichole. xo.

8 Lee @ablissfulwhirl November 5, 2012

This post resonates with some realtionships in my life right now. I have been on both sides of the disengagement. I may have to check out Brene’s book. Thanks Tammy.

9 Barbie November 5, 2012

Happy Almost Birthday! Wishing you bunches of joy, fortitude, and grace in the coming year. Thank you for the gift of sharing your life so openly. It’s a little spooky how often you post about something that is immediately relevant to my own thoughts/life. Spooky cool!

10 Bonnie Jo November 5, 2012

Hello Tammy –

Currently on Chapter 7 of your book You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s Cheap) and am thoroughly enjoying it.

Your three lessons for 2012 are ones that I too have recently had to learn. The pain is still fresh, but I am moving through it and learning everyday.

May your birthday be filled with sunshine and special blessings. You share the day with a very special, about to be 16 year old, my son. One of the greatest days of my life. May yours hold equal joy (or more if that is possible).

11 Rebecca November 5, 2012

I am sure that maybe whomever it is you are having issues with may still be feeling the loss of your dad as well. This may be how they are choosing to grieve. Yeah I know there are “specific” steps people take and still you might come back to them but, perhaps not. Anyway I hope that all will be well and that things will be sorted out and come out for the best no matter what.

Happy Birthday as well and I hope that Logan spoil you rotten (the tea house sounds lovely) or whatever you want or need even if it is a good cry, a shoulder to cry on and maybe a bottle of good wine.

12 Paul - The Kind Little Blogger November 5, 2012

“1. Life is uncertain and if you want to be happy it’s essential to listen, to be flexible, and to keep your heart open.

2. Loss is painful and inevitable. Yet, you can find joy and happiness even in the midst of suffering.

3. You have to ask for help and engage if you are going to survive loss.”

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Happy birthday for tomorrow.

13 Claire/Just a little less November 5, 2012

Strong and sound advice. Enjoy your birthday.
Your book arrived today. Yippee – super excited to read it. : )

14 Tiffany November 5, 2012

Happy Birthday tomorrow! I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and wanted to thank you for being so honest, open, and daring in your life journey. Your thoughts on simplicity and those things that really matter to you inspire me!
It takes guts to be vulnerable. I tend to retaliate disengagement with my own disengagement. Counteractive and immature? Yes! I need to remind myself that I’m a work in progress and so are those that may hurt me. Sending happy thoughts to you and your family. Stay gutsy.

15 Paul C. November 6, 2012

This post hit me like a ton of bricks! Thank you!

I am turning 33 tomorrow, finishing my tiny house, contemplating moving closer to family, and dealing with issues that this post discusses directly. It’s almost like I was meant to see it!

Thank you for sharing!

16 Betty November 6, 2012

Disengagement is a tool for survival too. Sometimes I have to turn inward to heal, before
I can extend myself to others. I don’t want to hurt anyone by my withdrawal, it is the only
way I can gain footing when pain/loss is too great.

I will say even when I am disengaging, it isn’t what it looks like. It is because I do care
that I pull away. It is because my emotions have become a “tsunami” and, all I know how
to do is flee to a safe place inside myself.

17 Rae November 8, 2012

Hi Betty,
I’m relating to your comment and it’s helping me today.
Feeling less alone :)
Thank you :)

18 A November 7, 2012

Dear Tammy,
I am a long time reader and first time commenter, I believe. (Can’t remember if I have before!)
That said, I wanted to share a lesson I’ve learned about disengagement: it is an opportunity to pursue your dreams in a way you might not be able to with the person/people in your life. For example, my divorce freed me to pursue my master’s degree in another state. Severing ties with a dysfunctional sibling freed me of the guilt of not having a good relationship with her, and the guilt of not trying harder.

May your coming year lead you to pursue your dreams, find peace, and continue to make the world a better and more thoughtful place.

19 Megan Lemcke November 7, 2012

I linked to your site via the Non-Consumer Advocate, and this post was front and center. I don’t typically respond to a stranger with…well, with anything, except that your tone (& to an extent the content) triggered something visceral and almost too painful to recall. It’s been two years and two months now, and I’m still a little vulnerable at times. I need to tell you that we recovered (yes, that’s a plural) from what happened, and I’m putting a good bit of energy into renewing our family ties. Whatever comes from this is survivable and growth will come from it. I don’t even know you and I already admire your strength and accomplishments. (If you knew me as a teacher, you’d know I’m not one who compliments the undeserving.) Thirty-four is a good birthday, but thirty-five will be better. Please accept the gift of positive thoughts from someone you don’t know living in a place you’ve never heard of.

20 Rae November 8, 2012

Haven’t read your posts in a bit, and went directly to this one today.
Wow. Life can be so, so hard. But so worth it. :)

I’m glad we’re all in this together. Peace to all the hurting hearts. :)

21 Tammy Strobel November 8, 2012

Thank you for the sweet comment Rae. xo.

22 Suzy November 9, 2012

Thank you so much for this post. My husband and I had some recent struggles and I didn’t realize until later how much of that was caused and/or exacerbated by my disengagement. I had some internal issues and gradually became disconnected from the world and tried to remain numb…but I tried to pretend on the outside that all was fine and dandy. I honestly thought that I was the only one to suffer from my disconnection…that it was my own burden. Once things came to a head and my husband and I addressed our issues and started communicating again, it’s amazing how easily we are able to overcome our struggles and how much closer we are now. After reading this post, it hit me that “disengagement” was exactly what I was doing, and it was no wonder that our relationship suffered from fears and insecurities and a loss of trust.

“What can make this covert betrayal so much more dangerous than something like a lie or an affair is that we can’t point to the source of our pain — there’s no event, no obvious evidence of brokenness.” This one sentence struck me to the core…becoming distant is as much (or more) a betrayal as a lie or cheating…and I was guilty of that.

I see now how selfish I was being, and I am so grateful to my husband that he stuck by me and helped me bring myself back. I forwarded this post to him yesterday and told him how thankful I am. Even though we resolved these struggles months ago, I had never really acknowledged how this had impacted my husband, and it was important to me now to express my love and thanks and gratitude.

Again, thanks so much. It’s so important to stay connected, to stay focused, to stay engaged. Anything less puts everything that matters at risk.

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