I was talking to a friend today. She was upset. She was upset because one of her professors had made himself the first author on a conference paper that was the direct outcome of her dissertation. Naturally, she felt betrayed by this person whom she trusted and respected. Not surprisingly, the abuse of power by her professor also made her question her own self-efficacy as a researcher. She wondered if she really had what was needed to be a successful researcher.
Unfortunately, abuse of power and trust are facts of life. These are things that we wish we and our loved ones never encountered in life. But then you cannot wish problems away. Inevitably, we all encounter betrayals in one form or another. Sometimes the betrayals are so severe that they scar us for our entire lives, as happens in cases of sexual abuse. For example, today I was reading a recent New York Times article which described the case of a 50 year old woman for whom it took about 25 years to unequivocally acknowledge the fact that what her yoga guru had done to her was nothing but sexual abuse. During all these years, she was questioning herself and rationalizing her guru's actions.
Abuse of trust is always a devastating experience for the victim. You start questioning yourself. "How could I be so stupid as to trust this individual? How could I not see this coming?" All those years of admiration, trust and devotion appear to be misplaced. This can be so painful that the alternative of rationalizing and justifying the perpetrator's actions seem more alluring. And so, depending on the nature of abuse, it may take anywhere from weeks to years to come to complete terms with it. The point is to not blame, but to call a spade a spade. Only when we accept an incident of abuse as it is, can we move forward with our life. Otherwise, we get stuck in a rut bouncing between self-blame and other-blame.
Worse, we may even become cynical about the entire world. "There is no good in being nice and honest," is the feeling. It seems like being nice doesn't take you anywhere, whereas the manipulative, heartless, machiavellians and narcissists appear to be going places. Such thinking may seem natural, but is very maladaptive and self-defeating. Whenever traces of cynicism enter my system, I always try to remind myself, "Paresh, if you have come this far being good, nice, and trusting, these qualities can't be that bad." We don't have to change our personality and values, just because some person betrayed our trust. If it's feasible, we may confront the person. If not, we don't. However, we should continue to stay steadfast on our life's path, being not just good, but also wise and strong from our experience. After all, we gain wisdom and strength not from our successes, but from the setbacks of our life.