How to Handle Betrayal as an Ethical Entrepreneur

As entrepreneurs who are committed to ethical business, I’m sure you have encountered less than savory characters in the business world, and dealing with them in a way that maintains your integrity is as much a spiritual practice, as it is a professional necessity.

Now, it’s one thing when you are dealing with unsavory business “out there”, in the world at large, where there’s a hell of a lot of unethical people roaming the streets. It’s another thing if the betrayal occurs closer to home – from your employee, colleague, boss, or your most trusted ally – your business partner.

Sure, it sucks when an acquaintance or stranger betrays you. But it feels downright awful when it comes from someone who’s supposed to have your back, someone who’s part of the home team. And given that a business partnership is very much like a marriage – it has to be based on a deep level of trust in order to succeed – when that trust is broken, it can be an incredibly hurtful and damaging experience.

So What Happened?


To make a long story short, my former biz partner took advantage of my travel plans to:

  1. Steal from me while I was in Brazil
  2. Break into my house while I was in Spain

And then vanish.

Stopped returning voice mail and text messages. Total drop out. Nada.

No conversation around, “Dude, are you OK? Do you need help? (Obviously he does). WTF happened to you while I was gone? Can we work this out?”


The Massive Head Trip


This was the person I spent the most amount of time with over the past year and a half, so I am reeling from the betrayal and the shock of seeing who he really was. I discovered he was a pathological liar, having completely fabricated stories about his past, and was likely suffering from bipolar disorder.   I pride myself in being a good judge of character, and am  dumbfounded by my inability to see his true nature. I knew him for a year before we started working together, and we even worked on a 3-6 month project to test the water. He was all about spirituality & really into Zen Buddhism. So he must be a decent fellow, right? How long does it take before you really “know” someone?

We worked together. We shared hopes and dreams. We ate together and watched movies together. We tackled the challenges of our projects, argued, made up and kept forging ahead. We had an agreement that if things didn’t work out, we’d handle it as mature, rational adults.  More importantly, he promised, assured me he’d take care of things while I was gone.

The Collateral Damage


My biggest regret is that the total waste of time, energy, and money I invested working on projects with my ex partner over the past few years. I’ve also been discovering the limitations of our legal system, the time &  expense involved in pursuing personal injury suits, let alone filing a restraining order. I’ve been reeling under the cost of jacking up the security around my home from a lock and deadbolt overhaul, to enhanced security system, motion sensor lights and privacy drapes on every window. As I’m going through this, I have been cycling through:

  • Rage
  • Desire for revenge
  • Depression
  • Lack of energy, focus, and motivation to work on my Internet business
  • Anxiety over how much valuable time is being consumed by dealing with the physical and emotional aftermath of his actions
  • Rinse, lather, repeat

What to Do When Your Business Partner (or Lover, or Friend, or Family Member) Betrays You


If you consider yourself to be an enlightened entrepreneur, planet saver, spiritual warrior, etc. scouring Craigslist for thugs for hire so you can take out his knees is NOT right action. It did cross my mind, however.

It’s been about 5 weeks since this all went down, so I apologize for my silence on this blog, I was, erm, busy. And I am finally recovering. So here are some tips on how to handle betrayal from someone who you trusted to have your back:

  1. Give yourself the gift of rest. Betrayal is one of the worst forms of energetic attack, because it strikes directly at your heart. Whether or not it was deliberate and planned, or the consequences of poor choices and acts of desperation, betrayal is a destructive force that can sap your vital energy. So if the experience leaves you feeling tired and depressed, allow yourself the time to sleep, rest, and recover.
  2. Allow yourself to feel like shit for a finite period of time. It’s totally human to experience situational depression when dealt with a grand betrayal by someone you trusted at a deep level. I do think it’s healthy to fully process the emotions that come up and grieve, rather than shove it to the side and get on with it. Allow yourself to feel, acknowledge, and process the myriad emotions that will arise – anger, sadness, grief, glimpses of the good times, the bad times. Don’t dwell, or fixate on the emotions. Let them arise, feel them completely, and let them dissolve. Set a date for recovery, so you don’t find yourself mired in the past.
  3. Engage in inquiry. Why do you think the person did what he / she did? What was their emotional state when they engaged in the betrayal? What life experiences led them to make such choices?  What responsibility did you have in allowing the situation to unfold the way it did? What would you do differently in the future? What did you learn?
  4. Get perspective. I also get a lot from the online communities where I belong, and occasionally I put something personal out for community feedback. I put a question out to Dynamite Circle, an awesome private network of Internet entrepreneurs I belong to [- “What do you do when a business partner betrays you?” Given that entrepreneurs are risk takers, I wasn’t surprised to hear that betrayal stories abounded. One member’s former business partner defrauded him of $120K, and “while his ass chapped” at the loss, he was grateful that he cut loose from the guy sooner, as the ex is now doing life without parole for the murder of his subsequent business partner. Another member’s con man business partner defrauded him of his life savings, left him broke in a 3rd world country, caused him to be questioned mercilessly by Argentine authorities and the FBI, but ended up beheaded on the Paraguay Argentine border. I feel much better now, thanks guys.
  5. Engage in talk therapy. Not trash talk therapy. Talk with people you trust about the situation and your feelings, in a way that deepens understanding rather than stirs up draining, negative emotions.
  6. Get real therapy. I believe everyone can use therapy. If you feel like you need the help of a professional, then give yourself this gift.
  7. Nourish yourself. With good, organic food. Yoga and exercise. Walks in nature. Stand up comedy. And the company of good friends who care about you.
  8. Practice forgiveness and compassion. Again and again until it’s real. This is the best gift you can give yourself. Forgiveness actually frees you from pain of the situation, and opens the door to healing. See how you feel in your body, when you fill your mind with thoughts on all the ways you are going to give your betrayer some major payback time. Now what does it feel like when you feel compassion for the individual, when you take into account whatever caused him / her to make these choices, the pain / suffering / delusion they are going through and forgive them. Doesn’t that emotional quality feel a hell of a lot better?

We tend to think that forgiving someone means we are letting the person who wronged us off the hook. That’s not true. They still have to answer for their actions. Deep down inside to themselves. And karma can be a big, bad, bitch as well. Let karma do her job.

And if you’re still stuck on revenge, then, heck, why not take best revenge of all?

revenge is sweet

The best revenge is to be a great success

and live a fabulous life.


So these are some of the things that helped me recover from betrayal. I am now at a place, where, amazingly, I have gratitude toward my ex partner who has given me my greatest test in forgiveness and compassion in a long, long time. For, as spiritual warriors, we are here on the planet to teach each other compassion, are we not?

I want to give a plug to Stacey, of My Lifestyle Max, another awesome member of Dynamite Circle,  who inspired me to write this post. Now for the group healing & perspective:

  • Have you ever had a business partner betray you?
  • What lessons did you learn?
  • What would you have done differently?
  • What helped you overcome the impact of being cheated / de-frauded / robbed / betrayed?
  • How do you assess a potential partner? How long do you need to have known them before you decide to tie the knot.
  • How do you negotiate a divorce from your business partner – any tips / recos?
  • Are you done with partners, or still open to partnership?
This post was written by:

Lorna Li

Lorna Li is a social media and green marketing expert. She enjoys helping green businesses and nonprofits with bootstrap marketing, as well as helping job seekers leverage social media for personal branding.

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  1. Jane says:

    I think this was sent to me at just the perfect time. It was not a partner, nor a close friend that betrayed me, but instead a client. I was working very hard doing SEO for a very large supplement company. There was some type of “boy posturing” with my previous business partner and the owner of this company. I, of course, was doing all the work. After a written direction to move forward, I received a dismissive email two months later that says we are done. This company owes me $12,500 dollars!!! I am very small and work very hard for my clients. This loss of money is HUGE. Have I thought of revenge…yes. Have I felt betrayed…yes. I am also really, really angry. Fortunately, I have a wonderful client who is an attorney and wants to give me a bonus for all the hard work I have done for her, so she is writing legal letters for me. I am just really sad that I have to use my energy to go through this!

    Your article helps me move past the anger and hurt and…well, talk!

  2. Lorna Li says:


    That sucks! I’m so sorry to hear that. Betrayal is so destructive in terms of time, money, and emotional cost. Clients not paying is common enough that I’ve learned to require 50% deposit up front for any online marketing consulting work.

    For link building it’s normal to require 100% payment up front, because once the links are built, you cannot unbuild them. Also link builders often use contractors to do the grunt work, so it’s a cash outlay for the service provider up front. I usually explain that to clients in the beginning, so if they want to work with me they need to provide a deposit.

    Also cover your ass by including a late payment surcharge – usually a % of the contract for every period of time that goes by, e.g. 10% after 10 days past due, etc.

    Hope that helps!

  3. Jane says:

    @Lorna – I have an attorney-friend who already chewed me out for working without payment :-). I have to stop being such a trusting person. I now have a new contract that states you must pay before the first of the month or else I stop working. It is a really good point – I can’t “undo” the links that I created without a TON of work. I may use that!

  4. Catherine says:

    Lorna, I am so sad to hear this happened to you, especially upon returning from trips that were so positive. I have never had a business partner, but I do know the devastation to one’s soul that can be wreaked by betrayal from people one has trusted for a lifetime. You may find resonance with the stories and reflections at The Forgiveness Project. I found it especially encouraging that they talk about how complex and gradual forgiveness is. Here’s a powerful passage from their website:

    “Above all, forgiveness must be a choice because to expect someone to forgive can victimize them all over again. Forgiveness is also a journey and not a destination: in other words it is rarely a one-off, fixed event or a single magnanimous gesture in response to an isolated offence. It is part of a continuum of human engagements in healing broken relationships… Some have said forgiveness is ‘giving up all hope of a better past.’”

    I also found an understanding voice and surprising wisdom in Thomas Moore’s book, “Dark Nights of the Soul.”

    I hope your work on Green Marketing TV helps you revive your belief in the direction you’ve been taking so boldly. It has been terrifically inspiring for me, and others, I’m sure. We’re glad you’re in touch with us again!

  5. Lorna Li says:


    Thanks so much for your kinds words. Forgiveness is a tremendously powerful spiritual practice. Every time I approach it from a place of cynicism, I am amazed at how much better I feel about myself, the other, and the world at large, once I’ve arrived at a place of forgiveness. It’s truly liberating.

  6. stacey says:

    Lorna, I have been off the blogging and SM train for over a month. The back end of my blog is a disaster, but that’s no excuse. I’m glad my post inspired you. I saw the debate on DC and did not think I had much to add. My heart would say…let it go..and let karma have its way. Either way, it’s all good.xx

  7. Lorna Li says:

    @Stacey No worries. TBH, after hearing Mike & Milosh’s story on the DC forum thread, I felt INSTANTLY BETTER! I did a big forgiveness practice / soul retrieval around all of this and arrived at a place of compassion for my ex partner, who is obviously so unwell in his mind that he would do the things he did. My life has been lovely since then, and I do hope to meet you in Bali one of these days!


  1. […] I know it’s been a loooong while since I published Q&A Friday, and I have to apologize for my overzealousness in announcing this series BEFORE I went to the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, where the Internet is a crappy, crappy thing. When it’s exceedingly hot, humid, and mosquitoes descend upon you the moment you are still for 2 minutes – well this makes blogging really tough. And just when I was all energized and motivated to get back to Green Marketing TV upon my return, I had to deal with this. […]

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