Betrayal trauma theory

Betrayal trauma is a type of trauma which occurs when the people or organisations and individual depends on for survival significantly violate that person's Trust or well-being. Examples of Betrayal trauma include: childhood physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or neglect as well as adult domestic violence, bullying in childhood or Adulthood, financial abuse and sexual abuse as an adult. 

Betrayal trauma Theory was created by Sivers, Schooler, and freyd in 2002 which also predicted the degree to which negative events represented by a betrayal would influence the way events were actually processed and turned into memory. The original research can be found in the files tab within our trauma research group.

Further research showed that some instances of Betrayal trauma can be so covert and subliminal that forgetting the betrayal and becoming blind to the event was common throughout multiple traumatic events. The term "betrayal blindness" introduced by Freyd in 1996, showed that that the term betrayal blindness may extend to betrayal events which are not necessarily considered traumatic such as; adultery, workplace inequalities and societal system betrayal. It is possible for victims, perpetrators and witnesses to experience betrayal blindness and do so in order to preserve relationships and societal systems which they are dependent on.

Freyd first introduced the term in a presentation at Langley Porter psychiatric Institute in 1991 where she stated that betrayal trauma was directly linked to memory repression, dissociative states and the processing involved in childhood trauma's. Freyd proposed the core issue of trauma is in fact betrayal. When Trust has been betrayed it produces inner conflict between what is currently happening in reality and an individual's own need for social dependence. 

Freyd (1991) stated that the inner pain involved in detecting betrayal is an evolved and adaptive catalyst for the changing of social relationships and alliances. Our survival system is not constructed to deal with betrayal well as it becomes activated and reactionary - even without the individuals personal awareness. This activated survival mode naturally will not want to return us to the person who has betrayed us; however if the betrayal occurred from an individual we rely on continued interactions from; then it is not within our personal advantage to remove oneself from that dynamic (e.g; if betrayal came from parent or spouse). Freyd furthered this theory in 1996 alongside Pamela J. Birrell in their published work "Blind to betrayal". A copy of which can be found under the files tab in our research group on Facebook (2).

With regards to being blind to betrayal, there is a personal gain to be attained by an individual in remaining unaware of the abuse they are subjected to. As fear is a defining factor of trauma as quoted by the American psychiatric Association (2000), research by Freyd a Al (2002) presents a new definition and viewpoint of a traumatic event and thus the possibility of expanding the diagnosis of CPTSD or developmental trauma further.

Recognising individual betrayal trauma can become increasingly difficult as the betrayal brainless begins to manifest and an individual employs maladaptive coping in order to remain attached within the relationship. It produces symptoms similar to complex trauma which has the ability to manifest either immediately or months and years later. It can be beneficial to familiarise yourself with some of the events that commonly cause betrayal trauma in order to assess the possibility of suffering from betrayal blindness (3). 

As we are social creatures and depend on relationships for support and personal growth; it is easy to see why situations or events that threaten this can cause betrayal trauma in individuals. Betrayal trauma overwhelms an individuals ordinary systems of care which onece gave an individual meaning and connection (Herman, 1997). Betrayal trauma differs from relationship to relationship and severity is dependent on the degree of relationship involved.

Betrayal trauma theory argues that overtime any traumatic experience high in betrayal will lead to dissociative issues, emotional numbing, amnesia or shame. Freyd agreed that betrayal plays a huge role in influencing posttraumatic responses and thus should be considered when screening and treating trauma (2).

Our research group can be found here;

Currently we are conducting research into the causes of trauma. I have included a link to the survey here :

If you would be interested in taking part, please feel free. If you would like to share this study i would also welcome you to use the link, many thanks!


(1). DePrince, A.P, Brown, L.S., Cheit, R.E., Freyd, J.J., Gold, S.N., Pezdek, K. & Quina, K (2012). Motivated forgetting and misremembering: Perspectives from Betrayal Trauma Theory. In Belli, R. F. (Ed.), True and False Recovered Memories: Toward a Reconciliation of the Debate (Nebraska Symposium on Motivation 58) (pp 193-243). New York: Springer.

(2). Freyd, J.J.& Birrell, P.J. (2013). Blind to Betrayal. John Wiley & Sons.

(3). "what is betrayal trauma", Dr. Jill Manning, URL;, accessed 04.08.20, 1320