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Kiss of Judas, 1304-06 by Giotto shows Judas betraying Jesus.

Betrayal is the breaking or violation of a presumptive contract, trust, or confidence that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals, between organizations or between individuals and organizations. Often betrayal is the act of supporting a rival group, or it is a complete break from previously decided upon or presumed norms by one party from the others. Someone who betrays others is commonly called a traitor or betrayer.

Betrayal is a commonly used story element in fiction, sometimes used as a plot twist.


Philosophers Judith Shklar and Peter Johnson, authors of The Ambiguities of Betrayal and Frames of Deceit, respectively, contend that while no clear definition of betrayal is available, betrayal is more effectively understood through literature.[1]

Theoretical and practical needs[edit]

Jackson explains why a clear definition is needed:

Betrayal is both a "people" problem and a philosopher's problem. Philosophers should be able to clarify the concept of betrayal, compare and contrast it with other moral concepts, and critically assess betrayal situations. At the practical level people should be able to make honest sense of betrayal and also to temper its consequences: to handle it, not be assaulted by it. What we need is a conceptually clear account of betrayal that differentiates between genuine and merely perceived betrayal, and which also provides systematic guidance for the assessment of alleged betrayal in real life.

Ben-Yehuda's 2001 work ("Betrayals and Treason Violations of Trust and Loyalty" Westview Press) framed all forms of betrayals and treason under a unifying analytical framework using loyalty, trust and moral boundaries as explanatory tools.

Signature and consequences[edit]

An act of betrayal creates a constellation of negative behaviours, thoughts, and feelings in both its victims and its perpetrators. The interactions are complex. The victims exhibit anger and confusion, and demand atonement from the perpetrator, who in turn may experience guilt or shame, and exhibit remorse. If, after the perpetrator has exhibited remorse or apologized, the victim continues to express anger, this may in turn cause the perpetrator to become defensive, and angry in turn. Acceptance of betrayal can be exhibited if victims forgo the demands of atonement and retribution; but is only demonstrated if the victims do not continue to demand apologies, repeatedly remind the perpetrator or perpetrators of the original act, or ceaselessly review the incident over and over again.

If no true apology, atonement, real remorse and plan to change one's behaviors are present, then the one who was betrayed can accept that it happened, and that the perpetrator is unwilling or unable to change. No real change means they can do it again. Lack of validation from the perpetrator can be been described as a "second assault," which can exacerbate the effects of the initial trauma incurred. Accepting the betrayal and going no contact is the best route forward. The alternative is to stay in connection and realize the trespass can happen again, and may choose to avoid doing certain things to decrease severity. For example, if a person gossips, do not tell them your secrets.[2]

Betrayal trauma[edit]

Betrayal trauma has symptoms similar to posttraumatic stress disorder,[3] although the element of amnesia and disassociation is likely to be greater.

The key difference between traditional posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and betrayal trauma is that the former is historically seen as being caused primarily by fear, whereas betrayal trauma is a response to extreme anger. Another key difference is that betrayal trauma involves an individual experiencing a violation of trust between a trusted individual or institution, whereas posttraumatic stress disorder does not involve a violation from a trusted source.[4]

In romantic relationships[edit]

John Gottman's What Makes Love Last? describes betrayal as "a noxious invader, arriving with great stealth" that undermines seemingly stable romances and lies at the heart of every failing relationship, even if the couple is unaware of it. Gottman computed a betrayal metric by calculating how unwilling each partner was to sacrifice for the other and the relationship. A consistently elevated betrayal metric served as an indicator that the couple was at risk for infidelity or another serious disloyalty. Some types of betrayal in romantic relationships include sexual infidelity, conditional commitment, a nonsexual affair, lying, forming a coalition against the partner, absenteeism or coldness, withdrawal of sexual interest, disrespect, unfairness, selfishness, and breaking promises.[5]

Double cross[edit]

Double cross is a phrase meaning to deceive by double-dealing.[6]


The phrase originates from the use of the word cross in the sense of foul play: deliberate collusion to cause someone to lose a contest of some kind.

It has also been suggested that the term was inspired by the practice of 18th-century British thief taker and criminal Jonathan Wild, who kept a ledger of his transactions and is said to have placed two crosses by the names of persons who had cheated him in some way. This folk etymology is almost certainly incorrect, but there is documentary evidence that the term did exist in the 19th century.

More recently, the phrase was used to refer to either of two possible situations:

  1. A competitor participating in the fix who has agreed to throw their game instead competes as usual, against the original intention of their collaborators – one "cross" against another.
  2. Two opposing parties are approached, urging them to throw the game and back the other. Both parties lose out, and the perpetrators benefit by backing a third, winning party.

This use has passed into common parlance, so that, for example, in World War II, British Military Intelligence used the Double Cross System to release captured Nazis and have them transmit to Germany false information.

Betrayal blindness[edit]

Betrayal blindness is the unawareness, not-knowing, and forgetting exhibited by people towards betrayal.[7]

The term "betrayal blindness" was introduced in 1996 by Freyd, and expanded in 1999 by Freyd and then again in 2013 by Freyd and Birrell through the Betrayal Trauma Theory.[7] This betrayal blindness may extend to betrayals that are not considered traditional traumas, such as adultery, and inequities. Betrayal blindness is not exclusive to victims. Perpetrators, and witnesses may also display betrayal blindness in order to preserve personal relationships, their relationships with institutions, and social systems upon which they depend.[7]

The term "Institutional Betrayal" refers to wrongdoings perpetrated by an institution upon individuals dependent on that institution. This includes failure to prevent or respond supportively to wrongdoings by individuals (e.g. sexual assault) committed within the context of the institution.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jackson 2000, pp. 72–73
  2. ^ Reis & Rusbult 2004, pp. 296
  3. ^ Freyd, Jennifer J. "What is a Betrayal Trauma? What is Betrayal Trauma Theory?". University of Oregon. Archived from the original on July 6, 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-26. [Link is now: Retrieved 2014-03-08]
  4. ^ Kelley, Lance P.; Weathers, Frank W.; Mason, Elizabeth A.; Pruneau, Genevieve M. (2012-07-20). "Association of life threat and betrayal with posttraumatic stress disorder symptom severity". Journal of Traumatic Stress. 25 (4): 408–415. doi:10.1002/jts.21727. ISSN 0894-9867.
  5. ^ Gottman, John (2012). What Makes Love Last. pp. xvii, 14.
  6. ^ "double-cross". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2010-07-18.
  7. ^ a b c d "Definition of Betrayal Trauma Theory". Retrieved 2016-12-02.

Bibliography for references[edit]

  • Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55,5, 469–480.
  • Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Freyd, J. J. (1994). Betrayal-trauma: Traumatic amnesia as an adaptive response to childhood abuse. Ethics & Behavior, 4, 307–329.
  • Freyd, J. J. (1996). Betrayal trauma: The logic of forgetting childhood abuse. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Freyd, J. J., & Birrell, P. J. (2013). Blind to Betrayal: Why we fool ourselves we aren't being fooled Archived 2015-05-07 at the Wayback Machine. Somerset, NJ: Wiley.
  • Freyd, J. J ., Klest, B., & Allard, C. B. (2005) Betrayal trauma: Relationship to physical health, psychological distress, and a written disclosure intervention. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 6(3), 83-104.
  • Hensley, A. L. (2004). Why good people go bad: A psychoanalytic and behavioral assessment of the Abu Ghraib Detention Facility staff. An unpublished courts-martial defense strategy presented to the Area Defense Counsel in Washington DC on December 10, 2004.
  • Hensley, A. L. (2006). "Contracts don't always begin on the dotted line: Psychological contracts and PTSD in female service members in Iraq". Archived from the original on November 24, 2010. Retrieved October 10, 2010.
  • Hensley, A. L. (2007). Why good people go bad: A case study of the Abu Ghraib Courts-Martials. In G. W. Dougherty, Proceedings of the 5th annual proceedings of the Rocky Mountain Region Disaster Mental Health Conference. Ann Arbor, MI: Loving Healing Press.
  • Hensley, A. L. (2009a). Gender, personality, and coping: Unraveling gender in military post-deployment wellbeing (preliminary results). In G. Dougherty (Ed.). Return to equilibrium: Proceedings of the 7th Rocky Mountain Region Disaster Mental Health Conference (pp. 105–148). Ann Arbor, MI: Loving Healing Press.
  • Hensley, A. L. (2009b). Gender, personality and coping: Unraveling gender in military post-deployment physical and mental wellness. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest UMI.
  • Hensley, A. L. (2009c). Betrayal trauma: Insidious purveyor of PTSD. In G. Dougherty (Ed.). Return to equilibrium: Proceedings of the 7th Rocky Mountain Region Disaster Mental Health Conference (pp. 105–148). Ann Arbor, MI: Loving Healing Press.
  • Hersey, B. & Buhl, M.(January/February 1990). The Betrayal of Date Rape. InView.
  • Jackson, R. L. (2000). "The Sense and Sensibility of Betrayal: Discovering the Meaning of Treachery through Jane Austen" (PDF). Humanitas. National Humanities Institute. XIII (2): 72–89. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2021-05-08. Retrieved 2005-12-02.
  • Johnson-Laird, P. N. (1983). Mental Models: Towards a Cognitive Science of Language, Inference, and Consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper.
  • McNulty, F. (1980). The burning bed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Musen, K. & Zimbardo, P. G. (1991). Quiet rage: The Stanford prison study. Videorecording. Stanford, CA: Psychology Dept., Stanford University.
  • Reis, H. T.; Rusbult, C. E. (2004). Close relationships: key readings. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-86377-596-3.

Further reading[edit]

  • Robin Marie Kowalski (2009). "Betrayal". In Harry T. Reis; Susan Sprecher; Susan K. Sprecher (eds.). Encyclopedia of Human Relationships. Vol. 1. SAGE. pp. 174–176. ISBN 978-1-4129-5846-2.
  • James Allen Grady (2008). "Betrayal". In Yudit Kornberg Greenberg (ed.). Encyclopedia of love in world religions. Vol. 1. ABC-CLIO. pp. 74–76. ISBN 9781851099801.
  • Freyd, Jennifer J. (2008). "Betrayal trauma". In G. Reyes; J.D. Elhai; J.D.Ford (eds.). Encyclopedia of Psychological Trauma. New York: John Wiley & Sons. p. 76.
  • Nachman Ben-Yehuda (2001). Betrayal and treason: violations of trust and loyalty. Crime & society. Westview Press. ISBN 978-0-8133-9776-4.
  • Gilbert Reyes; Jon D. Elhai & Julian D. Ford (2008). "Betrayal trauma". The Encyclopedia of Psychological Trauma. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-44748-2.
  • Alan L. Hensley (2009). "Betrayal Trauma: Insidious Purveyor of PTSD". In George W. Doherty (ed.). Return to Equilibrium: The Proceedings of the 7th Rocky Mountain Region Disaster Mental Health Conference. Loving Healing Press. ISBN 978-1-932690-86-6.
  • Malin Åkerström (1991). Betrayal and betrayers: the sociology of treachery. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-0-88738-358-8.
  • Warren H. Jones; Laurie Couch & Susan Scott (1997). "Trust and Betrayal". In Robert Hogan; John A. Johnson & Stephen R. Briggs (eds.). Handbook of personality psychology. Gulf Professional Publishing. ISBN 978-0-12-134646-1.