Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Betrayal and emotion

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Betrayal and emotion:
What are the emotional effects of betrayal and what can be done about it?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Human beings are social creatures that flourish when partaking in social relationships and this requires a strong unity and trust (Jetten et al., 2014). Social relationships and groups can enhance mental health and physical health benefits. If the trust has been violated within the relationship a series of emotional and psychological effects can most likely occur (Cruwys, Haslam, Dingle, Haslam & Jetten, 2014). According to Rachman (2010), betrayal is an intentional act of harm by a close of trusted person and occurs when someone breaks or goes against another person presumed trust, obligation or confidence (Freyd, 2003). This chapter will provide insight into various categories of betrayal including the definition of betrayal, emotional and psychological effects of betrayal, different types of coping mechanisms and treatments. The chapter mainly focuses on the emotional and psychological effects of betrayal, closely analysing the psychological, behavioural, biological and possible psychological disorder that can arise.

Focus questions:

  • What is betrayal?
  • What are the emotional impacts of betrayal?
  • What are the psychological implications and theories of betrayal?
  • What are the different treatment strategies to recover from betrayal?

Case study

Cindy and Chris were married for 7 years. Chris was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who had been clean and sober for several years before he met Cindy. Cindy came home to find Chris crying and upset. She asked him what was wrong and he said he had to move out and "see what he wanted in life" and let him go. After a few months she discovered that Chris has been funneling money on their joint account and was seeing another woman on the side, someone he had mentioned as a new acquaintance at work.

Source:Betrayal case study

Betrayal[edit | edit source]

Humans are naturally social beings who strive to achieve social connectedness through relationships and groups (Cruwys, Haslam, Dingle, Haslam & Jetten, 2014). As previously stated, social relationships and groups can have beneficial results to the psychological well being and health of a person (Jetten et al., 2014). Breach of trust can have long-lasting effects that can result in psychological disorder depending on the degree of betrayal (Allard, 2009). However, betrayal has been dated as a widespread phenomenon throughout history (Leonidou, Aykol, Fotiadis & Christodoulides, 2018) and has been ongoing till this day. It is a phenomenon that is inevitable due to the unconscious part of being a human being as people try to repress their inner selves (Elite Daily, 2019). This book chapter will focus on the emotional effects of betrayal and what can be done about it.

Figure 1. Infidelity is one of the types of betrayal.

What is betrayal?[edit | edit source]

Betrayal is commonly defined as the phenomenon of intentional act of harm by a close of trusted person (Rachman, 2010). Anyone can possess the intent of betraying other people, whether it maybe family, close relatives, friends or strangers. Studies shows that there are various cases of betrayal that are unexpected and disbelieved at first which can be an onset of betrayal trauma theory. Allard (2009) further supported this claim and added that the different degrees of betrayal will result in different consequences. High betrayal is executed by someone who either has an intimate relationship with the victim or they have a close relationship. Medium betrayal occurs when the betrayer had minimum intimacy relationship with the victim, while low betrayal does not involve a perpetrator and has no relationship with the victim. The higher the degree of betrayal will more likely experience increase the intensity of adverse effects of betrayal.

Betrayal is also associated with a myriad of long-term consequences which can be life altering and permanent (Rachman, 2010). It solely depends on the degree of the betrayal and the relationship between the victim and perpetrator. Reducing the distrust amongst victims is therefore extremely difficult to achieve and would go for a longer period depending on the person and degree of betrayal (Beyond Intractability, 2019).

Types of betrayals[edit | edit source]

There are several types of betrayal throughout the myriad of research of the subject, although Rachman (2010) organised the most common types into five categories; disclosing confidential information, disloyalty, infidelity, dishonesty and failure to offer expected assistance. Different cases of betrayal are not limited to one category, some cases will have different complexity which includes two or more types of betrayal. The complexity and gravity on betrayal are associated with the intimacy between the people who are involved and the degree of betrayal. This can predominantly predicts the repercussions of betrayal and the likelihood of mending the relationship between the victim and perpetrator which in most cases the people who are involved just grow part .

Disclosing confidential information[edit | edit source]

Confidential information that is agreed between parties which was breached, with the intent to disclose part or the entirety of the subject (LegalVision, 2019)[grammar?]. This can be applied throughout different case scenarios including business deals, organisation policies, government issues, and workplace relationships. Sharing private information is a manipulative way of controlling situations that would lead to adverse effects for both parties.

Case study

A woman named Joslyn was enrolled in Laurus Technical Institute with a no gossip policy. However, she had discussed a confidential information that can be harmful to the person is who is involved. It was later revealed that she was fired because she discussed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint she had filed alleging sexual harassment and retaliation by her manager.

Source:Better workplace better world SHRM

Disloyalty[edit | edit source]

Loyalty is the innate feeling of support and sense of duty to one's allegiance which is commonly a person or group that one identifies with (, 2019). Disloyalty is the exact opposite, wherein one breached the agreement of trust and went behind their back due to one selfishness.

Case study

On thanksgiving, Steven's mother had taken in some of her distant cousins as they'd just lost their jobs. Steve described her mother as a compassionate woman that withholds the truth. Throughout the night he found out that all the closets and drawers were locked. Her mother explained that her distant nephew stole money, jewellery and even clothing from which, would explain her actions. Her nephews were disloyal to her even though she opened her home to them.

Source:Psychology today/ trust and betrayal

Infidelity[edit | edit source]

Infidelity is the breach of promise sexually or emotionally within a partnership either bounded by marriage or agreement to remain faithful to one another (Psychology Today, 2019). Sexual infidelity is the act of having sexual relations with someone other than one's own partner. Emotional infidelity, is when one's partner experiences emotional feelings rather than sexual intimacy (Shackelford & Buss 1997). Both sexual and emotional infidelity elicits destructive consequences for both male and female. According to Shackelford and Buss (1997) males are much more likely to commit sexual infidelity whereas females are prone to emotional infidelity.

Case study

Emma, 37 and Scott, 35, a married couple of ten years, who have two kids together. Jordan age 3 and Kierra age 8. Their relationship has survived many difficulties but the discovery of Scott’s affair has rocked their world. Constant arguments led to initial thoughts of separation and divorce before they decided to seek relationship counselling. In Emma's perspective, she was shocked when she found out, plagued with the intense betrayal she was obsessing about the affair. The obsession was seriously increasing her anxiety level to the point that she loses concentration and is unable to do day to day daily tasks.

Source:Relationship and counselling support

Dishonesty[edit | edit source]

Dishonesty is the deceitfulness that is shown in one's character and behaviour (Lexico Dictionaries English, 2019). Psychological explanation on the act of dishonesty is due to the fear of damaging one's self image and perceive gains through dishonesty (Thielmann and Hilbig, 2019). According to Gerlach, Teodorescu and Hertwig (2019) dishonesty occurs depending on the situation, if it renders reward and the magnitude of that reward. These factors can either increase or decrease one's motivation to actually initiating the act of dishonesty.

Case study

A client from a law firm had his passport seized by police after he was alleged to have been involved in a large fraud. He was going to be charged with obtaining financial advantage by deception. The police obtained a warrant and came and seized a lot of material including his passport and computers

Source:Criminal lawyers fraud case

Failure to offer expected assistance[edit | edit source]

This type of betrayal is closely associated to disloyalty due to their similarities. People who strongly identify themselves to their social group will more likely expect that people would offer their support if they are experienced in life challenges. Unfortunately, everybody is different and might not have the capacity to perceive trivial situations as the same as other people do. This can lead to the behaviour of failing to offer assistance from friends and family; commonly depending on the magnitude of the situation predicts the degree of hurt and deceit experienced.

Case study

A 28-year-old man felt betrayed by a close, long-term friend who declined to give evidence on the patient’s behalf when he was falsely accused of threatening behaviour towards a young woman. Even though the friend was present at the time of the alleged behaviour and acknowledged in private that the allegation was completely false, he explained that he was unwilling to ‘get involved’. He was distressed by his morbid preoccupation with the false allegation and his friend’s unwillingness to help him which causes him to have difficult in concentrating on other matters, his sleep was disturbed and he was mildly depressed.

Source:Betrayal: A psychological analysis

Betrayal trauma theory[edit | edit source]

Betrayal trauma theory posits the cognitive disassociation of the victim towards the perpetrator of their wrong doing (Tang and Freyd, 2012). Victims who experienced interpersonal trauma repress their memories and are likely unaware of the trauma to maintain critical attachment bonds to the perpetrator (Kaehler and Freyd, 2012). The stronger the bond between both the victim and perpetrator, the more adverse and detrimental it is for the victims. they become conflicted between the motivation to remain attached to the perpetrator due to the magnitude of their relationship (Allard, 2009). Gobin and Freyd (2014) also suggested that individuals cope with traumatic betrayals, such as childhood sexual abuse, by blocking awareness for the betrayal. The explanation behind this behaviour is to defend the psychological pain as it is far more straightforward to repress the memory rather than tackle the situation head on and experience the repercussions of the trauma (Freyd, 1994).

Most people who are susceptible to the onset symptoms of betrayal trauma theory are those who had experienced intense interpersonal trauma, frequent cases are sexual abuse and domestic violence victims. Tang and Freyd (2012) also found that females are more commonly receptive to traumas and receive maltreatment from people who are closely associated with them, while men are more prone to trauma from strangers and non family members. Women had a higher rate of sexual abuse throughout their childhood till adolescents years to whom they are close with, at the same time men are more likely to experience physical abuse by an acquaintance.

Allard (2009) presented a compelling study that states, the higher intensity of trauma will more likely result to memory disruption. This claim was proven when they interviewed Japanese students who had suffered from intense trauma. Students were assessed through using the verbal and written assessments in which they were categorised by three different levels of betrayal they associate with. High betrayal experienced disruptive memory loss and have trouble retrieving repressed information at the moment of betrayal. This predicament can cause severe psychological distress that is intensely detrimental to one's health which results to a high probability of post traumatic stress disorder (Tang and Freyd, 2012).

Case study

Kluemper aged 39, explains that she was about four when she accused her biological mother of sexually molesting her. At that moment her mother and father were getting a divorce and trying to get custody of her. As part of the custody evaluation, a forensic evaluation was done. Kluemper aged 6 at the time had sessions with a psychiatrist called David Corwin who filmed interviews. At one point in time, she looks into the video camera occasionally and described how her mother has sexually abused her. Several years had passed, her father died when she was age 17. She had no family left to live with and had been jumping from foster home to foster home. Being a teenager desperate for a family she didn’t remember any more why she had been taken from her biological mother’s custody. She contacted her then psychiatrist and asked if she could watch the video and after watching the video a surge of memories came to her which made her remember the whole incident.

Source:Repressed memories -Nicole Kluemper

Figure 2. Specific brain activation after betrayal trauma

Emotional impacts of betrayal[edit | edit source]

There are several emotional repercussions from the act of betrayal. These repercussions are mostly long lasting and cause a rift in existing relationships (Rachman, 2010). The effects are categorised into three main components which consist of psychological, behavioural and biological-emotional. Each category will discuss the different aspects and the consequences of betrayal.

Psychological[edit | edit source]

Individuals who experience the acts betrayal elicit adverse psychological effects. Initially shock, loss and grief, morbid preoccupation, damaged self-esteem, self-doubting, anger arise from betrayal (Allard, 2009). The more intense and catastrophic betrayal are most relevant for anxiety disorders, and OCD and PTSD in particular (Allard, 2009).

Case study

John and Mary had grown up in the same town and known each other since the fourth grade. They attended the same Catholic Church and schools together and their parents were devoted to each other and to their God. After a while John was accepted into a prestigious school and was introduced to different points of view regarding his own religion. He shared this to Mary. She threatened to leave him if he did not immediately change his mind and his behaviour. She felt not only betrayed, but humiliated that he had been “carrying on” with this “anti-Christ” behaviour behind her back. From Mary’s perspective, this was a case of unforgivable betrayal.

Source:Can a relationship survive after betrayal?

Behavioural[edit | edit source]

People who suffer from the act of betrayal are more likely to display behavioural changes. Studies show that people normally shows signs of paranoia, develop eating disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder (Allard,2009). This due to the emotional suffering that emits from the act of betrayal (Brogaard, 2019).

Case study

A 55-year-old male was betrayed by his young wife who suddenly left him to move in with a personal trainer whom she had met at her gym. The husband had a catastrophic reaction to the betrayal and spent a lot of time staring into space. He was emotionally numb and pre-occupied with the betrayal that he was unable to concentrate at work. He {{missing{{ placed on disability leave.

Source:Betrayal: A psychological analysis

Biological[edit | edit source]

Naurert (2019) explains the biological interactions that happen inside the brain when trust is broken. A hormone called oxytocin plays an important role in trust and betrayal as it influence the brain on how people deal with betrayal. When trust is compromised the brain emits a specific activation pattern and when oxytocin was presented activation was significantly reduced. It reduce the activation on the amygdala, regions of the mid brain and dorsal nucleus of the caudatus (Naurert, 2019). These parts of the brain are responsible for the fear and behaviour when one experiences any kind of negative behaviour.

Case study

Test subjects who received a placebo reacted to a betrayal of trust by a reduction in their level of trust. On the other hand, people who received oxytocin by means of a nasal spray did not change their trusting behavior.

Source:Oxytocin and the biochemical effects of betrayal

Psychological disorders[edit | edit source]

Psychological disorders are broadly defined as the psychological dysfunction in an individual who experiences impairment and his/her reactions is not of[grammar?] norm (Brogaard, 2019). Psychological dysfunction occurs when one's cognitive, emotional and behavioural functioning are put to halt to the point that it disrupts one's way of living. Different psychological disorder can arise from severe betrayal due to the magnitude and intense of the act. The bond from both victim and perpetrator is also a underlying factor can predict the onset of psychological disorders. Studies shows that there are three main psychological disorder that is associated with betrayal, trauma (Allard, 2009). These are anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

Anxiety disorders[edit | edit source]

Anxiety disorder is a medical condition that has debilitating effects on an individuals who are experiencing its symptoms such as excessive worrying and paranoia ("Anxiety disorder", 2019). There are different kinds of anxiety disorder and individuals are more likely have a genetic vulnerability to develop anxiety disorder and stressful life can trigger if the the disorder lie dormant. According to studies 14% are affected by anxiety disorder yearly in Australia and that women are more susceptible in the onset of anxiety disorders ("Anxiety disorder", 2019). Anxiety disorder in betrayal is the result of a interpersonal trauma associated with psychological distress which can treated through psychological therapy and medical administered by a general practitioner or psychiatrist.

Case study

A 32-year-old female architect was referred for treatment of what was initially described as an ‘‘unrelenting obsession’’. She was morbidly pre-occupied by her partner’s betrayal of her and went over the events again and again. She was incapable of concentrating on her work and had been on disability leave for over a year. The patient had become isolated because her repetitive accounts of the betrayal strained the tolerance of her family and friends. She was socially dysfunctional.

Source:Betrayal: A psychological analysis

Obsessive–compulsive disorder[edit | edit source]

Obsessive-compulsive disorder commonly know as OCD is a type of anxiety disorder that displays constant obsession or compulsion to alleviate or neutralise stressful life events ("Beyond Blue", 2019). The symptoms are obsessive cleaning, hoarding, checking, sexual issues and ethical issues. Common cases of people who are diagnosed with the obsessive compulsive disorder show signs of guilt and shame. This can exacerbate the disorder which prompts individuals to deny and hide their obsessive acts. The association of betray and obsessive compulsive disorder roots from the psychological, social factors that can arise from trauma by betrayal. Psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy, behaviour therapy and e-therapy are readily available ("Beyond Blue", 2019).

Case study

A patient complained of persisting feelings of dirtiness that led him to wash and shower repeatedly. He was puzzled and annoyed by his inability to use many items of his clothing because they felt dirty. The feelings of dirtiness and associated washing and avoidance developed within a few weeks after he discovered that his fiancee had repeatedly been intimate with her former boyfriend while the patient was away on a business trip. It became evident that those clothes which had some association with the fiancee had become contaminated.

Source:Betrayal: A psychological analysis

Post traumatic stress disorder[edit | edit source]

Post traumatic stress disorder commonly known as PTSD is a psychological disorder that is triggered by either experiencing or witnessing a horrible incident. People may experience flashbacks, heightened anxiety and constant nightmares. PTSD occurs in betrayal due to the intensity of the act, the higher the betrayal the higher probability of experiencing the post traumatic distress (Allard,2009). It is a destructive behaviour that can also increase one's depressive and anxiety symptoms. It can also lead to people using recreational drugs, develop eating disorder and increase chances of suicidal thoughts ("Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - Symptoms and causes", 2019).

Case study

Renee and her husband Tim had grown distant, and they rarely had coitus anymore. Renee confronted Tim, and he confessed to an ongoing affair. She had many sleepless nights and lost her appetite and showed signs of humiliation and was enraged that she had been played for a fool. Renee also started demanding to police all of Tim’s emails, text messages, and phone calls to keep him under 24-hour surveillance, because she didn’t believe that he had ended the affair as he claimed.

Source:Does sexual betrayal can casuse PTSD

Figure 3. CBT and behavioural therapy assists individuals from the adverse effects of betrayal

Treatments[edit | edit source]

Emotional impacts of betrayal are life alerting and long lasting however, treatment of this phenomena is readily available. Studies discussed that using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help individual alleviate emotional consequences of betrayal. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a treatment approach for many mental disorders, more commonly emotional health issue such as anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder ("Cognitive behaviour therapy", 2019). CBT mainly focuses on the combination of thoughts, feelings and behaviour of an individual and teaches them to overcome and control these emotions and behaviours. When combined with behaviour therapy, individuals can learn different techniques to alter their behaviour and can increase success in treating the emotional effects of betrayal.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Betrayal causes adverse effects due to magnitude and degree of the betrayal. The emotional impact of betrayal can increase the onset of psychological disorders the higher betrayal an individual experience. They can also experience betrayal trauma theory wherein victims of betrayal abuse repress their memory to maintain the relationship with the perpetrator. Having said this, a myriad of research was geared towards different treatment strategies. Cognitive behavioural therapy along with behavioural therapy can help victims change their outlook in life and be able to turn their life around through the behavioural techniques and coping skills both therapy offers.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

1 Which is not a type of betrayal ?

Betray trauma therapy
All of the above

2 Why do victims of betrayal repress their memory of the betrayal incident?

To psychologically defend the psychological pain elicited from the act of betrayal
To maintain critical attachment bonds to the perpetrator
Fear of facing the issue head on
All of the above

3 How does oxytocin affect the brain after the act of betrayal occurred?

It can predict emotional trauma
It reduce the activation on the amygdala, regions of the mid brain and dorsal nucleus of the caudatus
Increases brain activation and posit an importance roles in the occipital lobe
All of the above

4 What are the treatment strategies for betrayal

Cognitive behavioural therapy
Couples therapy
Group therapy
All of the above

References[edit | edit source]

Allard, C. (2009). Prevalence and sequelae of betrayal trauma in a Japanese student sample. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 1(1), pp.65-77.

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Bobek, R. S. (2011). Betrayal trauma in the military: A phenomenological study exploring betrayal with veterans returning from iraq and afghanistan (Order No. 3509726)

Brogaard, B. (2019). What is a Psychological Disorder?.

Can a Relationship Survive After Betrayal?. (2019). Retrieved from

Cognitive behaviour therapy. (2019). Retrieved from

Couch, L., Jones, W., & Moore, D. (1999). Buffering the Effects of Betrayal.

Cruwys, T., Haslam, S., Dingle, G., Haslam, C., & Jetten, J. (2014). Depression and Social Identity. Personality And Social Psychology Review, 18(3), 215-238. doi: 10.1177/1088868314523839

Elite Daily. (2019). The Science Of Trust: The Only Way To Be Happy Is By Acknowledging Betrayal Is Inevitable. [online] Available at:

Freyd, J. (1994). Betrayal Trauma: Traumatic Amnesia as an Adaptive Response to Childhood Abuse. Ethics & Behavior, 4(4), 307-329. doi: 10.1207/s15327019eb0404_1

Freyd, J. J. (2003) What is a Betrayal Trauma? What is Betrayal Trauma Theory?. Retrieved from Scholars bank:

Freyd, J. (2013). Preventing Betrayal. Journal Of Trauma & Dissociation, 14(5), 495-500.

"Forgiveness is an emotion-focused coping strategy that can reduce health risks and promote health resilience: theory, review, and hypotheses". (2002).

Gerlach, P., Teodorescu, K. and Hertwig, R. (2019). The truth about lies: A meta-analysis on dishonest behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 145(1), pp.1-44.

Gobin, R., & Freyd, J. (2013). The impact of betrayal trauma on the tendency to trust.

Goldsmith, R. E. (2004). Physical and emotional health effects of betrayal trauma: A longitudinal study of young adults (Order No. 3147821)

Jetten, J., Haslam, C., Haslam, S., Dingle, G., & Jones, J. (2014). How Groups Affect Our Health and Well-Being: The Path from Theory to Policy. Social Issues And Policy Review, 8(1), 103-130. doi: 10.1111/sipr.12003

Kaehler, L. and Freyd, J. (2012). Betrayal trauma and borderline personality characteristics: Gender differences. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 4(4), pp.379-385.

Leonidou, L., Aykol, B., Fotiadis, T., & Christodoulides, P. (2018). Betrayal intention in exporter-importer working relationships: Drivers, outcomes, and moderating effects. International Business Review, 27(1), 246-258.

Lexico Dictionaries English. (2019). Dishonesty Definition of Dishonesty by Lexico. [online] Available at:

LegalVision. (2019). How To Prevent Disclosure Of Confidential Information. [online] Available at:

Miller, S., & Maner, J. (2008). Coping with Romantic Betrayal: Sex Differences in Responses to Partner Infidelity. Evolutionary Psychology, 6(3), 147470490800600.

Nauert, R. (2019). Oxytocin & the Biochemical Effects of Betrayal. Retrieved 27 October 2019, from

Nevins, C. (2017). Disordered eating and a history of trauma: The role of interpersonal trust.

Psychology Today. (2019). Infidelity - Psychology Today Australia. [online] Available at:

Rachman, S. (2010). Betrayal: A psychological analysis. Behaviour Research And Therapy, 48(4), 304-311. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2009.12.002

Shackelford, T. and Buss, D. (1997). Cues to Infidelity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(10), pp.1034-1045.

Thielmann, I. and Hilbig, B. (2019). No gain without pain: The psychological costs of dishonesty. Journal of Economic Psychology, 71, pp.126-137.

Webb, A. (2019). Why did they have an affair? A case study - The Spark Blog. [online] The Spark. Available at:

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]