Betrayal trauma is a term which comes from betrayal trauma theory which was developed by Freyd (1994). Essentially, an individual may experience betrayal trauma when betrayed by a person to whom s/he is very close and upon whom the individual depends for their safety, security and survival and with whom there had been a deep bond of trust. For example, a child betrayed by a parent or primary-carer may be at risk of developing betrayal trauma as a consequence, whereas betrayal by a relative stranger with whom the child was not close and had not built up a bond of trust would not lead to betrayal trauma.
THE EFFECTS OF HIGH-LEVEL BETRAYAL ON THE CHILD’S EXECUTIVE SYSTEM COMPARED TO THE EFFECTS OF LOW-LEVEL BETRAY.
WHAT IS MEANT BY EXECUTIVE FUNCTION?
Executive function refers to the brain’s ability to successfully carry out various cognitive processes (i.e. mental processes which enable us to gain knowledge and understand things) that help the individual:
- monitor and control behaviour
- achieve goals
- pay attention
- inhibit impulses
- problem solve
- operate working memory (working memory is the part of the memory system that stores information temporarily. It facilitates reasoning and helps to guide our behaviour).
RELEVANT RESEARCH STUDIES:
Research carried out by DePrince et al. (2009) involved 3 groups of children as follows:
GROUP 1: Those in this group had not experienced significant trauma.
GROUP 2: Those in this group had experienced trauma that involved a high level of betrayal (i.e. betrayal by a close family member leading to trauma).
GROUP 3: Those in this group had experienced trauma that involved a low level of betrayal (i.e. betrayal by a non-family member leading to trauma.
The aim of the research was to establish if which of the above three groups the child was in was related to the quality of his/her executive function.
HOW WAS EXECUTIVE FUNCTION MEASURED IN THIS STUDY?
In order to get an indication of the children’s executive functioning the following were measured:
- working memory
- auditory attention
- processing speed
RESULTS OF THE STUDY:
It was found that:
- The greater the number of traumatic events involving family members, the poorer, on average, was the executive functioning.
- Those children who had experienced trauma without family members being involved did NOT have impaired executive functioning.
Later research conducted by Freyd and colleagues (2008), which was focused specifically on ADHD, involved the study of individuals who had experienced childhood abuse or neglect. in comparison with children who had suffered no significant abuse or neglect. This study found that:
those who had suffered significant abuse or neglect in childhood showed significantly poorer attention and impulse control than those who had not suffered significant abuse or neglect during childhood.
The first study referred to above suggests that trauma which involves a high degree of betrayal is associated with impaired executive function in the individual who experienced the betrayal trauma. The results of the second study suggest abuse and neglect increase an individual’s risk of developing ADHD; unfortunately, however, in the second study, it was not recorded if the kind of trauma the participants had suffered was betrayal trauma or not.
These findings have serious implications for the causes of ADHD which is an executive function disorder. However, further research is needed in order to elucidate further the link between betrayal trauma, non-betrayal trauma and ADHD.
More recent studies (e.g. Hulette et al.2011) have shown that children who have been in foster care (and are therefore likely to have experienced betrayal trauma) are at significantly increased risk of suffering from pathological dissociation. Pathological dissociation is most commonly a symptom of PTSD/complex PTSD but could be mistaken for inattentiveness increasing the risk of being misdiagnosed with ADHD.
RELATED ARTICLE: IS PTSD BEING MISDIAGNOSED AS ADHD?
Martin, Christina & Cromer, Lisa & Deprince, Anne & Freyd, Jennifer. (2013). The Role of Cumulative Trauma, Betrayal, and Appraisals in Understanding Trauma Symptomatology. Psychological trauma : theory, research, practice and policy. 52. 110-118. 10.1037/a0025686.
Becker-Blease, Kathryn & Freyd, Jennifer. (2008). A Preliminary Study of ADHD Symptoms and Correlates: Do Abused Children Differ from Nonabused Children?. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma. 17. 133-140. 10.1080/10926770802250736.
Freyd, Jennifer. (1994). Betrayal Trauma: Traumatic Amnesia as an Adaptive Response to Childhood Abuse. Ethics & Behavior – ETHICS BEHAV. 4. 307-329. 10.1207/s15327019eb0404_1.
Hulette AC, Freyd JJ, Fisher PA. Dissociation in middle childhood among foster children with early maltreatment experiences. Child Abuse Negl. 2011 Feb;35(2):123-6. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2010.10.002. Epub 2011 Feb 26. PMID: 21354620; PMCID: PMC3073131
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).