As Bowlby emphasized, the child is profoundly dependent upon a reliable and secure attachment with his/her parent/primary carer for his/her physical and psychological health; indeed, throughout human evolutionary history, such a protective relationship has been crucial to the child’s chances of survival
A child is at risk of being severely traumatized when the parent or primary carer seriously betrays the child’s trust in a way that the child’s brain interprets (consciously or unconsciously) as threatening his/her survival (e.g. due to extreme neglect or abuse).
According to Freyd (1996), when a child is in a situation in which s/he is experiencing the kind of severe neglect or abuse referred to above, it is necessary for the child to adopt (unconsciously) a psychological; defence mechanism called BETRAYAL BLINDNESS.
WHY, ACCORDING TO FREYD, IS IT NECESSARY FOR THE CHILD TO DEVELOP ‘BETRAYAL BLINDNESS?’
Freyd (1996) hypothesized that, despite the fact that it is usually to a person’s advantage to be able to detect if someone is betraying him/her, in the case of betrayal by a parent upon whom a child is utterly dependent, the child’s conscious awareness of the betrayal is likely to damage the relationship yet further, thus imperilling the child’s chances of survival.
Furthermore, conscious awareness that the very person who is supposed to love, care for and nurture one is, in fact, potentially harmful may be so psychologically shattering to the child that ‘betrayal blindness’ protects him/her from overwhelming fear and mental anguish.
WHY MIGHT THE PARENT/PRIMARY CARER-CHILD RELATIONSHIP BE FURTHER DAMAGED BY CONSCIOUS AWARENESS OF BETRAYAL?
According to Freyd, awareness of the potential dangerousness of the parent/primary caretaker (due to his/her abusive and/or neglectful behaviour) may lead to the child withdrawing from him/her, thus weakening their bond further which, in turn, may lead to a further reduction of the already relatively low of protection offered by the parent.
Other researchers have suggested that the psychological mechanism that creates ‘betrayal blindness’ is dissociation.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSC; PGDE(FAHE).