We have seen from numerous other articles that I have published on this site that those of us who experienced severe and protracted childhood trauma are at a highly increased risk of being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and/or PTSD in adulthood than the average person. However, research suggests that trauma involving a high degree of personal betrayal is particularly likely to lead to the development of this very serious psychiatric condition.


Freyd, who developed betrayal trauma theory, distinguished between two specific dimensions of the traumatic experience:

DIMENSION 1: The FEAR/TERROR dimension associated with an immediate threat to life.

DIMENSION 2: The SOCIAL-BETRAYAL dimension associated with threats to security in relationships which should be protective (e,g, as in the parent-child relationship in which the parent should protect the child).

So, to give two fairly clear-cut examples, sustaining a life-threatening injury in a car accident which was nobody’s fault usually involves a high degree of fear/terror but does not involve any social-betrayal. However, being severely beaten throughout one’s childhood by the very person who was supposed to protect one (such as a parent or primary caregiver) clearly involves a very high degree of social betrayal.

Freyd also hypothesized that these two independent dimensions might be responsible for different types of symptoms in people with PTSD as I show below:

FEAR/TERROR DIMENSION OF TRAUMA: leads to the PTSD symptoms of intrusive thoughts/memories, hypervigilance and hyperarousal.

SOCIAL-BETRAYAL DIMENSION: leads to the PTSD symptoms of dissociation and avoidance.


Later research by Freyd also found that PTSD is more likely to develop in individuals who have experienced a trauma involving a high degree of betrayal (e.g. because the trauma was intentionally caused by a close family member) compared to individuals who experienced trauma involving a low degree of betrayal (e.g. trauma caused by a complete stranger).

Similar findings were made by Ullman who carried out research showing individuals sexually abused by family members were more likely to develop PTSD than those who experienced such abuse by non-family members.


Learning To Trust Again After Betrayal By Parents

Betrayal Trauma Theory And Betrayal  Blindness

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).