Betrayal is a sense of being harmed by the intentional actions of a person who is assumed to be trusted and loyal. This could be a family member, a friend, a colleague or work environment. Most common types of betrayal are dishonesty, infidelity, disloyalty, abandonment, disclosure of confidential information or failure to offer expected assistance during times in need.

Betrayals are unexpected events and are experienced as a shock. The effects of betrayal tend to be longstanding due the breach in the existing bond or trust. Betrayals can be traumatic and its effects are grief, morbid pre-occupation, low self-esteem, anger, self-doubt and could lead to depression and anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in particular.

As nothing is guaranteed in life, anyone can be subjected to betrayal within a trusting relationship, and as adults we ought to assume such risks as a risk averse approach to life is not compatible with living. The possibility is always there, the probability increases or decreases with what we/others do or don't do. It takes courage to consider whether we might have played some (unknowing) role in a betrayal: ignoring a problem, not negotiating boundaries in relationships (what is acceptable or not acceptable), being self-centred. The possibility that we co-created a climate for betrayal can be an empowering realisation. It offers a basis for communicating in a more genuine way; it may increase awareness of our automatic responses; it may create ground for re-assigning responsibility.

The seriousness of the betrayal lies within the dynamic between the magnitude of the harm caused and the depth of the trusting bond. We enter relationships assuming safety (non-harm), we associate with friends assuming loyalty and reciprocity (meeting each others’ needs), and throw ourselves into work assuming (financial) support at times in need (illness, injuries). The more of an expectation we hold (believing that we are gonna be treated fairly and supported) the more damaging the effects of the betrayal.

The moral of these notes is that betrayal is a significant psychological phenomenon. Acts of betrayal are strongly disapproved by the society; there is a moral objection to causing intentional harm to others, particularly to those we form a bond to. Betrayals can lead to permanent changes in trust. Surprisingly one of the possible consequences of betrayal is mental contamination (the sense of feeling dirty that does not respond to repeated washing). People are more likely to present to therapy with symptoms of OCD (compulsive washing) without recognising the link between symptoms and betrayal. Betrayal can also generate PTSD symptoms in that people experience a sense of current threat and a sense of changed self and future. 

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