Betrayal in Relationships: The Psychological Impact of Broken Trust
The complexities of interpersonal relationships can make them inherently delicate, and sometimes even treacherous. When a significant bond is betrayed, it can damage trust between the parties, create feelings of hurt and loss, and result in a great deal of psychological distress. Betrayal in relationships encompasses a wide range of behaviors and can include anything from a seemingly insignificant act of omission or commission, to major dishonesty. Additionally, an unmet promise, a broken contract, an unfaithful intimate partner, and even an act of violence can be categorized as acts of betrayal. Regardless of the form, betrayal can have a devastating impact on one’s mental and emotional well-being, often leading to heightened anxiety, fear, and even depression.
The Definition of Betrayal
The word betrayal is derived from the Latin word tradere, meaning “to hand over,” and conveys a sense of treachery in the face of trust. Betrayal is defined as an act of breaking or failing to fulfill a promise, trust, or confidence, or an act of undermining or discouraging someone. Betrayal can manifest itself in more than one form, and can occur between two people that are involved in an intimate relationship, such as a couple, or between two cohorts connected in friendship or business.
Betrayal in Relationships
When faced with betrayal in a relationship, it is not uncommon to experience deep emotional pain, sadness, and confusion. Further complicating matters, betrayed partners may isolate themselves, feel ashamed, carry guilt, and then blame themselves. It is important to remember that betrayal is never the fault of the person who has been betrayed; rather, it is the act of the one betraying them.
According to author Jay S. Granat, Ph.D., betrayal occurs when “a person behaves in a ‘disloyal’ or ‘deceitful’ manner relating to a significant relationship that involves a lack of respect or trustworthiness between two or more individuals connected in some meaningful way.”
The Impact of Betrayal
For those who have been betrayed, the impact of the betrayal can be lessened or increased depending on the level of trust that was lost. It can be said that the stronger the trust, the greater the emotional pain. For example, in the case of relating it to an intimate relationship, the hurt may be exponentially greater. This is because a relationship that involves trust and intimacy is usually based on an expectation of an emotional investment from both partners. Therefore, a breach of this emotional bond tends to cause more cognitive dissonance and an even stronger feeling of betrayal.
Betrayal can also create a cycle of trauma; the sudden loss of a trusted bond can lead to feelings of anxiety and fear. Unable to trust the person once again, the betrayed partner can become guarded and overly protective of themselves and their feelings. In an intimate relationship, this can make it difficult to open up and be vulnerable, which can lead to further psychological distress as the betrayed partner begins to feel emotionally disconnected.
Betrayal and Therapy
For those suffering from the emotional pain of betrayal, professional help may be beneficial. Seeking out a counseling session can help those who have been betrayed better understand their feelings and assist them in taking the necessary steps for both personal healing and relationship repair. The process of confronting the betrayal together, while in the presence of a trained professional, can be a valuable therapeutic tool that can help build a stronger sense of emotional security.
Betrayal in relationships can have a great impact on an individual’s psychological health, and can lead to strong feelings of hurt and loss, fear, and depression. While healing from betrayal can be extremely challenging, seeking out professional help can be a beneficial step in helping to confront, repair, and rebond the relationship.