Have You Been Betrayed? 5 Suggestions for You

Being betrayed can lead to self-doubt and mistrust. It is time to change that.

Posted Jul 23, 2020

 KuanShu Designs, used with permission
Source: KuanShu Designs, used with permission

In one of the early investigations, Freyd (1996) defined betrayal trauma as the negative psychological reaction to harmfully unjust treatment by a person with whom the victimized person is close (partner, for example) or is in a dependent relationship (such as with a parent). When treated unfairly by a close-other, this can result in both psychological distress such as post-traumatic stress disorder or even physical complications that can last for years (see, for example, Klest et al., 2019; Taft et al., 2007; Van Ameringen, 2008).

Based on my own research into the effect of unjust treatment by others and ways to substantially improve well-being after the trauma of betrayal, I offer five reflections for you.

1. Guard Against Low Self-Esteem or Self-Blame

Too often, I find that those who have been bitterly betrayed end up not liking ... themselves. Please guard against this. You did not deserve the betrayal and you certainly do not need the added burden of self-condemnation. Being betrayed by others is not your fault. It is time to welcome yourself back into the human community. Suggestions for increasing self-esteem can be read here and here.

2. Beware of Excessive Anger

When we are treated unfairly, reacting with some anger is seen as adaptive because it is a sign that we should not be treated with disrespect. Yet, if that anger deepens so that it becomes a distraction in one's life and if continues for months or year, it can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015; Stringaris & Taylor, 2015). Enright and Fitzgibbons (2015) make the point that traditional mental health approaches such as relaxation training or even reorienting your current thinking through cognitive-behavioral approaches might need the added approach, if you so choose, of choosing to forgive the other.

3. Consider Forgiving So You Are Not Defeated by Resentment

As a first point of clarification, there are some people, focusing on what the field calls intimate partner violence (IPV), who are strongly against the theme of forgiving a partner when violence is involved. We have respectfully disagreed that justice alone is sufficient for emotional healing in the face of entrenched injustices (Song & Enright, in press). We have two reasons for disagreeing with those who strongly oppose forgiveness in the context of IPV: 1) We must not usurp the free will of the client who chooses to forgive (without pressure from the mental health professional). Otherwise, those who strongly oppose forgiveness in such circumstances might, unwittingly, be putting pressure on the client not to forgive, taking away freedom; 2) we now have empirically-verified evidence that trauma induced by close others (parent or partner) can recover substantially when forgiveness is freely chosen (see, for example, Freedman & Enright, 1996; Reed & Enright, 2006). With these caveats in mind, you might consider forgiving someone who betrays you with the suggestions here, which in this case concerns boyfriend-betrayal. The gist of forgiving is first not to abandon justice, to struggle to see the inherent worth in the other, and to bear the pain as best as you can.

KuanShu Designs / Used with permission
Source: KuanShu Designs / Used with permission

4. Know That Your Woundedness Does Not Define Who You Are as a Person

As with the case of self-esteem or negative feelings toward the self, your thinking sometimes can become too general about who you are relative to this betrayal. You might slowly, and without even noticing it, drift into negative self-statements about who you are as a person. It is time to resurrect the truth: You are a person of worth no matter what, not matter how much pain you have, no matter the condemning statements from others. You have worth. You are more than your emotional pain.

5. Seeing Beyond the Tears

Sometimes when we are caught up in grief and anger, it seems like this is all there will ever be now in our life: permanent tears, permanent anger. Yet, please take a look at two different times in your life in which you were steeped in heartache or rage. The tears came ... and they left. Today it may seem like these will never end—but they will. Take a lesson from your own past. The pains were temporary. They are temporary even now. Consider working on self-esteem, reduced anger, forgiveness, and your inherent worth as a person. All of these may help the psychological effects of betrayal to be temporary. Cultivate hope.


Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2015). Forgiveness therapy. Washington, DC: APA Books.

Freedman, S. R., & Enright, R. D. (1996). Forgiveness as an intervention goal with incest survivors. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(5), 983-992.

Freyd, J. J. (1996). Betrayal trauma: The logic of forgetting childhood abuse. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Klest, Bridget; Tamaian, Andreea; Boughner, Emily; Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, Vol 11(6), Sep, 2019 pp. 656-662. 

Reed, G. & Enright, R.D. (2006). The effects of forgiveness therapy on depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress for women after spousal emotional abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 920-929.

Song, M. J. & Enright, R. D. (in press). A philosophical and psychological examination of “justice first”: Toward the need for both justice and forgiveness when conflict arises. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology.

Stringaris, A. & Taylor, E. (2015). Disruptive mood. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Taft, C. T., Vogt, D. S., Mechanic, M. B., & Resick, P. A. (2007). Posttraumatic stress disorder and physical health symptoms among women seeking help for relationship aggression. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 354–362. 10.1037/0893-3200.21.3.354

Van Ameringen, M., Mancini, C., Patterson, B., & Boyle, M. H. (2008). Post-traumatic stress disorder in Canada. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 14, 171–181. 10.1111/j.1755-5949.2008.00049.x