This book, on betrayal and how it affects the lives of those who have gone through this kind of trauma, is well-written and interesting to read. It deals not only with the betrayal of children who have been abused by their caregivers, but it also covers betrayals of couples, families, institutions, and society.
Freyd and Birrell write about the reasons why betrayal trauma is so hard to recover from and how it leaves us with wounds that can last a life-time. The victim deals with the trauma of the event as well as the trauma that occurs to a person’s sense of safety and security, and self-esteem. A victim’s value system is torn upside down and everything he once believed was true is proved to be untrue. Betrayal attacks the very foundation that makes us who we are. It damages our bodies, our minds, and our spiritual beings.
For a child, a parent is there to attend to his needs and do for him what he cannot do for himself. A parent’s job is to love him, brag on him, be reliable, and trust worthy. A parent teaches a child all about good relationship skills, that the world is a safe place most of the time, and goodness can be found around him. This builds the basic building blocks for a successful life.
When a child is sexually abused, his sense of security, safety, trust, reliability, goodness, and self-identity is severely damaged. He learns that pain occurs often for no good reason, that no one cares for him or his needs, that he needs to be watchful and protect himself any way he can, that he is there to take care of the needs of others, that his body is not his, that evil exists in his world and in his place of refuge, and he is told to not tell, to not cry by the abuser. Down inside, he knows something is wrong so he blames himself for not being good enough, for not being smart enough, or strong enough to get away. It must all be his fault. Somehow, he messed up or this wouldn’t be happening to him.
His perception of his external and internal reality becomes distorted and confusing. If he can’t get away physically, he will take his mind some place away from the abuse. There is damage done to his body and the normal development of his sexuality. It would make sense if he feels depressed, anxious, has poor self-esteem, feels confused, acts out his anger and fear, and can’t trust any one. It makes sense that in order to protect himself, he would not withdraw or confront his abuser who is bigger and allocates the resources he needs to keep alive. To deny his reality, to forget what has happened, helps him remain safe and lowers the anxiety. No child wants to see his parent as a monster because that would make him a monster too, so he thinks. There is safety in denial, forgetting, dissociation, and other defensive mechanisms he can use.
The draw back to this, Freyd and Birrell write, is the abused may not be able to discuss the injustice if they continue to forget and deny what happened to them. Freyd and Birrell define betrayal blindness as ” not seeing, systematically, important instances of treachery and injustice being done which ultimately results in negative consequences.” 1 ( Continued in part two).
1 Freyd, Jennifer and Birrell, Pamela. 2013. Blind To Betrayal: Why We Fool Ourselves We Aren’t Being Fooled. Hoboken, New Jersey. John Wiley and Sons, Inc.