Freyd and Birrell emphasize in their book, Blind To Betrayal: Why We Fool Ourselves We Aren’t Being Fooled, that unawareness is useful when information is too dangerous to know. Being blind to betrayal protects us. Our status quo remains the same if we do not know, and making hard decisions is put off for a while. There is a downside to being blind. We risk being revictimized and we risk a loss of self-esteem. Others can be victimized if we do not speak of the betrayal. Shame plays a part in keeping us silent. Telling others is risky, but you take back your power when you do. There is a chance for hope and justice when we speak. Betrayal blindness is not seeing what is in front of our faces. Others can see what we do not. Freyd and Birrell write that “betrayal blindness requires being in the dual state of simultaneously knowing and not knowing something important.”1 The mind does not process the information correctly because the losses are too overwhelming at the time. We need to see the world as a safe place. We need to trust people and we need stability in our lives. It makes sense for us to block awareness.
When children are betrayed, it is usually by being abandoned and left helpless, being rejected, or someone withdrawing love. Betrayal means to a child, ” I am not important, I am a zero in the eyes of others.” Freyd and Birrell state that the child handles betrayal by turning the blame inward and blaming himself or not allowing himself to be consciously aware something is happening. This allows him to remain attached to the abuser.
Betrayal blindness often occurs in couples where one is unfaithful to the other, writes Freyd and Birrell.. To know is to disrupt the marriage, damage the security of the family, and destroy trust. To know you’ve been betrayed is wanting to withdraw or confront the betrayer. Domestic violence in the home can make these reactions risky.
Freyd and Birrell state that betrayal blindness also occurs in institutions and society. Some examples I can think of are: working at a job where your contract is not honored, or being harassed by your boss or another employee. To speak up may mean losing your job, making others angry, or to be told you are overreacting. It may be impossible to leave because you have a family to take care of, or you lack skills, so you remain silent and start being blind to survive. Another example of institutional betrayal is a child, in need of care, is sent to a foster home where she is sexually abused. An example of being betrayed by Society is: You are black. You are told you have equal rights and protection under the law. You are stopped by the police while driving and when you try to explain something to them, you are shot.
Freyd and Birrell do an excellent job in covering the topic of betrayal and how it affects others. I enjoyed reading this book.
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.