ACoAs: Early Trust Betrayal (Part 1)

angry father 

for sure NOT my family!

PREVIOUS: Adult Play #2

See ACRONYM page for abbrev.


Betrayal trauma occurs when the people or institutions on which you depends for survival significantly violate ours trust or well-being
EXP: Childhood physical, emotional, or sexual abuse perpetrated by a
caregiver  (More….)
Q: Does the victim need to be conscious of the betrayal in order to call it “betrayal trauma”?
ANS: “No.” Being mistreated is by definition betrayal, whether the child recognizes it explicitly or not.
While conscious awareness of it may be suppressed at the time of trauma & for as long as the victim is dependent on the perpetrator, strong feelings of betrayal will eventually surface.

Traumatic events differ angularly in degree of fear & betrayal, depending on context & characteristics of an event.
EXP : self-reported betrayal predicted PTSD & dissociative symptoms way more than self-reported fear of people with history of childhood sexual abuse. Many other studies have found that betrayal is a psychologically toxic dimension of events.

• Children automatically trust their parents (caregivers) – they don’t have a choice. But that trust can be destroyed early & easily if their family & community is unreliable, non-nurturing & dangerous. The earlier the betrayal of trust, the more long-term damage is done – small children are not able to understand & process such disappointments

• Kids don’t want the instability & cruelty of their home to be true, so they can’t afford to consciously admit their suffering is being caused by the unloving adults they depend on. If they did it would make life even more unbearable, so they do whatever they can to deny painful experiences (blame themselves, fit into roles, people-please, rescue…..)

• At the same time, of years of emotional pain & abusive treatment lead children to make definite & lasting negative decisions about themselves & the whole world based on very real events. These are twisted conclusions & assumptions which form self-hate, cynicism, bitterness & hopelessness.

That pain is then mirrored & added to by rigid unhealthy ‘laws’ of other dysfunctional groups such as school, church, neighborhood, the combination becoming the basis for all future interactions.  Toxic beliefs get ‘written in stone’ , very hard to change as long as they stay out of our awarenessdisappointed

a. Our caretakers were disappointing, undependable, untrustworthy, even sadistic – understandably leaving us feeling unsafe, terrified & frustrated beyond words!
We were subjected to:
• all forms of neglect, lies, sexual abuse, physical / mental / emotions torture, mind-f–ing, constant unavailability, never telling us what to expect in new & scary situations, taking us to places not suitable to young emotions or the capacity to process….

AND never underestimate the effect of inconsistency on a child, whether from broken promises, constant moving, conflicting messages, drunkenness, rotating caretakers, parents’ new mates,  or just plain carelessness

EXP: A 5 yr old boy is standing at the edge of the pool, hesitating to make the leap. The father, already in the pool says: ”Jump in & I’ll catch you”. The little boy, needing the reassurance, jumps towards his dad – who smirks & steps back, not catching his son!

EXP: Equally devastating is the controlling, insensitive mother. One evening after being put to bed a young daughter hears the laughter of company downstairs & wanders into the living room to see what the fun is about.

The mother in a rage awaiting for unishmentt being embarrassed by her child’s desire for attention (in he PJs) drags her off to bed, promising to punish her – later. But in the busyness of being a hostess, she forgets her threat.

While the adults go on partying the terrified child curls up in a ball for agonizing hours in anticipations of a beating – which never comes.
That may seem like a good thing – but her little nervous system is being overloaded by prolonged terror, with no outlet & no one to comfort. The threat of is torture enough, while the mother is unaware of the long-term harm she’s done. That & other such events become anticipatory anxiety.

NEXT : Part 2

2 thoughts on “ACoAs: Early Trust Betrayal (Part 1)

  1. Another one of your posts that really produces an “ah-ha.” I’m struggling in therapy to really come to acknowledge that my parents did make not-so-good decisions when it came to my childhood, and that these decisions weren’t my fault. Still hard to even type that. Thank you.


    • Thanks for commenting. At first it’s hard to see them clearly, but it gets easier as we vent the sadness, anger, longing & pain. It’s very freeing. Let me know how you progress.


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