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Betrayal Trauma Theory: Explaining the Mechanisms of Recovered Memory

Betrayal Trauma Theory was pioneered by Jennifer Freyd. Besides her published work on the subject, her online website describes the theory and its history. Betrayal Trauma Theory has been found to satisfy the Daubert Criteria.

Betrayal trauma: The logic of forgetting childhood abuse. (Freyd, 1996).
Impact: Betrayal trauma theory posits that there is a social utility in remaining unaware of abuse when the perpetrator is a caregiver. The theory draws on studies of social contracts to explain why and how humans are excellent at detecting betrayals; however, Freyd argues that under some circumstances detecting betrayals may be counter-productive to survival. Specifically, in cases where a victim is dependent on a caregiver, survival may require that she/he remain unaware of the betrayal. This book uses psychological, neurological and cognitive-science literature with impressive skill to find the distinction between fear and betrayal, illustrating the relationship between betrayal trauma and posttraumatic outcomes.

Betrayal trauma: Traumatic amnesia as an adaptive response to childhood abuse. (Freyd, 1994). Full Text.
Abstract: Betrayal trauma theory suggests that psychogenic amnesia is an adaptive response to childhood abuse. When a parent or other powerful figure violates a fundamental ethic of human relationships, victims may need to remain unaware of the trauma not to reduce suffering but rather to promote survival. Amnesia enables the child to maintain an attachment with a figure vital to survival, development, and thriving. Analysis of evolutionary pressures, mental modules, social cognitions, and developmental needs suggests that the degree to which the most fundamental human ethics are violated can influence the nature, form, and process of trauma and responses to the trauma.

Motivated forgetting and misremembering: Perspectives from Betrayal Trauma Theory. (DePrince et al., 2012) Full Text.
Abstract: Individuals are sometimes exposed to information that may endanger their well-being. In such cases, forgetting or misremembering may be adaptive. Childhood abuse perpetrated by a caregiver is an example. Betrayal trauma theory (BTT) proposes that the way in which events are processed and remembered will be related to the degree to which a negative event represents a betrayal by a trusted, needed other. Full awareness of such abuse may only increase the victim's risk by motivating withdrawal or confrontation with the perpetrator, thus risking a relationship vital to the victim's survival. In such situations, minimizing awareness of the betrayal trauma may be adaptive. BTT has implications for the larger memory and trauma field, particularly with regard to forgetting and misremembering events. This chapter reviews conceptual and empirical issues central to the literature on memory for trauma and BTT as well as identifies future research directions derived from BTT.

Self-reported memory for abuse depends upon victim-perpetrator relationship. (Freyd, DePrince, & Zurbriggen, 2001).
Impact: This study presents preliminary results from the Betrayal Trauma Inventory (BTI). The BTI assesses trauma history using behaviorally defined events in the domains of sexual, physical, and emotional childhood abuse, as well as other lifetime traumatic events. A variety of factors including memory impairment and perpetrator relationship are assessed. Preliminary results support our prediction that abuse perpetrated by a caregiver is related to less persistent memories of abuse. This relationship is significant for sexual and physical abuse.

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