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  • Mariana Bockarova Ph.D.

Friendship Betrayal: Emotional Impacts by People We Trust

Here are examples of friendship betrayals and how they affect us.

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  • People have expectations of friendship, including support, respect, loyalty, reciprocity, or connection.

  • A sense of betrayal exists because the expectations of friendship are violated.

  • When a friend betrays us, it can cause a range of negative emotions, including shock, loss, and grief.


At their best, friendships can be wonderful bonds, staving off feelings of loneliness and boredom and fostering a sense of belonging, care, and trust. At their worst, however, betrayal, exploitation, and manipulation by friends form constant threats to not only one's self-esteem but one's worldview, too.


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Feeling betrayed, defined as "harmed by intentional actions of people we trust" (Rachman, 2010), can include a host of friendship behaviors. These actions can be wide and varied so long as they include an emotional impact. This might include:


  • A friend is sharing your private conversation with others. This might create a deep fissure in what we may choose to continue saying to that friend and a sense that our trust has been broken. If the friend offers an explanation for why they've shared private information with others, it may offer some reprieve, but the sense that they may not be trustworthy may still linger. If they do not explain, this only furthers a sense of unease.


  • A friend is not supporting an important milestone. Achieving important milestones, like work promotions, weddings, or reaching a specific goal, requires effort and dedication. A friend who does not show support can suggest that either they don't care enough about the person or the friendship or that they may not actually want the best for us, causing emotional distancing.


  • A friend is refusing to recognize or apologize for an action that may have hurt you. When we have clarified to a friend that their words or actions have hurt us and they dismiss, deny, or refuse to recognize the impact of their actions, feeling invalidated, disregarded, and questioning the friendship are normal responses.


  • A friend who only fosters your friendship when it's convenient for them. For instance, a friend who only wants to get together at a place close to them or requires you to pick them up might make you feel like your goodwill or generosity is being taken advantage of. While a friendship based on one-sided convenience may not be "intentional," the refusal of reciprocity can certainly cause the giving friend a sense of frustration and a perceived imbalance in actions or gestures of the friendship, in essence, asking themselves: "If they wanted to [fill in the blank], they would."

  • A friend who refuses a reasonable request for support. A friend refusing a reasonable request for support may cause a sense of betraying expectations of friendship, particularly of reciprocity, if we may have helped a friend in similar ways.


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There are four ways of showing social support, which may all bring about a similar sense of betrayal:


  1. Emotional: Showing care and empathy, like offering a shoulder to cry on, for instance.

  2. Instrumental: Offering tangible support, like giving a friend's resume for an open position at work or bringing groceries to a friend with a broken leg.

  3. Informational: Giving helpful advice when needed, like talking a friend through a problem they may be facing.

  4. Appraisal: Offering information that might help a friend positively self-evaluate, like encouraging them to apply for a job, even if they may not have all the qualifications.

Among all of these examples, a sense of betrayal exists because the expectations of friendship—support, respect, loyalty, shared moral standards, honesty, reciprocity, or genuine connection—are violated. The resulting feelings may be feelings of exploitation, manipulation, or worse yet, a sense of self-doubt (asking "why me"). In fact, betrayal trauma can also cause negative beliefs about our own sense of safety and trust on a wider scale.


According to Rachman's research, being betrayed can cause considerable distress, with wide-ranging effects including shock, loss and grief, morbid preoccupation, damaged self-esteem, self-doubting, and anger.


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In effect, betrayal in friendships drains one's mental, emotional, and physical energy by searching for ways to navigate the newly arisen complexities of maintaining bonds with people who have not upheld the same definition of what it means to be a friend. Thus, we may not fundamentally trust if we want to maintain the friendship.


If, upon reading this, you find yourself evaluating a friendship, consider taking some space.


Mariana Bockarova, Ph.D. - Website -


References


Rachman, S. (2010). Betrayal: A psychological analysis. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 48(4), 304-311.

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