Betrayal Trauma: Associations With Psychological and Physical Symptoms in Young Adults

Rachel E. Goldsmith, Jennifer J. Freyd, Anne P. DePrince

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119 Scopus citations


Betrayal trauma, or trauma perpetrated by someone with whom a victim is close, is strongly associated with a range of negative psychological and physical health outcomes. However, few studies have examined associations between different forms of trauma and emotional and physical symptoms. The present study compared betrayal trauma to other forms of trauma as predictors of young adults' psychological and physical symptoms, and explored potential mediators. A total of 185 university undergraduate students completed the Brief Betrayal Trauma Survey, the Trauma Symptom Checklist, the Toronto Alexithymia Scale, and the Pennebaker Inventory of Limbic Languidness. For each set of symptoms, simultaneous multiple regressions assessed the relative contributions of low versus high betrayal trauma to psychological and physical health reports. Structural equation models examined traumatic stress symptoms and alexithymia as mediators of the relationship between betrayal trauma and physical health symptoms. A total of 151 participants (82%) reported exposure to at least 1 of 11 forms of trauma queried (M = 2.08, SD = 1.94); 96 participants (51.9%) reported at least 1 betrayal trauma. Traumas characterized by high betrayal predicted alexithymia, anxiety, depression, dissociation, physical health complaints, and the number of days students reported being sick during the past month, whereas other traumas did not. Structural equation modeling revealed that traumatic stress symptoms and alexithymia mediated the association between betrayal trauma and physical health complaints. These results indicate that betrayal trauma is associated with young adults' physical and mental health difficulties to a greater extent than are other forms of trauma. Results may inform assessment, intervention, and prevention efforts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)547-567
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • alexithymia
  • betrayal trauma
  • depression
  • health
  • traumatic stress


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