Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Warren H. Jones

Committee Members

Kathleen Lawler, Deborah P. Walsh, Julia A. Malia


Since all relationships are vulnerable to a variety of transgressions, researchers have developed several models of betrayal, each providing a definition and explanation of the construct. Though theories of betrayal share many common elements, there is little uniformity or consensus in the conceptualization of betrayal. Furthermore, results are inconclusive regarding what factors influence the perception of betrayal. Therefore, this paper studied perceptions of betrayal by examining written accounts of betrayal from two samples varying in demographic composition (i.e., age, gender), psychological characteristics (i.e., psychiatric versus non-psychiatric respondents), and victim versus perpetrator perspectives. Using the qualitative data analysis techniques of grounded theory, the ways in which people described and managed experiences of betrayal were examined. Examination of both non-psychiatric and psychiatric data revealed that betrayals involve breaches of three certain types of expectations; that is, the expectation those closest to us will (a) maintain the principles of the relationship, including honesty and thoughtfulness (i.e., trust); (b) provide emotional and physical support, free of embarrassment or humiliation (i.e., social support); and (c) behave respectfully in the best interest of society (i.e., standards of conduct). Results also indicated that males and females differed on the types of betrayals they reported as well as the effect that betrayal had on their relationship. Furthermore, the type of relationship the respondent described was related to the type of reported betrayal and the perspective of victim versus perpetrator. This study also revealed that, following betrayal, relationships reportedly improved when forgiveness was offered and worsened when it was withheld. Results of these studies provide evidence that expectations concerning trust, social support, and conduct exist in all relationships. Further, these breaches of expectations should be examined in the context of (a) the relationship in which they occur, (b) the perceived consequences of the betrayal, and (c) various demographic characteristics.

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