Doctoral Dissertation
University of Oregon

Trauma and posttraumatic responses: An examination of fear and betrayal

DePrince, Anne Pujol
Advisor Freyd, Jennifer J.

To date, most research on the emotions central to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has focused on fear. Complimenting and extending this literature, the current project draws on betrayal trauma theory to introduce betrayal as a factor in understanding posttraumatic symptoms, including PTSD. Betrayal trauma theory proposes that there is a social utility in remaining unaware of interpersonal traumas when they are perpetrated by a caregiver on whom the victim is dependent. Betrayal trauma theory and recent empirical work implicate dissociation as an important process in facilitating knowledge isolation of trauma-related information. The current project extends betrayal trauma theory beyond examinations of knowledge isolation to consider the contribution of betrayal to PTSD and dissociative experiences. The relationships between fear, betrayal, PTSD and dissociative symptoms were examined in a community sample of 75 individuals who self-reported one or more traumatic event(s). The hypothesis that betrayal would significantly predict PTSD withdrawal and dissociative symptoms above and beyond fear was tested. In addition, the prediction that fear would significantly predict PTSD arousal symptoms above and beyond betrayal was tested. Several measures of betrayal and fear were examined, including coding of narrative accounts of fear and betrayal, self-reported betrayal/fear, and implicit betrayal/fear scores. Implicit betrayal/fear scores were computed based on the context of the traumatic events reported (i.e., number of times caregiver abuse was reported, presence of injury/threat). Several measures of dissociative symptoms were included. Results provided support for the hypothesized relationship between betrayal and posttraumatic responses. Consistent with predictions, self-reported betrayal significantly predicted multiple measures of dissociation and PTSD withdrawal above and beyond fear. Contrary to predictions, self-reported fear and implicit fear did not significantly predict PTSD arousal and anxiety. The role of betrayal in understanding posttraumatic responses, the relationship between PTSD and dissociation, and several methodological issues central to trauma research are considered.

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