Doctoral Dissertation
University of Oregon


Defended & Completed May 2016
PhD granted 2017 after clinical internship

Advisor Freyd, Jennifer J.

Dissertation Abstract

Trauma victimization has deleterious effects on both physical and mental health. In a non-pathologizing manner, betrayal trauma theory offers one paradigm that contextualizes abuse within the relationship it occurs. It is possible that trauma outcomes can be further explained through incorporating aspects of the larger sociocultural context. For instance, some members of minority populations may develop (intra)cultural trust with other perceived minority members; through functioning as a buffer against inequality, (intra)cultural trust may be similar to interpersonal trust within relationships insofar that it creates a vulnerability for betrayal that affects trauma sequelae. Given the incorporation of interpersonal and societal contexts of inequality, predicted outcomes of cultural betrayal trauma are diverse, including abuse outcomes, such as PTSD, and cultural outcomes, such as internalized prejudice. This framework for examining within-group violence in minority populations is called cultural betrayal trauma theory.

In the dissertation, I first provide a review of psychological theories of trauma: the fear paradigm, the shattered assumptions paradigm, betrayal trauma theory, and institutional betrayal. I then briefly detail the trauma literature on ethnic minorities, with an emphasis on the importance of contextual factors. Based on this literature, I introduce cultural betrayal trauma theory, defining the theory and its constructs: societal trauma, (intra)cultural trust, cultural betrayal, cultural betrayal trauma, (intra)cultural pressure, cultural betrayal unawareness, abuse outcomes, and cultural outcomes. After addressing societal trauma’s potential role in both within-group and between-group violence victimization in minority populations, I detail the purpose of the empirical study: to test cultural betrayal trauma theory in a sample of ethnic minority students attending a predominantly White university.

I report the online survey results based on 296 ethnic minority undergraduates at a predominantly White university. Over half of the sample reported trauma victimization, with 43% of participants reporting within-group violence victimization specifically. This ethno-cultural betrayal trauma was associated with abuse outcomes— dissociation, hallucinations, PTSD, cultural betrayal unawareness, and hypervigilance—and cultural outcomes—trauma-related ethnic identity change, diverse identity changes, internalized prejudice, and (intra)cultural pressure. The dissertation suggests that cultural betrayal trauma theory is a useful framework in examining and understanding trauma sequelae in minority populations.

See full dissertation (pdf)

And see Condemned to Dance: Cultural Betrayal Trauma Theory

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