Cultural Betrayal Trauma Theory

Individuals' experiences are impacted by aspects of the sociocultural context. For minorities, such as Black Americans, who have experienced interpersonal trauma (e.g., physical, sexual, psychological abuse), that context includes inequality at various levels.

In Cultural betrayal trauma theory, I propose that societal trauma (e.g., discrimination) creates the context for interpersonal trauma within minority groups to be uniquely harmful.

Cultural betrayal trauma theory incorporates various aspects of the sociocultural context, such as societal trauma (e.g., discrimination) and (intra)cultural trust. Consequently, interpersonal trauma within minority groups--termed cultural betrayal trauma--may be linked with diverse outcomes, including PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and internalized prejudice.

Terminology: Cultural Betrayal Trauma Theory


  • A person who has one or more identities that are marginalized in society
  • Examples: in the U.S., people of color, LGBTQ+, Muslims, women

Societal Trauma

  • Negative experiences that systemically occur at the societal level
  • Examples: attempted genocide, discrimination, oppression, second-class citizenship, racialized police brutality

(Intra)Cultural Trust

  • Connection (e.g., dependency, attachment, loyalty, love, and/or responsibility) with other members of one's minority group(s), potentially as a buffer against societal trauma
  • Examples: the "sweet sense of solidarity" with other minorities, in which there is an expectation of understanding and support; personal connection with the successes, joys, failures, and harms of one's minority group(s)

Cultural Betrayal

  • From a fellow minority, violation of (intra)cultural trust in the form of trauma, abuse, violation, or other negative occurrences
  • Examples: being rejected by other members of one's minority group; being accused of 'acting White' by other minorities

Cultural Betrayal Trauma

  • Interpersonal trauma (physical, sexual, or psychological abuse) where the victim and perpetrator(s) share at least one minority identity.
  • Examples: within-group violence in minority populations (e.g., minority perpetrator, minority victim)

(Intra)Cultural Pressure

  • Resulting from societal trauma, a negative transformation of (intra)cultural trust, in which the needs of victims of cultural betrayal trauma are overshadowed by the perceived needs of the perpetrator and/or the entire minority group
  • Examples: being told by a fellow minority to keep problems "in house" and not disclose to law enforcement, therapists, etc. because doing so would reflect poorly on and/or harm the minority group

Abuse Outcomes

  • Typically-studied outcomes of interpersonal trauma
  • Examples: PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder); depression; anxiety

Cultural Outcomes

  • Currently un-studied or under-studied outcomes of interpersonal trauma that are identity, cultural, or sociocultural in nature
  • Examples: internalized prejudice; changes to identification with minority identity

© Jennifer M. Gómez, 2018

Condemned To Dance: Cultural Betrayal Trauma Theory

Condemned To Dance: Cultural Betrayal Trauma Theory is an arts-based research project (dissertation and choreography by Jennifer M. Gómez) that tells the story of a fictional group of people called the Wigglies, who are hurt by Oppression and endure cultural betrayal trauma through dance.

As of 16 February 2018, the video has received over 2,000 views.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Cultural Betrayal Trauma Theory (CBTT)

  • Does CBTT treat all minorities as if they are the same?

No. With CBTT, both within-group differences and between-group differences can be systematically examined.

  • Does CBTT propose that there is more trauma, violence, and abuse within minority groups?

No. CBTT says nothing about prevalence of trauma, as within-group trauma occurs across majority and minority groups.

  • Does CBTT assume that between-group trauma—particularly with majority perpetrators and minority victims—is not harmful?

No. CBTT focuses on one facet of trauma (within-group) and does not speak to other forms of trauma (between-group) that themselves may be uniquely harmful in their own way.

  • Does CBTT ignore all the other harmful aspects of trauma (e.g., severity, high betrayal)?

No. CBTT highlights cultural betrayal as a specific contributing factor of trauma outcomes, but also includes characteristics of trauma, interpersonal betrayal, institutional betrayal, judicial betrayal, and other factors.

  • Does CBTT presume that perpetrators of cultural betrayal trauma are actively trying to betray?

No. Similar to betrayal trauma theory, the intent of perpetrators is distinct from the betrayal implicit in the trauma.

  • Do victims of trauma need to explicitly feel cultural betrayal for it to count as such?

No. However, future research should explore if outcomes vary based on individuals' perceptions of cultural betrayal in the trauma.

  • Does CBTT ignore the complexity of identity?

No. CBTT is informed by intersectionality and multiplicity. There are various types of cultural betrayal that a single individual could experience (e.g., ethno-cultural betrayal; gender-cultural betrayal).

  • Isn't CBTT a cultural betrayal in and of itself, as it highlights trauma, violence, and abuse that occurs within minority groups?

No. The ultimate determinant of cultural betrayal is societal trauma. The next responsible party are perpetrators for violating (intra)cultural trust. Disclosing and/or discussing cultural betrayal trauma is not a cultural betrayal.

© Jennifer M. Gómez, 2016