Cultural Betrayal Trauma Theory

Curriculum Vitae

Table of Contents

For Cultural Betrayal Trauma Theory (CBTT)

  1. CBTT Description with a Short Video 
  2. CBTT Description with figures 
  3. CBTT Terminology 
  4. CBTT Postulates
  5. Condemned to Dance: Arts-Based Research Project 
  6. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 
  7. CBTT Funding 
  8. CBTT Publications

CBTT Description with a Short Video

In this short video [2019], Dr. Jennifer M. Gómez explains cultural betrayal trauma theory and discusses her article, “Isn’t It All About Victimization? (Intra)Cultural Pressure and Cultural Betrayal Trauma in Ethnic Minority College Women”, which was published in Violence Against Women.

With over 633,000 readers as of February 2021, short article on cultural betrayal trauma theory from The ConversationThe Unique Harm of Sexual Abuse in the Black Community

CBTT Description with Figures

Individuals’ experiences are impacted by aspects of the sociocultural context. For individuals who are marginalized, such as Black people in the U.S., 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 marginalized groups–termed cultural betrayal trauma–may be linked with varied outcomes, including PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and internalized prejudice. 

CBTT Terminology

The term “victim” is used to emphasize the harm of victimization, as well as for brevity. Preferred language is “person who has been victimized,” which does not impose a label onto a person based on something they have experienced.

Marginalized or Minoritized Individuals

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

Societal Trauma

  • Systems and manifestations of structural inequality
  • Examples: attempted genocide, discrimination, oppression, second-class citizenship, racialized police brutality, structural and cultural racism, etc.

(Intra)Cultural Trust

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

Cultural Betrayal

  • From a fellow marginalized person(s), 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 marginalized group; upholding racism through discriminatory actions that directly or indirectly harm members of the racially marginalized in-group; being accused of ‘acting White’ by other racially marginalized people

Cultural Betrayal Trauma

  • Violation of (intra)cultural trust through interpersonal trauma (physical, sexual, or psychological abuse); the victim and perpetrator(s) share at least one marginalized identity
  • Examples: within-group violence in marginalized populations (e.g., marginalized perpetrator, marginalized victim) 

(Intra)Cultural Support

  • An extension of (intra)cultural trust. The needs of the victim are as important as the needs of the marginalized group. Victim is supported in the aftermath of victimization, as well as in the tensions created by inequality (e.g., need to protect the Black community from discriminatory systems)
  • Examples: being told that you are not responsible for protecting the person(s) who victimized you; helping you think of the pros and cons of disclosing to formal sources, including those that have been and/or continue to be discriminatory against Black people

(Intra)Cultural Pressure

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

Abuse Outcomes

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

Cultural Outcomes

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

© Jennifer M. Gómez, 2018, 2021

CBTT Postulates

  1. Within Marginalized Populations Only: Structural inequality is necessary for the existence of cultural betrayal 
  2. Common Cultural Betrayal: Perpetrator is more likely to be within-group
  3. Cultural Betrayal vs. Not: Within-group perpetrator explains additional variance in outcomes (above and beyond that of between-group perpetrator)
  4. Cultural Betrayal vs. High Betrayal (Freyd): Within-group perpetrator explains additional variance in outcomes (above and beyond that of close perpetrator)
  5. Cultural Betrayal & High Betrayal (Freyd): Within-group + close perpetrator explains additional variance in outcomes (above and beyond between-group + stranger perpetrator)
  6. (Intra)Cultural Trust: (Intra)cultural trust exacerbates harm of cultural betrayal trauma
  7. Mental, Behavioral, and Physical Health: Cultural betrayal trauma predicts diverse mental, behavioral, and physical health outcomes, including dissociation, suicidality, and cardiovascular disease
  8. Cultural Outcomes: Cultural betrayal trauma predicts diverse cultural outcomes, including internalized prejudice, (intra)cultural pressure, and changes to ethnic identification
  9. Cultural Outcomes & Mental Health: Cultural outcomes are related to costly mental health outcomes
  10. Inequality: Increased structural and/or interpersonal discrimination exacerbates harm of cultural betrayal trauma
  11. Bonus- Within-Group Variation: Within-group variation in prevalence, sequelae, and healing can be examined

© Jennifer M. Gómez, 2021

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 21 August 2021, the video has received over 2,600 views. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • Does CBTT treat all marginalized people 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 marginalized groups?

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

  • Does CBTT assume that between-group trauma—particularly with majority perpetrators and marginalized 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 betrayalinstitutional betrayaljudicial 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 Crenshaw’s intersectionality and Hames-García’s multiplicity. There are various types of cultural betrayal that a single individual could experience (e.g., ethno-cultural betrayal; gender-cultural betrayal). That said, future research should use person-centered methodology (e.g., latent profile analysis) and critical research design to examine the impact of structural intersectionality (Crenshaw) and multiple shared marginalized identities on marginalized victims of cultural betrayal trauma.

  • Isn’t CBTT a cultural betrayal in and of itself, as it highlights trauma, violence, and abuse that occurs within marginalized 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, 2021

CBTT Funding

External Funding
Internal Funding
  • 2020, PI: Wayne State University Academy of Scholars Junior Faculty Research Award; $1,000
  • 2020, PI: Wayne State University Research Grant; $10,000
  • 2020, PI: Wayne State University Start Up Funds; $6,000

CBTT Publications

Upcoming

Book Project- Cultural Betrayal, Sexual Abuse, & Healing for Black Women & Girls: From Black Lives Matter to MeToo (Publisher: APA Books)

  • Durkee, M. I., & Gómez, J. M. (in press). Mental health implications of the acting White accusation: The role of cultural betrayal and ethnic-racial identity among Black and Latina/o emerging adults. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 
  • Gómez, J. M. (in press). When solidarity hurts: (Intra)cultural trust, cultural betrayal sexual trauma, and PTSD in culturally diverse minoritized youth transitioning to adulthood. Transcultural Psychiatry. 
Peer-Reviewed
Book Chapters/Dissertation/Scholarly
  • Gómez, J. M., Noll, L. K., Adams-Clark, A., & Courtois, C. (2021). Colleague betrayal in sexual boundary violations in therapy. Sexual Boundary Violations in Psychotherapy: Therapist Indiscretions & Transgressions. Washington DC: American Psychological Association. 
  • Adams-Clark, A., Gómez, J. M., Gobin, R. L., Noll, L. K., & Delker, B. (2020). Impact of interpersonal, family, cultural, and institutional betrayal on adult survivors of abuse. Handbook of Interpersonal Violence Across the Lifespan.
  • Gómez, J. M. (2020). Exposure to discrimination, cultural betrayal, and intoxication as a Black female graduate student applying for tenure-track faculty positions. In Y. F. Niemann, G. Gutierrez y Muhs, & C. G. Gonzalez (Eds.), Presumed Incompetent II: Race, Class, Power, & Resistance of Women in Academia (pp. 204-214). Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.
  • Gómez, J. M., & Freyd, J. J. (2019). Betrayal trauma. In J. J. Ponzetti (Ed.), Macmillan Encyclopedia of Intimate and Family Relationships: An Interdisciplinary Approach (pp. 79-82). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning Inc.
  • Gómez, J. M. (2016, May 11). Cultural betrayal trauma theory. [Dissertation].
  • Gómez, J. M. (2015). Conceptualizing trauma: In pursuit of culturally relevant research. Trauma Psychology Newsletter (American Psychological Association Division 56), 10, 40-44. 
  • Gómez, J. (2015). Rape, Black men, and the degraded Black woman: Feminist psychologists’ role in addressing within-group sexual violence. The Feminist Psychologist: Newsletter for the Society of the Psychology of Women (American Psychological Association Division 35), 42, 12-13.
  • Gómez, J. M. (2012). Cultural betrayal trauma theory: The impact of culture on the effects of trauma. In Blind to Betrayal.
Public Scholarship
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