AskDefine | Define betray

Dictionary Definition



1 reveal unintentionally; "Her smile betrayed her true feelings" [syn: bewray]
2 deliver to an enemy by treachery; "Judas sold Jesus"; "The spy betrayed his country" [syn: sell]
3 disappoint, prove undependable to; abandon, forsake; "His sense of smell failed him this time"; "His strength finally failed him"; "His children failed him in the crisis" [syn: fail]
4 be sexually unfaithful to one's partner in marriage; "She cheats on her husband"; "Might her husband be wandering?" [syn: cheat on, cheat, cuckold, wander]
5 give away information about somebody; "He told on his classmate who had cheated on the exam" [syn: denounce, tell on, give away, rat, grass, shit, shop, snitch, stag]
6 cause someone to believe an untruth; "The insurance company deceived me when they told me they were covering my house" [syn: deceive, lead astray] [ant: undeceive]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. To deliver into the hands of an enemy by treachery or fraud, in violation of trust; to give up treacherously or faithlessly; as, an officer betrayed the city.
  2. To prove faithless or treacherous to, as to a trust or one who trusts; to be false to; to deceive; as, to betray a person or a cause.
  3. To violate the confidence of, by disclosing a secret, or that which one is bound in honor not to make known.
  4. To disclose or discover, as something which prudence would conceal; to reveal unintentionally.
  5. To mislead; to expose to inconvenience not foreseen to lead into error or sin.
  6. To lead astray, as a maiden; to seduce (as under promise of marriage) and then abandon.
  7. To show or to indicate; -- said of what is not obvious at first, or would otherwise be concealed.

Derived terms


To deliver into the hands of an enemy
To prove faithless or treacherous
To violate the confidence of, by disclosing a secret
To disclose or discover
To lead astray, as a maiden
To show or to indicate
Translations to be checked

Extensive Definition

Betrayal, a form of deception or dismissal of prior presumptions, is the breaking or violation of a presumptive social contract (trust, or confidence) that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals, between organizations or between individuals and organizations. Often betrayal is the act of supporting a rival group, or it is a complete break from previously decided upon or presumed norms by one party from the others.


Rodger L. Jackson, author of the article, The Sense and Sensibility of Betrayal: Discovering the Meaning of Treachery Through Jane Austen, writes that "there has been surprisingly little written about what we even mean by the term". In psychology, practitioners describe betrayal as the breaking of a social contract; however, critics of this approach claim that the term social contract does not accurately reflect the conditions and motivations for, and effects of, betrayal. Philosophers Judith Shklar and Peter Johnson, authors of The Ambiguities of Betrayal and Frames of Deceit respectively, contend that while no clear definition of betrayal is available, betrayal is more effectively understood through literature. AI researcher Selmer Bringsjord made betrayal the core of a storytelling program BRUTUS. In Artificial Intelligence and Literary Creativity: Inside the Mind of BRUTUS, a Storytelling Machine, betrayal is defined operationally in computer language as basically as knowingly thwarting another out of something that ought to occur.

Theoretical and practical needs

Jackson explains why a clear definition is needed:
''Betrayal is both a "people" problem and a philosopher's problem. Philosophers should be able to clarify the concept of betrayal, compare and contrast it with other moral concepts, and critically assess betrayal situations. At the practical level people should be able to make honest sense of betrayal and also to temper its consequences: to handle it, not be assaulted by it. What we need is a conceptually clear account of betrayal that differentiates between genuine and merely perceived betrayal, and which also provides systematic guidance for the assessment of alleged betrayal in real life.''
Ben-Yehuda's 2001 work ("Betrayals and Treason Violations of Trust and Loyalty" Westview Press) framed all forms of betrayals and treason under a unifying analytical framework using loyalty, trust and moral boundaries as explanatory tools.

Betrayal trauma

Betrayal trauma occurs when people or institutions that are depended on for survival violate human trust. An example of betrayal trauma is childhood physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
The term was first used by Professor J.J. Freyd in 1991, and today most mental health professionals accept betrayal trauma as a possible alternative diagnosis to traditional post traumatic stress disorder.
[Prof J.J. Freyd's Home Page at the University of Oregon]

Political betrayal

Most adults living in western democracies place trust in the state of which they are a citizen. If this trust is betrayed, at its worst, the individual can suffer psychological betrayal trauma. Betrayal trauma has symptoms similar to post traumatic stress disorder, although the element of amnesia and dissociation is likely to be greater.
The key difference between traditional post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and betrayal trauma is that the former is historically seen as being caused primarily by fear, whereas betrayal trauma is a response to extreme anger. Fear and anger are the two sides to the fight-flight response, and as such are our strongest and most basic psychological emotions.
Pure political betrayal trauma can be caused by situations such as wrongful arrest and conviction by the legal system of a western democracy; or by discrimination, bullying or other serious mistreatment by a state institution or powerful figure within the state.
In practice, however, it is likely that most people with symptoms of psychological trauma have elements of both fear based PTSD and anger based betrayal trauma, not one or the other. Certainly in the most serious cases of PTSD there is an element of both. For instance, the fact that a soldier is sent to war by the state is an important element in the reasons for war being a major cause of PTSD. In cases where soldiers are horrified by the actions or orders of their commanding officers, or where they are victims of friendly fire, their PTSD is likely to be worse because of the element of betrayal will be that much greater. Similarly, one of the most psychologically traumatising events in history, the Holocaust, is almost certainly so serious a case because the element of state betrayal is as great as the element of fear trauma.

See also

betray in German: Verrat
betray in Simple English: Betrayal
betray in Yiddish: פאראט

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abuse, apostatize, babble, bamboozle, be indiscreet, be unguarded, bear witness against, beguile, betoken, betray a confidence, blab, blabber, blow the whistle, bluff, blurt, blurt out, bolt, break away, break faith, cajole, cheat on, circumvent, collaborate, conjure, cross, debauch, deceive, defect, defile, deflower, delude, demonstrate, desert, despoil, diddle, disclose, discover, divulge, double-cross, dupe, ensnare, entrap, evidence, evince, expose, fail, fink, fool, force, forestall, gammon, get around, give away, gull, hoax, hocus-pocus, hoodwink, hornswaggle, humbug, impart, indicate, inform, inform against, inform on, juggle, lay bare, lead astray, leak, let down, let drop, let fall, let slip, manifest, misguide, mislead, mock, narc, outmaneuver, outreach, outsmart, outwit, overreach, peach, pigeon, play one false, pull out, put something over, rape, rat, ravage, ravish, renegade, reveal, reveal a secret, ruin, run out on, secede, seduce, sell, sell out, shop, show, sing, snare, snitch, snitch on, snow, soil, spill, spill the beans, split, squeal, stool, string along, sully, take in, talk, tattle, tattle on, tell, tell on, tell secrets, tell tales, testify against, trap, trick, turn in, turn informer, two-time, uncover, unveil, violate
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