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Estimated reading: 9 minutes
  • Trust is a valuable resource from an individual, to a relationship level and a societal level.
  • Betraying trust manifests itself through lying, manipulating, crossing boundaries, sharing personal information, etc.
  • Consequences of having your trust betrayed include distress, loss of trust, self-doubt, feeling of vulnerability, isolation, etc.
  • Betraying trust has an impact both on a mental and on a physical level.


Betraying trust is the act of doing something bad or hurtful towards someone that causes a loss of respect. Betraying trust can occur between two people, between a group or even at a societal level and can happen in any context (Psychology Today, 2014). How we deal with it is what is shaping our mentality and our future connections.


A recent study analysing the connection between gender equality and trust came to the conclusions that gender equality values are important for social trust (Cho, 2016). In other words, societies that prioritised gender equality noticed that gender related values (such as fairness) are an important factor of social trust. On the other hand, societies where gender equality was not a priority and where values related to gender equality were not an important factor of social trust, were more prone to a general social distrust and discrimination. The study showed that gender discriminatory values negatively affected everyone in society, not only women. How can you betray someone’s trust?

Betraying someone’s trust can take a lot of different shapes and can have a variety of consequences both on the person whose trust is being betrayed and on the relationship between the parties involved. This can happen on an individual, on a relationship level or on a group/societal level.

  • Crossing boundaries

When establishing certain boundaries in a relationship (this can be a friendship, a romantic relationship, or any other type of connection between two or more people), respecting them is providing a safer space for everyone involved so that they feel comfortable with the interaction. Having those boundaries crossed, regardless of whether they are mental/emotional/physical boundaries, is a form of betraying trust because it takes away that feeling of safety and of being sure that the interaction is guided in a way that would protect the people involved. Personal boundaries are placed in order to protect the person that placed them. By crossing them, the personal space and feeling of safety inside of the situation is being taken away from that person. Even small physical gestures or opening specific subjects that cross someone’s boundaries can have a great impact because of what they represent – pulling away from a common agreement and taking control over the interaction.

  • Sharing personal information

Sharing personal information that you are trusted with can be really dangerous when talking about gender equality or self-discovery processes. Because of the vulnerability and level of exposure these interactions bring, there is a constant risk of gender-based violence, LGBTQ+ phobia or phobia towards non-normative practices. Sharing this kind of information is not only harming the relationship between you and the person who trusted you with it but there is a chance that your choices might put their safety in jeopardy (mental and physical safety).

  • Lying and Manipulating

Another form of betraying trust is through lying or manipulating the conversation in a way that crosses the established boundaries or direction of the interaction. Any form of lying, including lying through omission is a form of betraying trust because the person receiving the information cannot have a full image on what is going on and therefore their decisions (of how they interact or what they want to do) is being manipulated through holding onto some information that could have changed the whole outcome of the situation. Consequences of betraying trust

Consequences of betraying trust can manifest themselves both on a mental and on a physical level. Having your trust betrayed can bring distress, the feeling of vulnerability and exposure, loss of trust in others, loneliness and even self-doubt (Psychology Today, 2014). If someone’s trust is constantly being betrayed, there is a chance that the above-mentioned consequences could affect them mentally up to the point where they start isolating themselves because they are under the impression that they can trust no-one. During this process, if people keep crossing their boundaries, self-doubt is a common effect, making the person start doubting themselves, questioning if there is something wrong with them or maybe thinking that they are not worthy of people’s trust. These feelings of constantly questioning might lead to feelings of not worthiness and not enoughness. What to do after betraying someone’s trust/having your trust betrayed

  • Take your time to process

If somebody betrayed your trust, take your time to reassess your needs in that situation. By doing this, you can also make sure that your reactions towards the person will be based more on a rational rather than an emotional point of view. If you take your time to process what happens, you can also reassess your boundaries and how you would like to handle the possible conflict.

  • Talk about it

If it is possible, having a conversation with the person that betrayed your trust can help in clarifying what your expectations were and how their behaviour affected you. Not every betrayal has negative underlying intentions and by talking about it you can make sure that there were no misunderstandings.


Y is a 14-year-old kid in middle school in your class and has come to you to seek advice for a conflict they are having with their mom. They mention that the problem is private and that they would like for it to stay between you two. You agree and they start telling the story of how they got a new phone as a birthday present. While charging the new phone and doing the data transfer from the old to the new one, Y left both of the phones on the kitchen counter and went to their room. In the meantime, their mom was in the kitchen, heard the new phone vibrating because of the notifications it was getting and went to check what was going in. She saw an open conversation with a message from Y´s boyfriend that she read and did not like and started scrolling down to read more.

Y is telling you how the conflict started and how they felt that their privacy was not respected while their mom was screaming at them telling them that what they are doing is completely wrong for a 14-year-old kid and that she had to read the messages because it is her job to protect Y.

When hearing this, you ask Y if they are comfortable with seeing the school’s psychologist as they can help in the process of acknowledging and accepting their emotions. In the meantime, you wanted to discuss the possible ways to handle this and go to another one of Y’s teachers that knows them well. You tell the other teacher what happened and while teaching their lesson in Y’s class that teacher accidentally drops a comment related to Y’s problem in front of the whole class.

That’s when Y realizes their trust has been broken and holds every information related to the conflict to themselves. They saw that adults have betrayed their trust three times in this case (mom, you as a teacher, the second teacher) and concluded that they can’t trust adults with this. This is pushing them towards isolating and internalising the conflict instead of solving it, making it a lot harder for Y to overcome it on their own.

By invading a child’s/teen’s privacy and/or avoiding the subject, you could be putting that child in a more vulnerable and dangerous position, contributing to them pulling away and keeping information from you.

What could have been done instead was to ask Y what they need and if you could share the story with an extra person that might have helped. You could have advised Y to go to a few sessions with the school psychologist to process the conflict and help them find solutions together.

5.6.4. BEST PRACTICES How to avoid betraying someone’s trust

  • Ask for consent

Regardless of whether it is a physical boundary or whether you would like to share some information on/with them, ask before acting.

  • Be honest in your communication

Try to avoid sharing parts of the information related to a situation because it would lead to the manipulation of the conversation in your favour. Instead, be honest and open in your communication.

  • Set boundaries

Setting boundaries from the beginning can be of great help, especially in the interactions with new people. These boundaries can be expressed as a wish, like “I would like the information I share with you to stay between us” or they can take the form of offering choices, such as “if you want to share this information about me/us, please ask me before you do it”. The second option does not focus on what will be shared specifically but rather on how and with whom.

  • Communicate intentions clearly

If you know that there is something you do not like or do not want to happen, try to communicate your intentions clearly. None of us are mind readers and we also should not be. It is completely okay to not know your exact intentions from the beginning and still share that with the other people involved. This kind of sharing can look like this: “I’m not completely sure if I want to share this info with others. I will think about it while we talk” or “I’m comfortable so far but I’m not sure if this is the direction I want the conversation to take. Can we keep going for a bit longer and I will let you know if I’m not comfortable with it?”. What matters is that even if you are not sure of what you want, being clear about that is going to help everyone involved.


Cho, S.-Y. (2016). Does Gender Equality Promote Social Trust? An Empirical Analysis. World Development, 88, 175–187. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2016.07.019.

Psychology Today (2014). Trust and Betrayal. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement/201401/trust-and-betrayal.

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