Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Previous research on betrayal has focused mainly on motivations for betrayal, relationship change, individual differences in the tendency toward betraying others, and betrayal and the social network. There appears to be no empirical work on how persons cope with betrayal. This thesis used a model of resolution of unfinished business, based on Gestalt and process experiential psychotherapy, as a source of hypotheses about coping with betrayal. The main problem of the research was to examine two hypotheses about relationships between components of this model and outcomes of the betrayal experience. Hypothesis 1 was as follows: The following components of the model are positively related to resolution of the betrayal and to other positive outcomes: "intense expression of feeling”, “expression of need"; "more positive representation of other (the betrayer)", "self-validation or understanding other". Hypothesis II was as follows: The following components of the model are unrelated to resolution of the betrayal and to other positive outcomes "expression of blame, complaint, hurt" "negative representation of others”. In addition to examining the preceding hypotheses, the present research sought to study the effectiveness of the array of strategies that persons use to deal with betrayal. Undergraduate university students (N = 120) were asked to complete a packet of self-report questionnaires with reference to a situation in which they were betrayed by another person. The packet of questionnaires included (a) a betrayal identification sheet used to identify the betrayal situation, (b) a betrayal experience questionnaire used to measure components of the model of resolution of unfinished business, (c) a checklist questionnaire (COPE) used to survey the strategies students used to cope with betrayal, and (d) several outcome measures to determine the effectiveness of the students' coping with betrayal. Outcomes measured included resolution of the betrayal, interpersonal problems, and physical and psychiatric symptoms. Overall the findings yielded partial support for Hypothesis I "Expression of need," "more positive representation of other," and "self-validation or understanding other" were all associated with greater degrees of resolution of the betrayal "Self-validation or understanding other" was also associated with fewer problems with intimacy, sociability, and with overall interpersonal problems; however this pattern of findings was not obtained for any of the other components. The above three components were unrelated to indices of symptoms, possibly because these indices may have been affected by (unmeasured) stressors other than the students' betrayal situations. The component "intense expression of feeling" was unrelated to both resolution and the overall index of interpersonal problems. The second hypothesis received strong support from the findings. Resolution, interpersonal problems, and symptoms were either unrelated to "expression of blame, complaint, hurt" and "negative representation of others," or the direction of the relationships observed suggested that these components had an adverse effect on outcomes. The COPE results indicated that acceptance was the only coping strategy (of the 15) measured by this instrument that was associated with greater resolution of betrayal. By contrast, these results also suggested that two of the more infrequently used COPE strategies were ineffective ways of coping with betrayal: behavioral disengagement and mental disengagement were both associated with lower levels of resolution of betrayal and with higher levels of interpersonal problems. The above pattern of COPE results appeared consistent with the findings directly related to the model of resolution or unfinished business in that it suggests that positive involvement with the betrayal situation (as opposed to withdrawal from it) is associated with higher levels of resolution. Overall the findings of this study suggested that this model has potential for identifying effective ways of coping with betrayal experiences outside of psychotherapy contexts.


Richard P. Schellenberg

Date of Award

Spring 1999

Document Type

Thesis - campus only access


© 1999 Suzanne Rupp


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