Betrayal and friendship
Robert French and Peter Case
Bristol Business School, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK, and
Centre for Leadership Studies,
University of Exeter Business School, Exeter, UK
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between friendship and betrayal.
Both are perceived to involve dynamics that can have a major impact in organizations, but both have
tended to be under researched.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper brings together ideas from psychoanalysis (object
relations theory), archetypal psychology, and the history of ideas (the friendship tradition). It also uses
a case study to explore how the emerging framework applies in reality.
Findings – The exploration led to the conclusion that betrayal may have its roots at the same
deep level of the psyche as friendship and they may, therefore, be equally fundamental
Originality/value – The paper opens up an important area for further study and application. It is
intended to give status to two experiences that are of great importance to managers and managed,
leaders and led, consultants and students.
Keywords Interpersonal relations, Social psychology, Trust
Paper type Conceptual paper
Do we begin – or does our “I” begin – with betrayal?
Clearly, not all friendships last, and some end in betrayal. It was our own
experiences of the impact of friendships betrayed, which led us to this theme. However,
our discussions led us to question whether the pain, disruption, disbelief, and confusion
that arise from betrayal in a particular friendship may contain echoes of a universal
“primal agony” (Garwood, 2001, p. 155). In trying to understand the nature and impact
of betrayal in friendship, we were led to question our easy assumptions. Both
mythology and depth psychology suggest the relationship between friendship and
betrayal ﬁnd origins and may draw their energy from the same deep layers of the
In this special issue of Society and Business Review dedicated to the life and work of
Burkard Sievers, a scholar and author who has made a career from the analysis of the
darker side of organizational relationships (Sievers, 1994) and who has himself been
occupied by betrayal (Sievers, 2007), it seemed appropriate to attend to what, at ﬁrst
sight, appears to be the shadow side of friendship. We begin with an exploration of
some theoretical issues around betrayal and its place in human development, drawing
on object relations theory and mythology. We then look at friendship as one mode of
relating, whereby a containing and contained relationship to self and other may be
(re-)established. Inevitably, however, such interdependence brings with it the
ever-present possibility of (further) betrayal. Finally, we illustrate these ideas with
an example, taken from our own experience.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Society and Business Review
Vol. 4 No. 2, 2009
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited