What Does “Stab Someone In The Back” Mean? When to Use It?

What Does Stab Someone In The Back Mean When To Use It.jpg

It is a phrase that infers a loss of loyalty in relationships; read on to gain a clear understanding and how and when to use it.

‘Stabbing someone in the back’ is an act of disloyalty, loss of faith, and ultimately betrayal between individuals and groups. These acts can lead to the downfall of individuals, families, groups, and countries. This idiom is used when speaking of betrayal of trust in all its forms.

There are many important characteristics that go into making up a strong and lasting relationship between individuals and groups. But traditionally, the most important and often the most difficult to foster is the characteristic of loyalty. They say that without loyalty in our relationships, true relationships cannot exist.

It becomes important for us to understand the basic premise of what it is to be loyal and what happens when loyalty is lost or never truly existed.

What Does Stabbing Someone In The Back Look Like?


Stabbing someone in the back can take on many forms, including confronting the person directly, indirectly, or in a hidden manner. In relationships with others, we rely a great deal on faith. In this case, we are believing that our friends and loved ones will act with integrity concerning their actions and behaviors while with us and away from us. In all cases, when faith has been lost, it is the end of loyalty in the relationship, and a sense of betrayal is felt.

Betrayal, or the act of moving against your friend or loved one to their detriment, is what is most often recognized as stabbing someone in the back. The act of betrayal can range in intensity, from mild forms of gossiping or rumor spreading, to more dramatic and subversive forms, resulting in disastrous consequences.

Without question, the historical consequences of backstabbing have, in all cases, caused individual, group, and cultural changes that have reformed the face of friendships, families, and nations.

Let’s now have a more detailed examination of this phrase and its use in our relationships.

Understanding The Idiom, “ Stabbing Someone In The Back,” And Its Implications In Relationships With Others When Used.


The phrase, `to stab someone in the back,’ is a relatively recent idiom of English used to describe a slippery downward fall of a relationship between two people or between groups of people. The phrase implies a sequence of events, including disloyalty, loss of faith, and ultimately, betrayal. In order to understand this process, we must first look at these factors and relate them historically to backstabbing events, some of which have literally transformed the course of history.

It has often been said that loyalty is the most fleeting of all relationship components. In all close relationships, there is a comradery and allegiance that develops between two people. There is a sense that you both move through life together, continuously supporting and caring for each other. There is also a strong belief that this condition is permanent and, in this, brings great comfort and security in facing an uncertain world.

Loyalty can be lost through many unfortunate transgressions in relationships. These transgressions are normally as a result of not spending enough time initially to get to know the other person, which in time, results in unforeseen rifts in loyalty. Transgressions in loyalty can be a single event or a long series of hidden disloyalty. Disloyal traits include lying, cheating, and deception in order to fulfill one’s personal agenda.

Once disloyalty is discovered in a relationship, in most cases requiring evidence of several digressions, there is a loss of faith in the relationship. Faith is a personality trait of believing in someone or something in lack of conventional evidence to support the beliefs existence. ‘A leap of faith is an idiom to express that blind faith will assist us in surpassing life’s challenges.

When we lose faith in a person or group, we are forced to make changes in order to instill some stability in our lives. We may have to leave that situation in hopes of securing the comradery we once had with another person or group. This leads to the ultimate stage in the digression of stabbing someone in the back, betrayal.

Betrayal is the ultimate stage of backstabbing, where the individual or group begins to undermine the standing of the other. It is often an insidious process of rumor-mongering, lies and distortions, and the ultimate vilification of the other person. Betrayal in its mildest form amounts to simply distancing oneself from the other, escalating to name-calling and lying about the other. But it can be much more severe, lending itself to dangerous actions and behaviors that can result in injury, incarceration, and even death.

Historical Significance Of The Idiom, ‘to Stab Someone In The Back’


History is replete with backstabbing, but the first time the idiom, ‘stabbing someone in the back,’ was used was at the end of the First World War in Germany. After the defeat of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany, the peace accord signed in France left a huge rift between the newly formed German government and the German military. It was reported in the German newspapers of the time that the Government of Germany had stabbed the military in the back. “As far as the German army is concerned the general view is summarised in these words: It was stab-in-the-back by the civilian population.” Source: ‘Neue Zürcher Zeitung’ on 1 December 19.

Human history is filled with such examples of backstabbing, with some being simple lovers quarrels, leading to large-scale national and even global betrayals. Take, for example, the most read betrayal, Judas and his betrayal of Jesus Christ, for thirty-one pieces of silver resulting in the crucifixion of Christ and the advent of Christianity. Brutus and his literal stab to the back of Caesar resulting in the ultimate demise of that government form. Hitler’s peace accord with Stalin of non-aggression, only to have Hitler invade Russia a few months later, resulting in the deaths of millions of Russian civilians. Backstabbing has led to the end of love relationships, family unity, governments, rulers, and even spiritual trends.

More commonly, backstabbing appears in business, where deals are made and hands are shaken, only to result in tragedy. A good example exists in business betrayals in the case of Michael Jackson and Paul Simon. Friends for years, Paul Simon had been encouraging Michael Jackson to buy copyright books on historically important songs. Jackson would later backstab his old friend by buying the rights to 250 Beatles songs behind his friend’s back. They would never speak again.

Backstabbing In Love Relationships

Love relationships can be ripe for backstabbing, especially when the law becomes involved. Stacy Castor, a convicted murderer, was found guilty of killing two of her husbands by poisoning them to death. As the authorities began to close in, she tried to divert them by first poisoning her own daughter and framing her for the murder of the two husbands. The daughter managed to survive the poisoning and went directly to the authorities, resulting in her mother’s conviction.

It would be prudent of us to always try to prevent having friends or being part of groups that engage in this type of backstabbing behavior. The question is, how? Those involved in counseling those in the midst of such emotional betrayals have commented on the fact that it is much better to prevent betrayal than to try to deal with the consequences of it. The best way to defend ourselves against being backstabbed is to try to really know who the people are we are involved with. It seems that truth is impacted by time. The longer we have to get to know the people in our lives, the better we are at discerning the real person they are.

It is commonly known that rushed relationships can yield some very difficult outcomes. The complex nature of the human condition can often lead to misinterpretations of people and their feelings for us. As it relates to love relationships, since the beginning of mankind, we have seen historical problems relating to affairs in relationships. Rushing into love or friendship relations with little consideration as to cues into the fidelity or loyalty of the individual. What appears to exist, a faithful, loyal person, with the future set squarely for the success of both, is, in reality, a fiction maintained through lies and deceit. But, under the scrutiny of behavior, consistency, all of the character flaws eventually begin to show through. Time is the factor necessary to truly know who a person is.

How Much Time Is Required?

This is a difficult variable to predict, depending on the individuals or groups involved. Most marriage counseling programs use a benchmark of six to eight months of consistent time spent in order to feel comfortable about long-term relations. In affiliating with groups of people, it can take even longer periods of time. Political groups, social clubs, and even community charity organizations also require scrutiny over time to ensure goodness of fit. Backstabbing in groups can be even more dangerous and impact much more of one’s life than just group-related activities.


When can we coin the phrase, ‘stabbing someone in the back?’ The great hope is that you will never need to use this idiom. This type of situation is one of the most emotionally difficult of all situations to face. It has long-term consequences in all spheres of our lives and can have long-lasting implications in our lives. If it should happen that someone you trust begins to stray from your side to take up their own agenda at the cost of the relationship with you; and in so doing, begin to disparage you in front of your peers, you may ultimately need to tell those concerned that you have been, stabbed in the back.”

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By Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.