Journal of Family Violence

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 113–132 | Cite as

Antecedents of abusive personality and abusive behavior in wife assaulters

  • Donald G. Dutton
  • Andrew Starzomski
  • Lee Ryan


One hundred and forty men referred for wife assault and 45 demographically matched controls were assessed for psychological variables associated with abusive personality (anger, cyclical (borderline) personality organization (BPO) and chronic experience of trauma symptoms) and abusive behaviors (both physical and emotional) as reported by their female partners. Predictor variables for these abuse measures included the EMBU which assesses recollections of parental warmth and rejection and the Conflict Tactics Scale which assesses physical abuse in the family of origin. A composite of BPO, anger, trauma symptoms and fearful attachment called Abusive Personality (ABP) correlated .42 with wives reports of emotionally abusive behaviors. ABP was positively and significantly correlated with recollections of negative parental treatment by the abuse perpetrator. A compositive of parental rejection and verbal and physical abuse by parents correlated .41 with ABP. A discriminant function of high and low ABP found that ABP was predicted by paternal rejection, physical abuse, and absence of maternal warmth. Physical abuse by either parent correlated significantly with all subscales and total scores on the ABP measure. When combined with data showing ABP to correlate significantly with frequency of use of violence by wife assaulters (Dutton, 1995b, Dutton and Starzomski, 1993), the current study suggests a personality syndrome of assaultive males that has antecedents in the early experiences of these men. The present data suggest that family of origin experiences may have effects beyond modeling of abusive behaviors. These effects include development of a specific personality form associated with abusiveness.

Key Words

wife abuse wife assault psychopathology personality 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donald G. Dutton
    • 1
  • Andrew Starzomski
    • 1
  • Lee Ryan
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouver
  2. 2.University of San Diego CaliforniaSan Diego

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