Domestic Violence Is More Common Among These Two Personality Types

Personality disorders can predict the perpetration of domestic violence.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | September 30, 2021

A new research paper published in Clinical Psychology Review takes an in-depth look at intimate partner violence (IPV) and the personality types of people who perpetrate, or are victims of, IPV.

"Intimate partner violence is defined broadly as physical, sexual, or psychological harm inflicted by a current or former romantic partner or spouse," state the researchers, led by Katherine Collison of Purdue University. "Prevalence rates of IPV victimization are high, with over one-third of women reporting any contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking and nearly half endorsing psychological aggression in their lifetime. Rates of victimization are thought to be roughly equivalent for men; 31% of whom reported experiencing lifetime sexual violence, physical violence, and stalking and 47% reported experiencing psychological aggression."

To understand the risk factors associated with intimate partner violence, the researchers examined the 10 personality disorders defined by the DSM-5 (paranoid, schizotypal, schizoid, antisocial, histrionic, borderline, narcissistic, dependent, avoidant, and obsessive-compulsive) and explored their connections with intimate partner violence. They found antisocial personalities, or people who tend to lie, act impulsively, break laws, and lack consideration for their own safety or the safety of others, and borderline personalities, or those who experience frequent feelings of worthlessness, instability, and who struggle to maintain healthy relationships, were most likely to be the perpetrators and victims of domestic violence.

"At the global IPV perpetration level, every personality disorder except for histrionic and obsessive-compulsive demonstrated significant and positive effects," comment the researchers. "Perhaps unsurprisingly, the largest effect sizes were found for antisocial and borderline, which are also the two most widely studied personality disorders in relation to IPV."

To come to this conclusion, the authors scoured the scientific literature for studies examining domestic violence and personality disorders. They identified 163 such studies with 189 individual samples.

"Despite years of research demonstrating a relationship between personality pathology and intimate partner violence, no meta-analysis has been published examining how well, or poorly, all ten personality disorders predict IPV perpetration or victimization," state the authors. "Therefore, the present study was undertaken to synthesize existing research on the effects of all ten personality disorders [...] on physical, psychological, and sexual IPV perpetration and victimization."

The authors hope that their research will help inform prevention and intervention efforts in clinical settings.

"This project highlighted the need for more research on the basic personality traits that might serve as risk factors for intimate partner aggression," comments Collison. "We got some great information about people who have personality disorder diagnoses or symptoms, but the reality is that intimate partner aggression is common and is not just being perpetrated by individuals with clinical diagnoses. In the future, my hope is that we can take this work a step further to help individualize treatment for people who are violent in romantic relationships and address some of the potential underlying mechanisms for that aggressive behavior."

An interview with Katherine Collison discussing her research on domestic violence can be found here: Exploring the connection between personality disorders and domestic violence