I like the term "toxic partners." I like the term because "toxic" can refer equally to verbally abusive men and to verbally abusive women. Toxicity can kill; toxicity kills personal emotional well-being and also kills relationships
The gender bias in use of clinical labels has been concerning me. So often we name raging women borderlines and raging men either abusive, bipolar, narcissistic or sociopathic. By contrast, the term "toxic" has no gender stereotype attached to it.
The label narcissistic does fairly well in the gender realm. Someone who is self-aborbed, unable or unwilling to take others' concerns into mind, and very poor at listening to others can easily earn this label independent of whether he or she is male or female.
There's no simple label for excessive anger in the DSM, as I've written earlier. Too bad because if anger, like anxiety and depressive, were labeled as a potential disorder, that would solve the dilemma.
Interestingly also, whereas women seem to get most of the borderline
labeling, men get most of the abuser
label. For sure, borderline women can be profoundly verbally abusive to everyone that has to deal with them on more than a public and superficial level. They often look attractive, sometimes seductively so, at work and with friends. It's at home that the tongue lashings (and sometimes also physical attacks) become violent. Read reports from adults who grew up with a borderline mother
if you have questions about the extent of borderline's abusive behavior even if these individuals seldom get labeled "abusive."
Another trend: If they are male and have too much anger, they get treated with medications and labeled bipolar. If they are female, their toxic anger again is more likely to be considered a sign of borderline features.
Here's another one: In a recent study of gender impacts on ADHD diagnosis, clinicians were twice as likely to assign this label if they thought that the client description they were reading was of a boy than of a girl. Hmmm..
In the extensive Comments section to one of my posts on mothers with borderline personality disorder I asked the readers their thoughts on why virtually no one was mentioning BPD dads. I received the following particularly thought-provoking response:
"Interesting. I was just discussing this with my husband this morning, talking about the fact that there are more discussions about BPD mothers than there are about BPD fathers. I'm pretty sure I know why. (I grew up with a BPD mother and an Aspberger's father.)
Surveys of prison populations show that prisoners have a very high incidence of personality disorders
, and that male prisoners are more likely to have anti-social personality disorder and females are more likely to have BPD. I think the difference is testosterone
levels. Empathy-less males are more likely to become physically violent, and females are more likely to be emotionally and psychologically violent. Physical violence is a much shorter route to prison. So, I think that people are far more likely to still be in the custody of an empathyless mother than in the custody of an empathyless father…"
My question is whether men are more likely to "have" anti-social personality disorders, or whether that's the label we give to men who act out in disregard of social norms, whereas women with similar behaviors get labeled borderline personality disorder.
Clinical psychologist Susan Heitler, Ph.D. is author of From Conflict to Resolution, a book that explores the role of conflict in generating psychopathology and in the healing impacts of psychotherapy.