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Connecting Domestic Violence to Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are related to the perpetration of intimate partner abuse.

Key points

  • Rates of intimate partner violence (IPV) are high, with roughly one-third of people reporting sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking.
  • People with antisocial personalities or borderline personalities are most likely to be perpetrators or victims of IPV, a new study shows.
  • More research is needed to understand the mechanisms that underlie aggressive behaviors that can lead to IPV.
Arisa Chattasa / Unsplash
Source: Arisa Chattasa / Unsplash

A new article appearing in Clinical Psychology Review takes an in-depth look at intimate partner violence (IPV) and the personality characteristics of people who perpetrate, or receive, IPV.

“Intimate partner violence is defined broadly as physical, sexual, or psychological harm inflicted by a current or former romantic partner or spouse,” say 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 percent of whom reported experiencing lifetime sexual violence, physical violence, and stalking and 47 percent reported experiencing psychological aggression.”

Personality Disorders and Intimate Partner Violence

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

“At the global IPV perpetration level, every personality disorder except for histrionic and obsessive-compulsive demonstrated significant and positive effects,” say 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 arrive at this conclusion, the researchers scoured the scientific literature for studies examining intimate partner violence and personality disorders. They identified 163 such studies with 189 individual samples.

“Despite years of research demonstrating a relation between personality pathology and intimate partner violence, no meta-analysis has been published examining how well, or poorly, all 10 personality disorders predict IPV perpetration or victimization,” say the researchers. “Therefore, the present study was undertaken to synthesize existing research on the effects of all 10 personality disorders [...] on physical, psychological, and sexual IPV perpetration and victimization.”

The authors hope 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,” says 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.”


Collison, K. L., & Lynam, D. R. (2021). Personality disorders as predictors of intimate partner violence: A meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review, 102047.

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