2013. Vol.4, No.9A1, 5-11
Published Online September 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/psych) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2013.49A1002
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 5
Personality Disorders, Types of Violence, and Stress Responses in
Female Who Perpetrate Intimate Partner Violence
Alicia Spidel1, Caroline Greaves2,3, Tonia L. Nicholls2,3, Juli e Goldenson4,
Donald G. Dutton2
1University of Mont real, Montreal, Canada
2University of Britis h C o l umbia, Vancouver, Canada
3British Columbia Mental Health and Addict ion Services, Vancouver, Canada
4Adler School of Profession a l Psychology, Toronto, Canada
Received July 1st, 2013; revised August 5th, 2013; accepted September 2nd, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Alicia Spidel et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
Few studies have examined characteristics and correlates of females who display assaultive behaviours
towards their intimate partners. Personality disorders, anger responses, type of violence perpetrated, and
post-traumatic stress reactions in female perpetrated intimate violence are important factors in diagnosis,
management, and treatment considerations. The present study examined the incidence of cluster B per-
sonality disorder traits in a non-clinical sample of self-identified females who perpetrate intimate partner
violence (IPV). Results suggest differences in anger responses, nature and severity of violence perpetrated,
and post-traumatic stress reactions across personality disorder categories. The numerous important ap-
plied implications and future research directions are discussed.
Keywords: Trauma; Interpersonal Violence; Personality; Violence
To date, the empirical study of female intimate partner vio-
lence has not been the subject of comparable consideration
afforded to male intimate partner violence. Historically, inves-
tigations into partner violence have by and large focused on the
male aggressor. These studies have generally progressed from
identifying a pervasive and problematic behaviour, via exami-
nation of the types and frequencies of specific aggressive be-
haviours, to the current trend of batterer categorization based in
part on the identification of certain predisposing personality
features (see Dutton, 2002). The role, if any, of the female
partner in these investigations has been to provide information
regarding the violence, or to act as a secondary source to either
substantiate or refute the male batterer’s claims. The existence
of long-standing societal misperceptions and varied political
forces has meant that the occurrence of female perpetrated in-
timate partner violence (IPV) has largely gone unnoticed (see
Dutton, Nicholls, & Spidel, 2005; Hamel & Nicholls, 2007;
Spidel, Nicholls, Greaves, Goldenson & Dutton, in press). Yet
that women do engage in IPV has been increasingly well
documented in several articles over the past few decades (e.g.,
Dutton & Nicholls, 2005; Steinmetz, 1977-1978; Straus &
Gelles, 1990), as having similar perpetration rates to males (e.g.,
O’Keefe, Brockopp, & Chew, 1986; Straus, 1999) and, in fact,
some studies have reported greater violence severity (e.g.,
Magdol et al., 1997; Thompson, 1991).
More recently, Desmarais, Reeves, Nicholls, Telford, and
Fiebert (2012a) completed a systematic review which exam-
ined research published over the course of the prior 10 years
regarding the prevalence of physical IPV perpetrated by men
and women in heterosexual relationships. Literature searches
were undertaken in 3 databases (PubMed, PsycINFO, and Web
of Science), yielding 750 articles published between 2000 and
2010. Of these, 111 articles reported rates of physical IPV per-
petration in their review and found that the majority of studies
were conducted in the United States and that most measured
IPV using a Conflict Tactics Scale. These researchers calcu-
lated pooled prevalence estimates for female and male perpe-
tration overall, and also by sample type, country, measurement
time frame, and measurement approach. Across studies, the
overall pooled prevalence estimate was 24.8% prevalence of
physical IPV perpetrated by men and women. As had been
found in previous reviews, prevalence was slightly higher for
female- compared to male-perpetrated physical IPV. These
researchers found that more than 1 in 4 women (28.3%) and 1
in 5 men (21.6%) reported perpetrating physical violence in an
Clift and Dutton (2011) also found high rates of female per-
petrated violence in Canadian undergraduate sample. These
researchers used the Psychological Maltreatment Inventory
(PMI) to look at the two subscales: 1) Dominance-Isolation (DI)
tactics and 2) Emotional-Verbal (EV) abuse. An astonishing,
95.4% of the women reported that they had perpetrated some
form of EV abuse in the last year of their relationship, and
84.9% of this population had used some form or DI tactic dur-
ing that period. Women were significantly more likely to report
having perpetrated EV abuse and using DI tactics, than they
were to report having been victimized by such abuse/tactics.
Overall, 28.3% of women reported that they had perpetrated at
A. SPIDEL ET AL.
least one act of physical violence, and 19.3% reported that they
had perpetrated more than one act of violence against their
romantic partner in the last year of their intimate relationship.
By contrast, 19.3% of women reported that their partners had
perpetrated at least one act of violence against them, and 12.0%
reported that their partners had perpetrated more than one act of
violence against them in the last year of their intimate relation-
ship. Women, then, were significantly more likely to report that
they had perpetrated a violent act than that they had been vic-
timized by a violent act.
Given large-scale studies, systematic reviews, and even gov-
ernment research have firmly demonstrated that female perpe-
tration/male victimization are legitimate mental health concerns
researchers are increasingly turning their focus to predictors
and issues relevant treatment/intervention. It has only been
relatively recently that increasing attention been devoted to
examining characteristics and correlates of females who perpe-
trate IPV. That this is an important line of inquiry to pursue
with female batterers is becoming increasingly evident. For
instance, attachment styles and personality disorders among
batterers are theoretically important in treatment; in fact, an
association has been noted between personality disorders and
violence severity in females (Renzetti, 1992). Further, results
from Fortunata and Kohn’s (2003) demonstrated that borderline
or antisocial personality disorder traits were among significant
predictors of lesbian intimate partner battering. For further
consideration, readers are directed to Dutton’s (2002) compiled
extensive reviews on both male and female battering as associ-
ated with personality disorder traits.
Initial inquiry into the psychopathology of female intimate
partner assaulters has focused on women in conflict with the
law. Simmons, Lehmann, Cobb, & Fowler (2005) compared
court-referred male and female offenders and found that 71% of
the females versus 26% of the males showed clinically signifi-
cant elevations on at least one of the subscales measuring per-
sonality psychopathology. These women scored higher on the
Histrionic, Narcissistic, and Compulsive subscales, and scored
lower on the Dependent subscale. Goldenson, Geffner, Foster,
and Clipson (2007) also examined offenders but used a female-
only sample, comparing female offenders mandated to group
treatment to women in a clinical control group (i.e., women in
psychological treatment but who had not perpetrated violence).
Using the MCMI III, these researchers found that the female
offenders of intimate partner violence had higher relative eleva-
tions on the Antisocial, Borderline, and Dependent Subscales as
compared to the clinical control group. Additionally, these re-
searchers found that the offender group suffered from signifi-
cantly more trauma symptomatology as compared to the clini-
cal control group.
It seems apparent, then, that personality psychopathology is
related to the perpetration of violence. In fact, in another study
of women with a history of IPV, Ehrensaft, Cohen, and Johnson
(2006) reported that personality disorders were more successful
at predicting intimate violence than was gender. It is notable
that as with several of the above-mentioned studies, the MCMI
III was used. This is important as this measure has been known
to over-predict personality psychopathology in batterers (Hart,
Dutton, & Newlove, 1993). As such, the current study explored
personality psychopathology using the SCID II, which has been
shown in certain populations to be more reliable than other
measures such as the MCMI-II (Kennedy et al., 1995).
The aforementioned studies, then, seem to suggest that psy-
chopathology has been implicated in, if not a principle explana-
tion for, female perpetrated IPV. Further, from the research
done to date, it also seems apparent that the presence of “cluster
B” personality disorder traits, in particular, seems to feature
prominently in those who perpetrate intimate partner violence.
The “dramatic” cluster B disorders are characterized by traits
such as negative affectivity, impulsivity, and poor behavioural
control, amongst others. This cluster is made up of four disor-
ders: narcissistic (characterized by grandiosity, need for atten-
tion and lack of empathy), histrionic (marked by excessive
emotionality and attention seeking), borderline (described by
instability in in terpersonal relationships, self-ima ge , an d af fect);
and finally antisocial (characterized by an often blatant disre-
gard for, and violation of, the rights of others; American Psy-
chiatric Association, 2013). The implications for intimate part-
ner conflict resolution are readily apparent when the core fea-
tures of these disorders (maladjustments in affect, interpersonal
relations, and behavioural control) are considered. In addition
to a high prevalence of borderline personality features in a
group of male court mandated treatment batterers, Dutton (2002)
found that chronic trauma symptoms also had a role in the de-
velopment of an “abusive personality”.
It has also been found that women who are court mandated to
attend violence intervention programs, as compared with wo-
men in the general population, may experience elevated levels
of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms (Goldenson,
Geffner, Foster, & Clipson, 2007; Stuart, Moore, Gordon,
Ramsey, & Kahler, 2006). As an association between PTSD
symptoms and an increase in the likelihood of engaging in sub-
sequent violent acts has been found in other samples (e.g., Pol-
lock, 1999), this is certainly an important facet of violence per-
petration in the domestic context. It is additionally apparent that,
as is the case with males, identifying features of female who
perpetrate IPV has important applied implications. These in-
clude aiding with violence risk assessment and prevention,
treatment, and management of such offenders.
The main objective of the present study was to gather data on
the occurrence of cluster B personality disorder traits, PTSD
symptomology, nature of IPV in a non-clinical sample of fe-
male perpetrators of IPV. We expected that this population
would present with more cluster B personality disorder traits,
PTSD sympto mology, more incidence and severity of IPV than
a population that did not endorse a history of IPV.
Participants included 136 female undergraduate students
from a large university in western Canada. Inclusion criteria
required that the women had been involved in a romantic rela-
tionship in which they perpetrated some form of violence on
their male partner. The mean age of participants was 21.8 years
(SD = 2.0, range = 19 - 28) and the majority reported their eth-
nicity as Asian (64.4%), followed by Caucasian (31.8%), Ca-
nadian First Nations (2.3%), and other (1.5%). This is consis-
tent with the student population composition of the university.
As expected within an undergraduate sample, the level of edu-
cation was relatively high. All participants had completed high
school, 65.6% of the sample had completed at least some post-
secondary education, and 0.7% had completed at least some
portion of a graduate degree. When asked about their current
relationship status the majority (81.4%) reported being in a
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
A. SPIDEL ET AL.
relationship currently, while 18.7% were single at the time of
participation. Only 1.5% of the sample reported being married
and 11.2% were in a common-law relationship.
After the study received ethical approval the undergraduate
participants were recruited using the university’s psychology
human subject pool. Advertisements were posted on the psy-
chology student’s bulletin board. These postings stated that
participa nts mus t be fema le, a nd must have, at some point, been
involved in an intimate relationship where they had inflicted
some form of violence on their male partner. Participants were
given two psychology credits for their participation, applicable
to any first or second year psychology course in which they
The participants were ensured of the study’s confidential na-
ture via the consent form. In order to protect anonymity, they
picked up the questionnaire packages from a box in a relatively
traffic-free hallway of the psychology department. As part of a
larger questionnaire package, participants in the present study
were instructed to complete the following questionnaires in a
quiet, private area, at their own pace, but all in one sitting: The
Structured Clinical Interview for DSM Personality Disorders
Questionnaire (SCID-II; First, Gibbon, Spitzer, Williams, &
Benjamin, 1997); the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS; Straus,
1979); the Extrafamilial Violence Scale (EVS; Bodnarchuk,
Kropp, Ogloff, Hart, & Dutton, 1995); the Multidimensional
Anger Inventory (MAI; Siegel, 1986); and the Impact of Event
Scale (IES; Horowitz, Wilner, and Alvarez, 1979). The partici-
pants returned their completed questionnaire packages to a
sealed drop-box at the same location, in order to protect ano-
Personality Disorders: The Structured Clinical Interview for
DSM-IV Axis II Personality Disorders Self-Report (SCID-II-
First et al.’s (1997) 119 yes/no items compose this question-
naire that assesses the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for 11 per-
sonality disorders. A score is obtained on each personality dis-
order scale on the measure. Relatively little information exists
to date on the reliability and validity of the DSM-IV version of
the SCID-II (see Dreesen, Hildebrand, & Arntz, 1998; First et
al., 1997). Studies investigating these properties within the
DSM-III-R (3rd ed., rev.; APA, 1987) version of the SCID-II
have demonstrated adequate reliability and validity, and from
this, its authors have reasoned similar psychometric properties
of the DSM-IV version (First et al., 1995).
Dimensions of Anger Response: Multidimensional Anger In-
The Multidimensional Anger Inventory (Siegel, 1986) is a 38
item self-report scale assessing dimensions of anger response
including the frequency (e.g., I tend to get angry more fre-
quently than most people), duration (e.g., When I get angry, I
stay angry for hours), magnitude (e.g., I often feel angrier than I
think I should), mode of expression (e.g., When I am angry
with someone, I take it out on whoever is around), hostile out-
look (e.g., I am secretly quite critical of others), and range of
anger-eliciting situations (e.g., I get angry when something
blocks my plans), simultaneously. Participants rate each item
on a scale from “1 = this statement is completely undescriptive
of you” to “5 = this statement is completely descriptive of you”.
The MAI has been found to possess acceptable test-retest reli-
ability (r = .75) and high internal consistency (alpha = .84
and .89 for college students and male factory workers, respec-
tively; Siegel, 1986).
Relationship Violence: The Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS).
The well-known Conflict Tactics Scales (Straus, 1979) com-
prise a 20 item self-report measure that assesses both the fre-
quency and intensity in which romantic partners engage in ver-
bal and physical techniques in the process of conflict resolution.
The techniques, or tactics, are measured via four scales in this
study: Reasoning (i.e., the use of rational discussion, argument
and reasoning as a means to resolve conflict), Verbal Aggres-
sion (i.e., verbal aggression including, but not limited to, direct
threats of harm and non-verbal acts used with the intension of
hurting the recipient partner), and Violence (i.e., the use of
physical force against the recipient partner) which was sepa-
rated into minor and severe violence. These scales are com-
prised of lists of actions, ranging from those low in coercive-
ness to those highly coercive and aggressive. Participants re-
sponded on a seven point scale, from “1 = never” to “7 = more
than 20” times. The participants responded to questions regard-
ing acts that they themselves had perpetrated, and those for
which they had been the victim of an act of violence perpe-
trated by an intimate partner. Internal consistency reliability of
the scales is in the acceptable range (.70 - .88), and numerous
studies (see Straus, 1979; also see Archer, 1999) support its
validity (but also see Schafer, 1996).
Post Traumatic Stress Symptoms: Impact of Event Scale
The Impact of Event Scale (Horowitz et al., 1979) is a 15-
item self-report measure of subjective distress experienced in
the past seven days in relation to a particular experienced event.
This scale assesses the frequency of experiencing symptoms of
two core components of PTSD, intrusions and avoidance, over
the past seven days. Ratings are given on a six-point Likert
scale (“0 = not at all” to “5 = often”). The IES has high split
half reliability (r = .86), internal consistency (using Cronbach’s
Alpha, intrusion = .78, avoidance = .82), and test-retest reliabil-
ity (.87; Horowitz et al., 1979). The IES is one of the most fre-
quently used measures of post-traumatic stress (McDonald,
1997). It is also reliable in its ability to distinguish between
those with and without PTSD (Arata, Saunders, & Kilpatrick,
1991), despite being a self-report measure. The advantage the
IES possesses in yielding a continuous measure of the fre-
quency of both intrusive and arousal symptoms are that the
presence of sub-clinical PTSD can be evaluated. Alternately, a
number of different cut-off scores have been used with the IES,
ranging from 19 (Horowitz, 1982) to 35 (Neal, Busuttil, &
Rollins, 1994). The present study used an IES cut-off of 28.
This is approximately mid-range of previously suggested cut-
off scores and is arguably a conservative cut-off for identifying
Cluster B Personality Disorder Traits: Prevalence
The prevalence rates for the presence of a cluster B personal-
ity disorder and the presence of a specific cluster B disorder are
presented in Table 1. Also presented in the table are base rates
for the prevalence of cluster B disorders in a comparison non-
clinical Canadian university sample (Watson & Sinha, 1998).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 7
A. SPIDEL ET AL.
Base rates of cluster B personality disorders, by type, in a non-clinical
sample of female who perpetrate IPV and a non-clinical sample not
selected for IPV.
Cluster B NarcissisticHistrionic BorderlineAntisocial
selected for IPV 43.4% 22.8% 7.4% 22.1% 66.2%
selected for IPV 16.7% 4.2% 3.4% 4.0% 5.0%
As can be seen, the incidence of cluster B disorders in our sam-
ple of undergraduate women who identified themselves as hav-
ing committed intimate violence against a male partner is sub-
stantially higher than was found in Watson and Sinha’s sample
of 1729 male and female undergraduates.
Dimensions of Anger Respo n se : M ultidimensio nal
For the following analyses, one-way ANOVAs were calcu-
lated for each personality disorder category to compare women
with and without the specific Axis II disorder. Analyses re-
vealed that while women with narcissistic personality disorder
traits displayed a significantly greater duration and frequency of
anger response than non-narcissists (F [1, 124] = 10.10, p
< .007), there were no significant differences between those
with histrionic traits and those without histrionic traits (F [1,
124] = .01, p = .906). The women in our sample with borderline
personality disorder traits also reported a significantly greater
anger response than did women without borderline characteris-
tics (F [1, 124] = 6.91, p = .008), as did those with antisocial
traits compared to those without elevated levels of such traits (F
[1, 124] = 21.45, p < .001).
Relationship Violence: Conflict Tactics Scale
Nature and Frequency of Abuse.
The following includes a description of the frequency of
abuse perpetrated by women against their male partners, as
measured by the CTS. The mean CTS total score was 49.61
(SD = 17.20), and mean subscale scores were reasoning 26.76
(SD = 17.46), verbal aggression 24.24 (SD = 23.19), minor
physical aggression 3.95 (SD = 8.26), and severe physical ag-
gression 3.14 (SD = 7.25).
Participants with narcissistic personality disorder traits re-
ported perpetrating significantly more minor physical violence
against an intimate partner than did women without narcissistic
traits (F [1, 134] = 7.58, p = .006). There were no significant
differences on any of the CTS subscales between those partici-
pants who displayed histrionic personality disorder traits and
those who did not. Women with borderline personality disorder
traits reported not only perpetrating more severe physical vio-
lence on an intimate partner (F [1, 130] = 8.25, p = .007), but
also reported more frequently being the victim of severe vio-
lence from their intimate partner (F [1, 130] = 6.38, p = .012)
than did women without borderline traits. Women with antiso-
cial personality disorder traits reported perpetrating more minor
physical intimate partner violence (F [1, 134] = 4.40, p = .023),
and more severe physical intimate partner violence (F [1, 130]
= 7.84, p = .009) than did women without antisocial traits. In
addition, the former group also reported being more often the
recipients of reasoning tactics (F [1, 130] = 4.34, p = .034, and
being victims of severe physical violence (F [1, 130] = 12.68, p
< .001) from their intimate partner.
Post Traumatic Stress Symptoms: Impact of Event
In terms of reported PTSD symptoms, 72% of our female
perpetrators either met or exceeded our selected cut-off for
identifying the presence of PTSD on the IES. This base rate did
not differ between those identified as meeting scoring threshold
for any cluster B disorder and those who did not.
As illustrated in Table 2, bivariate Pearson r two-tailed cor-
relations were calculated across the personality disorder cate-
gories on both subscales of the IES, intrusion and avoidance.
Although no significant correlations were found between en-
dorsement of narcissistic, histrionic, borderline, or antisocial
personality disorder traits and the presence of intrusion symp-
toms, two significant correlations were found with avoidance
symptoms. A higher endorsement of narcissistic and antisocial
traits was significantly associated with a greater severity of
reported avoidance symptoms (r = .18, p = .045, and r = .19, p
= .037, respectively). Significance was not reached in this do-
main with regards to either histrionic or borderline personality
This study had two primary objectives. We sought to identify
the prevalence of cluster B personality disorders in a non-
clinical sample of self-identified female who perpetrate IPV.
Additionally, we examined the associations between the inci-
dence of these disorders and the women’s self-reported anger
responses, violence perpetration, and PTSD symptomatology.
The cluster B personality disorder prevalence rates found in
the present study are notably high, especially when considered
alongside the much lower rates of a comparable non-clinical
university sample (Watson & Sinha, 1998). In a growing num-
ber of studies investigating personality factors in female who
perpetrate IPV such findings are increasingly observed. For
example, in a recent study of female IPV, narcissistic, border-
line, and antisocial personality disorders were among the most
prevalent diagnoses (Spidel, Nicholls, Kendrick, Klein, &
Kropp, 2004). Further, a full one-third of the sample met crite-
ria for three or more personality disorders. Consistent with Clift
and Dutton’s (2011) study of undergraduates, the Spidel et al.
study had a similar finding with regards to the prevalence of
borderline personality features. In this study borderline person-
ality disorder was not only linked to violence but correlated
strongly with severe physical violence. Certainly, it would be of
Pearson r correlations between personality disorder trait endorsement
and the IES subscales: Intrusion and avoidance.
NarcissisticHistrionic Borderline Antisocial
Subscale .05 .11 .03 .10
IES Avoida nce
Subscale .19* .14 .06 .19*
*p < .05.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
A. SPIDEL ET AL.
interest to compare the findings of our undergraduate sample to
women who are in treatment for or are convicted of intimate
partner violence across similar variables.
With the exception of women with histrionic traits, female
who perpetrate IPV with cluster B personality disorder traits
reported experiencing more frequent and severe anger re-
sponses than participants with no cluster B traits. These internal
attributions of anger are hypothesized to be associated with
outward displays of violence. Indeed, as compared to partici-
pants falling below threshold levels of each disorder, women
demonstrating more narcissistic traits reported perpetrating
more verbal aggression on the CTS, women scoring higher on
borderline personality traits demonstrated more violence, and
women scoring higher on antisocial traits demonstrated more
violence and verbal aggression against intimate partners. The
results suggest that treatments typically appropriate to male
perpetrator s and other populations of female disorders are likely
also applicable to women who engage in violence tactics in
romantic relationships. The need to pursue the study of person-
ality features in female batterers is further emphasized through
evidence that maternal inter-parental abuse has a more severe
detrimental effect on children than paternal interparental abuse
(Moretti, Penney, Obsuth, & Odgers, 2007).
In terms of reported PTSD symptomatology, 72% of our fe-
male perpetrators met or exceeded a conservative cut-off for
identifying the presence of PTSD. This base rate did not differ
as a function of cluster B disorder traits. When compared to a
31% rate found in a non-clinical Canadian university sample
(Greaves, 2005), and a 36% rate found in a sample of child
sexual abuse victims (McLeer et al., 1998), it is clear that the
present sample’s rate trauma symptoms is quite substantial.
This does indeed support previous findings of female batterer
trauma symptomatology (Abel, 2001). Specifically, results
suggest that both narcissistic and antisocial personality tr aits are
associated with experiencing avoidance PTSD symptoms in
relation to intimate partner violence perpetration. If certain
avoidance strategies are perpetuating affective and cognitive
avoidance of the event, this will likely hamper treatment efforts.
Full emotional realization is often an integral step for resolution
in PTSD therapy (see Foa & Hearst-Ikeda, 1996), and therefore
must be addressed with such clients. As previously mentioned,
an association between PTSD and violence perpetration as been
found in other samples (e.g., Jakupcak & Tull, 2005; Pollock,
1999; Stuart, Moore, Gordon, Ramsey, & Kahler, 2006; Taft et
al., 2005). Together, these results suggest that further investiga-
tion should focus on narcissistic and antisocial batterers in light
of the incidence of reported physical violence both within and
outside of intimate relationships. It also highlights the need for
awareness of trauma within this population.
Limitations to this preliminary study include the use of self-
report measures, including our personality disorder measure.
Accordingly, future research should include structured inter-
views to obtain a more accurate diagnostic picture and would
allow for further investigation into issues such as co-morbidity.
It is also not uncommon for participants to underreport violence
perpetration, especially when responding to the CTS (Straus,
1979; Dutton & Nicholls, 2005). Our results then may reflect
conservative estimates of intimate partner violence. This study
did not include corroboration from the participants’ partners or
contextual information, therefore, in addition to being without a
means of assessing “ground truth”, we also lack information on
which partner was initiating the violence, if it was purely one
sided, or if the women were in fact perpetrating violence in the
context of self-defense. The best predictor of perpetrating inti-
mate partner violence is having a violent partner (Malik,
Sorenson, & Anesheusel, 1997; White, Merrill, & Koss, 2001),
and indeed those women displaying narcissistic, borderline and
antisocial traits did report more minor and severe violence vic-
timization than did those without the personality disorders.
Thus treatment that reduces women’s use of abusive relation-
ship behaviors is quite likely to increase their safety as well as
reducing associated implications for their partner and any chil-
dren. Also, this study instructed participants to respond with
respect to one relationship in which they had perpetrated vio-
lence. We plan to continue along this line of inquiry in terms of
multiple instances of violence; that is, to identify patterns of
perpetration across multiple relationships. Lastly, the results of
our investigation can be generalized only to violence perpe-
trated by non-clinical populations of women in heterosexual
One of the main implications of these results is that female
intimate partner assaulters are not a homogeneous group and
therefore should be treated and managed, accordingly. Person-
ality features such as cluster B disorders should be considered
in female perpetrators as those who display certain personality
disorder traits report differences in anger response, violence
severity, and trauma/stress reactions. Along with assessing for
trauma symptomatology, assessment of personality disorder
features would reveal pathological interpersonal and coping
styles that might otherwise be overshadowed by the battering
behaviour. Targeting these features along with the maladaptive
behaviour may indeed be the only way to effect lasting change.
For example, dialectical behavior therapy (Linehan, 1993), a
cognitive-behavioral intervention for borderline personality
disorder, could alter negative affective responses to interper-
sonal situations and teach alternative, more adaptive coping
styles that might result in a reduction in violence against inti-
mate partners (Waltz, Babcock, Jacobson, & Gottman, 2000).
Given the high prevalence of personality disorders and PTSD
in this population it would also be of interest to investigate the
prevalence of childhood abuse in a similar sample to one here
for a couple reasons. One, IPV is consistently associated with
high rates of depression, anxiety disorders (especially PTSD),
sleep disorders, phobias and panic disorder, antisocial per-
sonality disorder and borderline personality disorders, psycho-
somatic disorders, and suicidal behaviour and self-harm (see
Jordan et al., 2010). Depression and PTSD are the most pre-
valent mental health impacts of IPV, with considerable co-
morbidity of the two disorders (Jordan et al., 2010, Basile et al.,
2004). Two, there is now substantial evidence linking child
sexual abuse and child physical abuse to a range of mental
health problems in childhood (Spataro, Mullen, Burgess, Wells,
& Moss, 2004). Child abuse has also been shown to been asso-
ciated with most adult disorders, including: depression, anxiety
disorders, PTSD, eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual dys-
function, personality disorders and dissociative disorders, as
well as suicidality (Bushnell, Wells, & Oakley-Browne, 1992;
Fergusson, Horwood, & Lynesky, 1996; Kendler et al., 2000;
Mullen, Martin, Anderson, Romans, & Herbison, 1993). There
future studies should evaluate the history of childhood abuse
when studying perpetrators of IPV.
To conclude, one point must certainly be stressed: the aim of
this research is not to pathologize women’s behaviour, but to
emphasize the need for an awareness of gender inclusivity at
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 9
A. SPIDEL ET AL.
the various levels of intervention as one of many necessary
efforts to improve the health and well-being of families (e.g.,
see Nicholls & Hamel, 2005; Hamel & Nicholls, 2007). Mental
health practitioners treating women who have IPV have a
growing number of studies to guide them in developing effec-
tive treatments. Investigating personality and inter-personal
issues in female intimate partner assaulters will greatly a ssist in
these efforts. At a more basic level, there is still a need for rec-
ognition of domestic violence perpetration by females and the
victimization of males. Batterer interventions have not kept
pace with existing empirical findings (Babcock, Canady, Gra-
ham, & Schart, in press; Babcock, Green, & Robie, 2004; Dut-
ton, in press), particularly with regard to the value of family
interventions and couples counseling (Hamel & Nicholls, in
press). Through continued empirical study great strides will be
made towards accurate diagnosis, development and implemen-
tation of adequate management strategies as well as tailored
treatment programs for these perpetrators and the recipients of
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