For years while I endured sustained assaults and suffered Domestic Abuse, I made excuses for my perpetrator. My attacker has never shown any remorse for her actions or even acknowledged the impact it has had on me and our children. It’s over 4 years since I escaped from the relationship and I’ve been able to move forward, but I still try and seek understanding as to why my ex behaved in the manner she did.
Most of the data sources will tell you that Domestic Violence perpetrators are narcissistic and taking full advantage of male privilege. However, when pointed out that women can also behave in a violent manner towards their intimate partners, denial can no longer be used that this actually happens because it’s now accepted as possible. Mind you, if a woman is a perpetrator of Domestic abuse, it is because of the effects of alcohol abuse or illness.
This train of thought is very familiar to me for I used to tell my children after they’d witnessed their mother attack me, “Your mum’s not well, only she doesn’t realise it – we must all try and keep calm to help her.”
I have spoken to many people describing what I experienced. Quite a few, from different backgrounds which included Mental Health professionals, all commented along similar lines, “Sounds like she has Borderline Personality Disorder(BPD)”
The main way of diagnosing BPD is the matching of 5 out of 9 criteria. Diagnosis, though, are hard to come by because treatment is often extremely difficult because of the way the patient’s anger control skills and interpersonal skills could manifest themselves.
My own personal research into Personality Disorders certainly gave me some answers for I could identify certain types of behaviour. I saw behavioural patterns that were consistent with Borderline Personality Disorder. I also saw behavioural traits that matched another disorder known as Antisocial Personality Disorder ( also known as Dissocial personality disorder).
Antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, along with narcissistic personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder, and are so closely related that they are referred to as the "antagonistic" cluster of personality disorders. If antagonistic sounds too harsh, this group is often referred to as Emotive and Impulsive Cluster.
From my research, interviews with other DV victims and discussions with professionals, it is my belief that ALL perpetrators of Domestic Abuse, irrespectively of gender, have a personality disorder from this antagonistic cluster.
Let me briefly explain each type:
Dissocial [Antisocial] Personality Disorder F60.2 - ICD10 Description, World Health Organization
Dissocial [antisocial] personality disorder is characterized by disregard for social obligations, and callous unconcern for the feelings of others. There is gross disparity between behaviour and the prevailing social norms. Behaviour is not readily modifiable by adverse experience, including punishment. There is a low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence; there is a tendency to blame others, or to offer plausible rationalizations for the behaviour bringing the patient into conflict with society.
Borderline Personality Disorder F60.3 - ICD10 Description, World Health Organization
Borderline personality disorder is characterized by a definite tendency to act impulsively and without consideration of the consequences; the mood is unpredictable and capricious. There is a liability to outbursts of emotion and an incapacity to control the behavioural explosions. There is a tendency to quarrelsome behaviour and to conflicts with others, especially when impulsive acts are thwarted or censored. Two types may be distinguished: the impulsive type, characterized predominantly by emotional instability and lack of impulse control, and the borderline type, characterized in addition by disturbances in self-image, aims, and internal preferences, by chronic feelings of emptiness, by intense and unstable interpersonal relationships, and by a tendency to self-destructive behaviour, including suicide gestures and attempts.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder F60.8 - ICD10 Description, World Health Organization
Narcissistic personality disorder is not classified as a specific personality disorder by the World Health Organization's ICD-10. In contrast, the American Psychiatric Association's DSM-5 does classify this as a specific personality disorder; characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), interpersonally exploitative, envious of others, arrogant attitudes, need for admiration, and lack of empathy.
Histrionic Personality Disorder F60.4 - ICD10 Description, World Health Organization
Histrionic personality disorder is characterized by shallow and labile affectivity, self-dramatization, theatricality, exaggerated expression of emotions, suggestibility, egocentricity, self-indulgence, lack of consideration for others, easily hurt feelings, and continuous seeking for appreciation, excitement and attention.
Causes of personality disorders
The causes of personality disorders are not fully known. Possible causes include trauma in early childhood such as abuse, violence, inadequate parenting and neglect. Genetic and neurological factors could also play a part in the onset of a personality disorder.
These findings are consistent with my own views for I believe that the actions of a domestic violence perpetrator stem from their own learnt behaviours of childhood. If they have experienced some early life trauma and not received the necessary professional help, that ‘learnt’ behaviour has moulded their personality disorder. I have written elsewhere about my own experience and my ex- wife’s background which hinted at some deep trauma which she has never divulged.
At the start of the piece I drew attention to the contrasting attitudes towards gender-specific perpetrators…men abuse because they think themselves superior while women only abuse because they are ill ( and alcohol abuse is also viewed as an illness). Actually, we need to destroy all the gender myths. Domestic Violence is NOT Gender-specific. Both men and women abuse and both men and women are victimised. Substance abuse is now considered an illness, and perhaps we will only see great inroads into solving and minimising the occurrence of domestic abuse incidents when we accept that ‘prone to violence’ behaviour is also an illness and treat ALL perpetrators for personality disorders.