Over- vs. Undercontrolled Hostility: Application of the Construct to the Classification of Maritally Violent Men

By Hershorn, Michael; Rosenbaum, Alan | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1991 | Go to article overview
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Over- vs. Undercontrolled Hostility: Application of the Construct to the Classification of Maritally Violent Men


Hershorn, Michael, Rosenbaum, Alan, Violence and Victims


The purpose of the present investigation was to evaluate the applicability of Megargee' s (1967) distinction between over- and undercontrolled hostility to maritally aggressive men. Subjects were 41 men who were referred for treatment for physical marital violence. Data were derived from a written battery of self-report measures. Overcontrolled hostile men showed patterns of abuse in which violent episodes were more severe but less frequent and in which the wife was the sole target of the aggressive behavior. Undercontrolled hostile husbands were more generally aggressive and more frequently aggressive. Additionally, undercontrolled husbands were more likely than overcontrolled husbands to have witnessed violence in their families of origin and to have had rejecting mothers. Implications for the assessment and treatment of marital violence are discussed.

In their editorial for the special issue of Violence and Victims on domestically violent men Sonkin and Dutton (1988) stated that "Wife assaulters are not all alike; some are predatory conflict-generators, others resort to violence when they lose a 'war of words.' Some are hyperaggressive, others overcontrolled and unassertive." Sonkin (1988) went on to suggest that "there is not one profile of the abuser, but rather different types reflected in their personalities, etiologies of the violent behavior, and the type of violence perpetrated." The present investigation represented a theory-based attempt to differentiate male batterers based on scores on paper-and-pencil tests, frequency, severity and object of their violent behaviors, and self-report of exposure to violence and child-rearing practices in their families of origin.

Hershorn and Rosenbaum (1985) reported data on children from maritally violent, maritally discordant, and maritally satisfied families, suggesting that male children who witnessed their fathers battering their mothers developed emotional problems of either an overcontrolled or undercontrolled type. The former were anxious, fearful, inhibited, and withdrawn. The latter acted out and were conduct-disordered and generally aggressive. Differences appeared to be due to the differential child-rearing strategies utilized in the home. The well-documented relationship between battering and exposure to violence in the family-of-origin (Brisson, 1981;Coleman, 1980; Rosenbaum &O'Leary, 198 la; Kalmuss, 1984; Hotaling & Sugarman, 1986; Caesar, 1988) suggested that all of those children were at risk for becoming batterers themselves.

Clinical observation has revealed to those who treat batterers that they may not be a homogenous group (Steinmetz, 1982; Symonds, 1978; Elbow, 1977; Shainess, 1977; Tracy, 1978). Empirical studies based on wife report also supported the above-mentioned impression (Rounsaville, 1978; Dobash & Dobash, 1984; Walker, 1984; Gondolf, 1987). There have been a number of empirical investigations based on data obtained directly from batterers, which support the heterogeneity of wife assaulters and the existence of subtypes.

Shields, McCall, and Hanneke (1988) differentiated family only from outside the family and generally violent men, and found that the former were more law-abiding, of higher occupational status, less likely to have substance abuse problems, and more likely to have been victims of parental abuse. Employing a similar experimental design, Maiuro, Cahn, Vitaliano, Wagner, and Zegree (1988) examined anger, hostility, and depression in domestically violent and generally assaultive men. They found that the majority, but not all, of the domestically violent men were much more likely to have clinically elevated depression scores. Hamberger and Hastings (1986) administered the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI) to 105 men in a wife-assault treatment program. Factor analysis revealed schizoidal/borderline, narcissistic/antisocial, and passive-dependent/compulsive subtypes. Caesar (1986) compared wife assaulters in treatment to nonviolent men in therapy and based on content analysis of structured interview data, posited four subgroups of batterers.

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