Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Correlates of Psychological Abuse Perpetration in College Dating Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Correlates of Psychological Abuse Perpetration in College Dating Relationships

Article excerpt

This study examined the contributions of gender, adult romantic attachment orientations (i.e., avoidance, anxiety), defense mechanisms (i.e., narcissism, other-splitting),and stressors to college student psychological abuse perpetration (dominance). Men with higher levels of attachment avoidance, narcissistic entitlement, and stressful problems reported more dominance of female partners. Women with higher levels of other-splitting reported more dominance of male partners. Attachment avoidance contributed to women's dominance of male partners only in the context of elevated narcissistic entitlement or few stressors.

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Because its consequences are severe, psychological abuse between adult romantic partners deserves the attention of those providing assessment, intervention, and prevention services. In his review of the relevant literature, O'Leary (1999) conceptualized psychological abuse as encompassing an array of controlling and coercive behaviors that stop short of physical aggression and violence. Such behaviors include recurring criticism and denigration of one's partner, verbal aggression, isolation, threats, and domination. O'Leary and other investigators cited evidence that psychological abuse predicts physical violence and directly contributes to other harmful effects on its victims, such as depression, lowered self-esteem, reduced sense of autonomy, fearfulness, and increased suicide risk (e.g., Back, Post, & D'Arcy, 1982; Coker et al., 2002; Sackett & Saunders, 1999). Although intimate partner violence (IPV) involves both psychological abuse and physical violence, victims often perceive the effects of psychological abuse as more detrimental than the effects of physical violence (for review, see Murphy & Cascardi, 1999), and psychological rather than physical incidents were found to contribute to victims' posttraumatic stress disorder symptomatology (Arias & Pape, 1999).

In terms of development, college students are expected to become more independent and increase their capacity for intimacy; therefore, they may be particularly at risk for difficulties in negotiating the demands of close adult relationships, including making relationship mistakes that take the form of psychologically abusive behavior. Indeed, in one study, 82% of women and 87% of men reported being recipients of psychological aggression from college dating partners (Harned, 2002), and in another study, over three quarters of college-age women reported being recipients of psychological abuse (Neufeld, McNamara, & Ertl, 1999). Although both men and women perpetrate psychological abuse, the motivations specific to each gender for doing so may differ. In yet another study of dating relationships, men reported using coercive relationship tactics to gain power and control, whereas women did not (Lavoie, Robitaille, & Hebert, 2000).

Counselors who work with college student clients frequently hear about their romantic relationship difficulties and, thus, may be particularly interested in whether psychologically abusive behavior is associated with contextual factors (e.g., differences between the genders or stressors in the environment) or with individual differences (e.g., faulty relationship expectations or defensive personality styles). Schumacher, Slep, and Heyman (2001) found that personality characteristics of men---especially indicators of unstable or defensive self-structures--were risk factors for their perpetration of psychological abuse, and this included males' insecure adult attachment orientations. Other studies have indicated that insecure adult attachment dimensions predict different patterns of men's IPV even better than do other personality traits (e.g., antisocial or borderline traits; Waltz, Babcock, Jacobson, & Gottman, 2000). One study of the effects of integrated group therapy (i.e., cognitive behavior, feminist, and psychodynamic) on men's IPV found that violent incidents were reduced and that men whose romantic attachment styles became healthier (i. …

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