Academic journal article Violence and Victims

The Cycle of Trauma: Relationship Aggression in Male Vietnam Veterans with Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

The Cycle of Trauma: Relationship Aggression in Male Vietnam Veterans with Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Article excerpt

This study examined the association between symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in male Vietnam veterans and their use of aggressive behavior in relationships with intimate female partners. Fifty couples participated in the study. Veterans reported on their PTSD symptoms, and veterans and partners completed measures assessing the veterans' use of physical, verbal, and psychological aggression during the preceding year as well as measures of their own perceptions of problems in the relationship. Results indicated that PTSD symptomatology places veterans at increased risk for perpetrating relationship aggression against their partners. The association between veterans' PTSD symptoms and their use of aggression in relationships was mediated by relationship problems. Clinical implications of these findings and suggestions for future research are discussed.

During the past two decades, researchers have generated an extensive literature on the psychological problems experienced by many Vietnam veterans since their service in Vietnam. As a result, the most notable set of psychological symptoms, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), is known to be highly prevalent in this population. The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS), a comprehensive study mandated by Congress in 1983 to examine the prevalence of PTSD and other psychological problems among Vietnam veterans, revealed that 30.6% of male Vietnam theater veterans (i.e., those who served in Vietnam or its surrounding waters or air space between August 5,1964, and May 7, 1975) had PTSD during their lifetime. Half of these men (i.e., 15.3%) were suffering from PTSD during the 6 months preceding the survey (Kulka et al., 1990). Furthermore, an additional 11.1 % of male Vietnam theater veterans were suffering from some symptoms of PTSD without meeting full criteria for the disorder (partial PTSD) during the 6 months prior to the survey. Collectively, these percentages indicate that over one fourth of male Vietnam theater veterans were experiencing posttraumatic stress problems at the time of the survey.

Many of the symptoms of PTSD carry the potential to have a negative impact on relationship functioning of the traumatized individual. Feelings of detachment from others, restricted range of affect, and outbursts of anger may interfere with establishing and maintaining intimacy, harmony, and commitment in relationships with others. Research on male Vietnam veterans has demonstrated an association between PTSD and a variety of difficulties that may negatively affect their interpersonal relationships. For example, Roberts and colleagues (1982) found that combat veterans with PTSD reported more problems in areas of intimacy and sociability when compared with combat veterans without PTSD and noncombat veterans. It has also been shown that, compared to male Vietnam veterans without PTSD, veterans with PTSD reported less expressiveness, less disclosure, and higher levels of general hostility and physical aggression toward their female partners (Carroll, Rueger, Foy, & Donahoe, 1985). Jordan and associates (1992) produced comparable findings in a study of theater veterans and their female partners using data from the NVVRS. Female partners of veterans with PTSD reported more relationship problems and a higher prevalence of partner violence than did female partners of veterans without PTSD. This finding is consistent with results of earlier anecdotal reports indicating that wives of Vietnam veterans with PTSD experienced high levels of marital violence (Verbosky & Ryan, 1988; Williams, 1980).

Thus, research suggests that in addition to many interpersonal difficulties, male Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD are at an increased risk for engaging in physical violence against their partners. However, because PTSD status was dichotomized in prior research, it is unclear to what extent partial PTSD might also place veterans at risk for using physical aggression against their partners. …

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