Family of Origin Violence and MCMI-II Psychopathology among Partner Assaultive Men

By Murphy, Christopher M.; Meyer, Shannon-Lee et al. | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1993 | Go to article overview

Family of Origin Violence and MCMI-II Psychopathology among Partner Assaultive Men


Murphy, Christopher M., Meyer, Shannon-Lee, O'Leary, K. Daniel, Violence and Victims


This study examined associations between family of origin violence, self-reports of psychopathology on the MCMI-II, and current spouse abuse among partner assaultive men. Compared to nonviolent men in discordant (n = 24) and well-adjusted (n = 24) relationships, partner assaultive men (n = 24) were significantly more likely to report childhood histories of physical abuse and physical abuse of the mother in the family of origin. The partner assaultive men also reported significantly higher scores on a variety of MCMI-II personality disorder and Axis I disorder scales. When negative affectivity was controlled, however, batterers differed from contrast groups only on scales assessing antisocial and aggressive characteristics. Within the partner assaultive group, a history of severe childhood abuse was associated with higher scores on a variety of MCMI-II personality disorder and Axis I disorder scales, and higher levels of psychological and physical aggression directed toward the current relationship partner. Abuse of the mother in the family of origin among batterers was associated with higher levels of psychological and physical aggression toward the current partner, but not with self-reported psychopathology. The results support prior descriptions of a batterer subgroup with significant trauma histories, more psychological difficulties, and higher abuse levels than other batterers, suggesting continuities in social and emotional development from childhood maltreatment to adult relationship violence.

There is growing consensus that male batterers form a heterogeneous population, with different subgroups displaying different patterns of aggressive behavior (e.g., familylimited vs. generalized aggression) with potentially distinct causes (Dutton, 1988; Saunders, 1992). In a careful review of efforts to subtype wife abusers, Dutton (1988) emphasized the importance of traumatic childhood experiences such as severe physical abuse. He hypothesized a distinct syndrome for wife abusers who were traumatized as children, including a higher incidence of substance abuse, more severe and generalized violence, and higher incidence of personality disorders.

Available studies have supported Dutton's hypothesis. Cluster analyses identified a subgroup of partner assaultive males characterized by very severe violence toward their partners, generalized aggressive behavior (violence both within and outside the home) and a high incidence of substance abuse (Gondolf, 1988; Saunders, 1992). Generally aggressive batterers are more likely to report severe childhood abuse experiences when compared to men whose violence is contained within the home (Pagan, Stewart & Hansen, 1983; Saunders, 1992). In addition, batterers with co-occurring alcohol problems display more signs of personality disturbance than batterers without alcohol problems (Hamberger & Hastings, 1991).

The current study further examined associations between family of origin violence, levels of current abusive behavior, and self-reports of psychopathology in a clinical sample of partner assaultive men. We hypothesized that family of origin violence, within a maritally violent sample, would be associated with higher frequency of psychological and physical abuse directed toward the current relationship partner and with higher scores on personality disorder scales from the MCMI-II. A third, subsidiary hypothesis was that family of origin violence would be associated with elevations on other clinical scales from the MCMI-II designed to assess symptoms associated with Axis I disorders. In addition, maritally violent men were compared to men in discordant nonviolent relationships and men in well-adjusted nonviolent relationships on measures of psychological maladjustment and family of origin violence in order to replicate and extend previous group difference findings with the current study procedures. Following previous study findings (e.g., Caesar, 1988; Rosenbaum & O'Leary, 1981), we hypothesized that more maritally violent men than nonviolent comparison subjects would report violence in their families of origin. …

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