Children who have experienced abuse are at risk for many negative life outcomes, one of which is intimate partner violence (IPV). There is an abundant amount of research showing how violence is cyclical and how many people who survive violent childhoods eventually find themselves perpetrating or becoming the victim of violence as adults. Often, this pattern continues from one generation to another. Knowing exactly what type of childhood abuse most significantly impacts future IPV could help clinicians better target individuals at risk. In an effort to better understand this relationship, Patti A. Timmons Fritz of the Department of Psychology at the University of Windsor led a study that examined different forms of family of origin aggression (FOA) as predictors of future violence.
Fritz analyzed 453 individuals who were in committed relationships with IPV and evaluated the levels of interparental aggression, mother-to-child aggression, father-to-child aggression, and other forms of domestic violence the participants had experienced during childhood. The most common type of FOA the participants had survived was interparental violence, underscoring the impact the parental dynamic has on future relationships. The second most common type of FOA that predicted IPV was mother-to-child aggression. Because children often model their mother’s relationship and bonding skills, witnessing this type of abuse could set the stage for dysfunction and cause individuals to develop an accepting attitude toward IPV and other forms of abuse in their adult relationships.
The study also revealed that the rates of IPV did not increase when both partners had FOA. This finding is particularly significant because many individuals will be drawn toward partners with similar backgrounds. However, the results revealed that when both partners came from homes with mother-to-child aggression or interparental aggression, their risk for IPV was much higher. Fritz also discovered that individuals who were exposed to multiple types of FOA were more vulnerable to IPV. Overall, she believes that these findings demonstrate that FOA directly influences the level of IPV in survivors, and understanding the particular dimension of FOA is vital when addressing the issue. Fritz added, “The current ﬁndings highlight the need to assess both members of the couple for FOA and to consider both members’ FOA experiences when targeting individuals and couples for prevention and intervention initiatives.”
Fritz, P. A. T., Slep, A. M. S., & O’Leary, K. D. (2012). Couple-Level Analysis of the Relation Between Family-of-Origin Aggression and Intimate Partner Violence. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027370
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