Intimate partner violence and aggression are issues that have been studied at length in recent years. The prevalence of this type of violence is remarkably high, with some estimates suggesting that nearly one in five individuals have experienced some form of physical violence in the confines of a romantic relationship and more than three-quarters of people have been exposed to psychological aggression. Examples of aggression and violence include yelling, degrading or intimidating, or punching, hitting and slapping a partner. These types of abuse have been linked to personality issues such as borderline personality and antisocial tendencies.
Some of the factors that contribute to these behaviors include impulsivity, anger, risk taking, lack of empathy, and fear of abandonment. Although it has been established that these behaviors tend to diminish as individuals age, it is unclear whether or not the rate of abuse decreases in direct proportion. To determine if physical and emotional abuse decline in later life, Yana Weinstein of the Department of Psychology at Washington University led a study that looked at levels of abuse among individuals with borderline and antisocial personalities. For the study, Weinstein analyzed 872 middle-aged adults using self-reports, interviewer reports, and third-party reports.
The results of the study showed that levels of aggression were significantly higher for women than men. Weinstein said, “In our community sample of 55 to 64 year olds, we found borderline symptoms in women to be significantly related to partner aggression, regardless of who provided the personality assessment.” This aggression was determined to be influenced most significantly by unstable mood, identity problems, and abandonment issues. Although Weinstein considered alcohol dependency, socioeconomic status, and education in the calculations, these were not shown to impact aggression in this sample. When Weinstein looked at the antisocial participants, there was no evidence that irresponsibility or lack of empathy influenced psychological or physical aggression. In sum, Weinstein believes these findings demonstrate that individuals with borderline personalities may not see reductions in aggression as they age.
Weinstein, Y., Gleason, M. E. J., Oltmanns, T. F. (2012). Borderline but not antisocial personality disorder symptoms are related to self-reported partner aggression in late middle-age. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028994
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