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A Review of: “Dutton, D. G. (2007). Abusive Personality: Violence and Control in Intimate Relationships (2nd Ed.).”

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A Review of: “Dutton, D. G. (2007).
Abusive Personality: Violence and
Control in Intimate Relationships
(2nd Ed.).”
Anthony F. Tassoa
a Department of Psychology & Counseling, Fairleigh Dickinson University,
Online publication date: 09 February 2011
To cite this Article Tasso, Anthony F.(2011) 'A Review of: “Dutton, D. G. (2007).
Abusive Personality: Violence and
Control in Intimate Relationships
(2nd Ed.).”', Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 33: 1, 89 — 95
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/07317107.2011.545021
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Dutton, D. G. (2007). Abusive Personality: Violence and Control in Intimate
Relationships (2nd Ed.). New York: The Guilford Press, ix þ262 pp., $28.00
(paperback), $50.00 (hardback).
The existing literature on the etiology, character structure, and effective inter-
ventions to be used with domestically violent persons is far from decisive.
Treatments and interventions for intimate partner violent offenders are often
drafted by ideologically driven policy makers rather than scientists or clini-
cians. Historically, psychological science has been peripheral to the domestic
violence field. Likely culprits for the absence of scientific guidance can range
from mainstream psychology’s lack of interest in intimate partner violence
(IPV) to the commonly held (though likely misguided) belief that psychologi-
cal explanations putatively exonerate the abuser in concert with blaming the
victim. All this leaves those responsible with the often rewarding, yet daunt-
ing task, of intervening with IPV perpetrators less equipped to do their job.
This second edition of The Abusive Personality: Violence and Control in
Intimate Relationships is an empirically informed approach to understanding
domestic violence (DV) perpetrators. Donald Dutton, Professor of
Psychology at the University of British Columbia, has been involved in
domestic violence treatment, training, and research for over 30 years. This
second edition is thoroughly rooted in psychological and psychophysiologi-
cal research and also provides hypotheses which Dutton believes have clini-
cal applicability. Primarily geared toward conceptualizing relationally violent
men, The Abusive Personality comprehensively captures the complexities of
domestically violent persons.
The Abusive Personality opens by discussing the relative dearth of his-
torical attention given to IPV. Though the devastating effects of family viol-
ence are well-known, as recent as 50-years ago DV had been nonexistent
as a scientific field of study. Despite the paucity of early IPV studies, Dutton
draws attention to some of the seminal studies examining psychological and
biological factors contributing to domestic violence. The results of some of
these early investigations implicate psychoneurology (e.g., the limbic sys-
tem), psychology (e.g., attachment theory, personality theory), and psy-
chiatry (e.g., factors related to intermittent explosive disorder) as likely
causes of DV. While these early investigations represent a significant attempt
at understanding IPV, the author argues that they lacked explanatory power.
Specifically, these studies fell short in explaining the intricacies of DV.
Although these early (primarily psychiatric) investigations did not compre-
hensively examine domestic violence, they were important precursors to
the systematic study of IPV perpetrators.
The Abusive Personality next describes one vocal approach in the dom-
estic violence field: feminism. Feminist theory states that domestic violence is
a direct result of the several-thousand year fact that most political, societal,
and religious organizations implicitly or explicitly sanction violence against
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women. Born out of the shelter movement of protecting abused women,
feminist-based IPV theory suggests that patriarchy and sexism are systematic
forms of societal control and dominance of women. Abusive men, according
to feminist theory, are not aberrations but are actually mirroring societal
norms. Subsequently, feminist-based interventions are not therapeutic but
rather educative: reteaching men to value and practice egalitarianism. Such
gender-role re-socialization has become the prevailing view; leading to psy-
cho-educational approaches that focus on educating abusive men on how
male entitlement and sexism are believed to be causal factors in violence
against women. Although feminist DV views have done much in shedding
light on societal and institutional injustices against women, Dutton highlights
its etiological and interventional limitations. Specifically, the author explains
that gender-role ideals (e.g., patriarchy and male entitlement) fail to account
for individual differences, homosexual IPV (for which empirical evidence
suggests higher DV rates than in heterosexual relationships), and female-
initiated domestic violence perpetration. Put differently, feminist-based
approaches aid in our understanding of the impact of societal messages on
gender roles but come up shy in accounting for the range and subtypes of
domestic violence perpetration.
Chapter 3 moves beyond gender-based explanations and examines
social learning theory. The Learning of Abusiveness describes the major prin-
ciples of observational learning (e.g., modeling, vicarious reinforcers, instiga-
tors, cognitive distortions, irrational beliefs) before reporting on research
exploring the role of social learning in domestic violence. Dutton sum-
marizes these studies; most of which indicate that children exposed to inti-
mate partner violence are disproportionately more likely to become
domestically violent than their counterparts. The Abusive Personality accent-
uates social learning and cognitive theory’s ability to account for individual
differences in IPV perpetrationsomething feminism, upon which the most
widely used approaches rest, is unable to do. Subsequently, this chapter
demonstrates the strength of predicting relational abusiveness via social
learning theory. Though social learning significantly enhances our under-
standing of IPV, Dutton also stresses its limitations. Social learning theory
does not account for domestically violent persons who were not exposed
to IPV. It likewise does not shed light on those exposed to horrific acts of
family violence and are not abusive. Learning theory, likewise, does not
account for perpetrators’ intense jealously. This chapter makes clear that
although such an approach provides significantly more data on the domesti-
cally violent individual, much remains unclear.
Dutton next probes personality factors theoretically and empirically
linked to domestic abuse. Chapters 4 (The Psychology of the Cycle of
Violence) and 5 (The Structure of the Abusive Personality) link relationally
abusive propensities with borderline personality structural pathologies. The
author describes Lenore Walker’s (1979) well-chronicled ‘‘cycle of violence,’’
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the first of which is the ‘‘tension-building’’ phase, followed by the abusive
act, then the calming, ‘‘honeymoon’’ phase. Dutton cogently connects this
well-known IPV cycle to borderline spectrum disorders. The author leans
on the expanding body of clinical and empirical literature showing how
the complex features of borderline personality (e.g., affect instability, poor
behavioral control) have striking overlap with domestically violent persons.
Dutton eloquently describes the ways in which affect dysregulation, difficulty
in evoking emotional memories of significant others (i.e., object constancy),
and propensity for poor behavioral control are fueled within emotionally sig-
nificant relationships. Thus, chapters 4 and 5 collectively go beyond the
superficial and into the personality characteristics and intrapsychic processes
of the abusive person.
The following chapters are among the most elaborate contributions to
the domestic violence field to date. The Primitive Origins of Rage (chapter
6) describes the importance of the first few years of development in crafting
later relational tendencies, abusive or otherwise. Dutton illuminates the value
of the personality theories of Margaret Mahler (Mahler, Pine, & Bergman,
1975) and Melanie Klein (Klein & Riviere, 1937, 1964) with developmental
science vis-a
`-vis domestic violence perpetrators. The author describes the
extreme, or ‘‘primitive’’ rage following perceived abandonment, splitting of
one’s dating partner, the reliance on primitive defenses (e.g., projection,
devaluation, idealization), and improperly dealt with ‘‘temper-tantrums’’
all of which are germane to abusive men per se. The Abusive Personality con-
vincingly argues for the role of developmental antecedents and characterolo-
gical structures in understanding domestic violence perpetrators, and
elucidates some of the presumed important behavioral and intrapsychic
experiences of the abusive individual. These findings have at least two sig-
nificant implications; one regards etiology: early developmental experiences
matter as much (or more) than societal messages in later IPV propensities,
and second, if domestic abusiveness is rooted in early personality develop-
ment, then treatmentnot merely educationis a necessity.
An Anger Born Out of Fear (chapter 7) builds upon the previous chap-
ters by firmly enlisting attachment processes. Turning towards the well-
researched body of work first set forth by John Bowlby (1969, 1973, 1980)
and Mary Ann Ainsworth (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters & Wall, 1978), this
chapter provides an overview of attachment theory: explaining how effec-
tively managed infantile dependency can lead to an enduring, lifelong inter-
personal connectedness to significant others. According to attachment
theory, disruptions, separations, or difficulties in early mother-child relation-
ship may lead to unhealthy or insecure attachment styles. Unhealthy attach-
ments often result in anger as well as the desire to control, prevent, and
punish the perceived ‘‘bad’’ abandoning parent. What is striking is how these
aforementioned childhood reactions to disrupted attachment experiences
parallel the relationally violent male. Specifically, how the rage reactions to
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(real or perceived) abandonment from one’s significant other commonly
result in hostile, controlling behaviors. The author reports on a wide range
of attachment related research connecting unhealthy attachment phenomena
with IPV perpetration. He contends that these earliest attachment difficulties
become the template on which all future significant relationships are based.
This means that early developmental processes, which become internalized,
become a model for future behavior within such relationships. Put otherwise,
close relationships with insecurely attached persons is fertile ground for rela-
tional violence, and, while such behavior is not guaranteed, it is certainly
more likely.
In this second edition, the importance of attachment theory in under-
standing IPV is further emphasized in a new chapter (The Sociopsychoneuro-
biology of Attachment), which demonstrates the anatomical-functional
consistencies of domestic violence perpetrators. Dutton reports on multiple,
carefully controlled, laboratory experiments investigating the result of trauma
and separation on neonatal brain development as well as traumatic effects on
identity formation, intimate relationships, and hostility within close relation-
ships. The Abusive Personality provides the presumed foundational data
relating to potential psychobiological factors in IPV.
The Early Antecedents Studies (chapter 9) further explores the etiologi-
cal factors pertaining to abusive men. Specifically, Dutton describes his own
work identifying childhood experiences that portend IPV perpetration. In
order of significance, he found the men reporting the childhood experiences
of: (a) rejection by father, (b) perceived lack of warmth from father, (c)
physical abuse by father, (d) verbal abuse by father, and (e) rejection by
mother were correlated with later relational abusiveness. Key in interpreting
these results is the centrality of the father’s role, thus lifting some of the onus
from the mother as the prime culprit in a later tendency to abuse. Dutton also
focuses on the role of shame in relational violence; underscoring how child-
hood shaming experiences commonly result in anger, rage, and a propensity
to blame others for perceived shortcomings. These last few chapters of The
Abusive Personality accomplish quite a bit. For one, it further challenges
commonly held beliefs that experiences with, or exposure to IPV and gen-
der-role socialization, are the primary factors in the intergenerational trans-
mission of family violence. It also moves the etiological foci beyond
societal messages and observational learning by highlighting the significance
of both early abusive and non-abusive childhood experiences. These chap-
ters make a strong case linking the development of domestic violence to
early parental experiences (both mother and father) and further argue for dis-
positional, rather than situational, factors.
Longitudinal Development and Female Abusive Personalities (chapter
10) is a new chapter in this second edition and probes a topic typically con-
sidered anathema to feminist-based domestic violence theorists. Though the
prospect of female-initiated IPV counters core feminist domestic violence
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views, clinical and empirical evidence notes that, in many cases, IPV is
initiated by the woman partner. Though much of the domestic violence
literature emphasize gender socialization explanations of IPV, Dutton raises
important questions about such theories by turning to the growing body of
research highlighting the often equal (and at times, greater) IPV prevalence
of homosexual domestic violence as well as heterosexual-based female per-
petration. The text distinguishes between female-initiated relational violence
and self-defense motives, and investigates similarities in early development
(e.g., attachment phenomena, borderline personality features) of male and
female domestic abusers.
The Abusive Personality closes by briefly touching on IPV perpetrator
interventions. Chapter 11 (The Treatment of Assaultiveness) builds upon
the text’s foundation: that domestic violence perpetrators, male or female,
are psychologically complex individuals in need of psychotherapeutic treat-
ment. Dutton also reports evidence demonstrating that domestically violent
persons are more than individuals with ‘‘sexist attitudes,’’ but, rather, are
highly complicated persons for whom the ‘‘groundwork’’ for later relational
abusiveness was laid early in life. The Abusive Personality makes clear that
domestically violent persons are grappling with attachment difficulties,
proneness to shame, and with the proclivity to turn unhappiness and anger
into externalizing behaviors and act out against significant others. Such per-
sons experienced significant developmental disruptions, which together with
ever-present societal messages, have developed a destructive propensity to
attack those with whom they are most intimate.
This final chapter discusses the poor outcome results of ‘‘psycho-edu-
cational’’ interventions, the dominant approach within this field. Dutton also
presents his evidence based views suggesting that traditional, feminist-based
‘‘attitudinal readjustment’’ groups, which heavily rely on confrontational
techniques, may actually exacerbate shame, accentuate isolation, and ulti-
mately leave the core of one’s abusive tendencies untouched. Though both
psychoeducation and therapy advocates agree that a group intervention
modality is the approach of choice, allowing for group accountability and
interaction to counter the common tendency for men with IPV to engage
in behaviors which mask or hide their tendencies, Dutton makes a strong
case for the need of individually tailored psychotherapy provided by treat-
ment providers savvy in assessment and sensitive to subtle mental health
issues. The Abusive Personality argues for psychologically based treatments
for domestic violence perpetratorsemphasizing the need for clinicians to
establish a solid therapeutic alliance and to facilitate open discussion of
the dynamics of their family of origin. Dutton also contends that therapists
should aim to expand, rather than limit, in-group discussion on family of ori-
gins, psychiatric histories and symptomatology, and to encourage discussion
about abusive and non-abusive relational experiences. Reporting on
theoretical and data based evidence demonstrating the flexibility and positive
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outcomes of many cognitive-behavioral therapies (e.g., dialect-behavioral
therapy) as well as interpersonal and psychodynamically oriented treatments,
Dutton reasons that such therapeutic approaches transcend mere attitude
readjustments and allow for more idiographic, patient-specific interventions.
In essence, such therapeutic approaches treat people, rather than a collection
of attitudes.
The Abusive Personality represents a significant and growing paradigm
shift within the domestic violence field, going beyond superficiality and
ideology. Dutton utilizes long-standing theoretical explanations along with
contemporary psychological and neurobiological findings that illuminate
the background and psychosocial makeup of domestic violence perpetra-
tors. The author separates dogma (e.g., gender, misogyny, psychobiology)
and theoretical partisanship (e.g., CBT, psychodynamic) and proactively
opts for psychological science and clinical sophistication in understanding
and treating domestic violence perpetration. Dutton convincingly spells
out the need for an integrated treatment approach by utilizing those com-
ponents from different modalities that treat a specific domestic violent
offender best.
With this book Dutton builds upon his well-deserved reputation as an
eminent domestic violence clinical researcher. Utilizing his over 30 years of
experience in applying scientific rigor to domestic violence etiology, assess-
ment, and treatment, Dutton enhances this second edition by adding chap-
ters specifically exploring neurobiological factors in IPV as well as a
chapter devoted to domestic violence initiated by women. This new edition
of The Abusive Personality is worthwhile reading, both for those not familiar
with Dutton’s first book and for those who are already very familiar with the
1996 edition. This text is appropriate for graduate training programs in psy-
chology, counseling, and social work and is suitable for the neophyte and
seasoned clinician alike. Furthermore (and perhaps most important), it
behooves all interested in working in the domestic field to familiarize them-
selves with Dutton’s latest edition.
Possible limitations of The Abusive Personality maybeitsminimal
emphasis on public policy as it pertains to domestic violence as well
as its limited focus on treatment. Those with an interest in public policy
maywishtoconsultDuttons(2006)Rethinking Domestic Violence, while
those interested in treatment should read Dutton and Sonkin’s (2002)
Intimate Violence: Contemporary Treatment Innovations.Duttonslatest
text fully immerses the reader in etiologic, intrapsychic, and interperso-
nal factors implicated in domestic violence, clearly integrating theory
with research and offering comprehensive insights into domestic viol-
ence perpetrators. It describes the many presumed causative factors in
which individuals, irrespective of gender, behave violently towards those
whomeanthemosttothem.Assuch,The Abusive Personality: Violence
and Control in Intimate Relationships (2nd edition) could be read with
94 Book Reviews
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advantage by anyone interested in understanding and treating
domestically violent persons.
Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attach-
ment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Mahway: NJ: Erlbaum.
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Attachment. London: Penguin Books.
Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Separation. London: Penguin Books.
Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and loss: Loss, sadness, and depression. London:
Penguin Books.
Dutton, D. G. (2006). Rethinking domestic violence. Vancouver, Canada: University
of British Columbia Press.
Dutton, D. G., & Sonkin, D. J. (2002). Intimate violence: Contemporary treatment
innovations. New York: The Haworth Press.
Klein, M., & Riviere, J. (1937). Love, hate and reparation. New York: Norton.
Klein, M., & Riviere, J. (1964). Love, hate and reparation (2nd ed.). New York:
Mahler, M., Pine, F., & Bergman, A. (1975). The psychological birth of the human
infant. New York: Basic Books.
Walker, L. E. (1979). The battered woman. New York: Harper & Row.
Anthony F. Tasso, PhD, ABPP
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology & Counseling
Fairleigh Dickinson University
285 Madison Ave. (M-AB2-01)
Madison, NJ 07940
Book Reviews 95
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Take an updated approach to treating partner violence!
Ethological attachment theory is a landmark of 20th century social and behavioral sciences theory and research. This new paradigm for understanding primary relationships across the lifespan evolved from John Bowlby's critique of psychoanalytic drive theory and his own clinical observations, supplemented by his knowledge of fields as diverse as primate ethology, control systems theory, and cognitive psychology. By the time he had written the first volume of his classic Attachment and Loss trilogy, Mary D. Salter Ainsworth's naturalistic observations in Uganda and Baltimore, and her theoretical and descriptive insights about maternal care and the secure base phenomenon had become integral to attachment theory. Patterns of Attachment reports the methods and key results of Ainsworth's landmark Baltimore Longitudinal Study. Following upon her naturalistic home observations in Uganda, the Baltimore project yielded a wealth of enduring, benchmark results on the nature of the child's tie to its primary caregiver and the importance of early experience. It also addressed a wide range of conceptual and methodological issues common to many developmental and longitudinal projects, especially issues of age appropriate assessment, quantifying behavior, and comprehending individual differences. In addition, Ainsworth and her students broke new ground, clarifying and defining new concepts, demonstrating the value of the ethological methods and insights about behavior. Today, as we enter the fourth generation of attachment study, we have a rich and growing catalogue of behavioral and narrative approaches to measuring attachment from infancy to adulthood. Each of them has roots in the Strange Situation and the secure base concept presented in Patterns of Attachment. It inclusion in the Psychology Press Classic Editions series reflects Patterns of Attachment's continuing significance and insures its availability to new generations of students, researchers, and clinicians.
Rethinking domestic violence
  • D G Dutton
Dutton, D. G. (2006). Rethinking domestic violence. Vancouver, Canada: University of British Columbia Press.
Love, hate and reparation
  • M Klein
  • J Riviere
Klein, M., & Riviere, J. (1937). Love, hate and reparation. New York: Norton.
Patterns of attach-ment: A psychological study of the strange situation Attachment and loss: Attachment. London: Penguin Books Attachment and loss: Separation. London: Penguin Books Attachment and loss: Loss, sadness, and depression
  • M D S Ainsworth
  • M C Blehar
  • E Waters
  • S Wall
Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attach-ment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Mahway: NJ: Erlbaum. Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Attachment. London: Penguin Books. Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Separation. London: Penguin Books. Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and loss: Loss, sadness, and depression. London: Penguin Books.
The psychological birth of the human infant
  • M Mahler
  • F Pine
  • A Bergman
Mahler, M., Pine, F., & Bergman, A. (1975). The psychological birth of the human infant. New York: Basic Books.
Attachment and loss: Separation
  • J Bowlby
Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Separation. London: Penguin Books.