Anger, Depression and Aggression in Domestic Violence Relationships

By Kathie Mathis, Psy.D, DD, NCP, CBIF, CDVA, CSAC, CSOC, CAMS-IV

The problem of domestic violence is widespread, with research indicating men and women both perpetrate a substantial amount of aggression. However, research indicates more men perpetrate abuse then women.

Research was done in a clinical setting with domestic violent men, generally assaultive men, as well as a control group of men. It was hypothesized that domestic violent men would have higher rates of anger, than nonviolent control group of men. It was also hypothesized that these men would be likely to also have depression. (Gelles,, 1974; Kleckman, 1978). However results varied with each group, but men in domestic violence relationships were aggressive, possessive, entitled and not always depressed. (Vitaliano, Maiuro, Academia, 2023).

Thirty-three studies reporting data from 28 independent samples were included for analysis. IPV perpetrators consistently reported moderately higher levels of anger and hostility than nonviolent men across assessment methods (i.e., self-report, observational, and spouse-specific). In prior reviews, relationship distress has been proposed as a moderating variable between relationship distress and IPV.  IPV perpetrators also consistently reported moderately higher levels of anger and hostility than relationship-discordant nonviolent men. Additionally, comparisons of subtypes of IPV perpetrators found that men in moderate-high severity IPV subtypes reported higher levels of anger and hostility than low-moderate IPV subtypes. While the pattern of results in this review suggests that elevated anger and hostility are distinguishing characteristics of IPV perpetrators, empirically based conclusions regarding the functional and contextual relationship between anger, hostility, and IPV remain elusive. The implications and limitations suggested by this review are discussed in the context of emerging models of anger and IPV and treatment programs for abusive men.

Attempts to understand the correlates and causes of intimate partner violence (IPV) have increasingly focused on the role of Individual factors specific to the abusive male. Several reviews of this research have consistently concluded that in addition to childhood precursors, societal influences, and interpersonal contexts, male IPV perpetrators are characterized by problems related to psychopathology (Holtzworth-Munroe & Stuart, 1994, Kessler et al., 2001), cognitive distortions, personality disturbances (e.g., Beasley &Stoltenberg; Hart) and more. The Dunning-Kruger Effect where people insist they possess knowledge and skills that they obviously do not have and have a “cognitive bias of illusionary superiority.” Is also a factor.  When this is added to the characteristics of selfish, self-centeredness, dark triad traits, it leads to an inflated self-assessment also handed down generationally from parent to child, in domestic violence families who raise the perpetrators.  Add entitlements as mentioned above, misogyny and bias to this mix you can have a group of angry perpetrators who, when not given the attention and acknowledgement of being superior to others, believe they can do whatever they want, no matter what.

Emotional Immaturity in batterers is another factor to be acknowledged.  They “appear” to be mature but have limited knowledge on what emotional maturity is, how to be emotionally mature, and this affects anger, aggression and the internal “rumination” or internal negative self-talk. Psuedo-personality, “empty and lack of empathy”, and the creation of gaslighting, making excuses for their anger and behavior, blaming a victim (Gondolf & Russell, 1986); creates a lack of effective anger control and emotional control due to lack of responsibility taking, Lack of accountability given to them by society and laws, and general misunderstanding of the characteristics of an abuser and their use of high manipulation allows them to “win over” courts and undertrained judges and other professionals like mediators, child evaluators, CPS, and mental health professionals who are also undertrained in domestic abuse.

Thus there is a need for batterers to also be mandated to anger management classes, mandatory personality and aggression testing, and serious consideration of “past patterns” along with current patterns of abuse, aggression and anger behaviors. Holding batterers accountable is mandatory but unfortunately, many batterers intervention programs collude with the batterers and do not hold them accountable for abusing their family members. Batterers intervention programs fail to follow the Standards for their state which states their highest priority is safety of the victim and their goal is behavior change for the batterer.  This must be addressed as a priority and any program not following the standards should be eliminated from the approved Batterers Intervention Program immediately.

Power and Control, Coercive Control (same thing), and inequality ideations must be eliminated in all batterers of both sexes. Depression caused by being an abuser is not a major factor in their abuse. Most have so much entitlement and get “joy” (personality disorders) from abusing another, that depression is not a major factor.  But it should be looked at when assessments are done in case there is genetic depression and other factors that medication might assist in minimizing it.

The effects of anger, aggression and depression on the family members, especially on children, is a problematic domestic violence circumstance that every facilitator, therapist, psychologist and mental health professional and courts must acknowledge and recommend support and recovery for and to.