Like many anti-domestic violence activists I too believe that domestic violence is not an individual problem but a community problem that requires the support of the whole community to bring to an end. What I propose as a new solution to this problem it the adoption for Abusive Personality Disorder to be accepted by the mental health/social work profession, feminist scholars, anti-dating violence activists, and into the public discourse of dating violence. This would help concerned persons identify and make sense of the abuser’s patterns of behavior and help others learn how to hold the abusive person accountable for their actions.
Despite the changes over the years dating violence continues to be a major problem in US. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, dating violence is not just restricted to physical violence or single incidences of behavior but rather “the pervasive and methodical use of threats, intimidation, manipulation, and physical violence by someone who seeks power and control over their intimate partner.”
Many myths and misconceptions about the nature of domestic violence contribute to the confusion many victims, friends, family, and communities feel about how best react to the situations when they arise. However there is considerable amount of research and information that is known about the common patterns of abusive persons. If this information was more commonly known would help promote safety for victims and potential victims as well as increase accountability for abusers.
Being able to recognize the patterns of abusive persons can help persons not involved, such as police, judges, friends, and family better identify who is the abusive party and who is the victim. This is an important distinction to make as many abusive persons claim to be real victims themselves to avoid negative consequences and discredit and cast doubts on their victim’s accusations.
A personality disorder is not a biological mental illness that can be treated with medication or has on organic basis but rather it is a collection of personality traits that common happen together in personality and cause difficulty in interacting with the world or the world interacting with them. For instance, Antisocial Personality Disorder is defined by a striking lack of conscience and scary lack of empathy and indifference toward the suffering of others. Many known serial killers have been diagnosed Antisocial Personality Disorder and this has helped professionals determine who is dangerous and what prisoners are likely to reoffend.
As detailed in oft-used Power and Control Wheel of Domestic Violence which DV advocates and use to describe the common patterns of behavior employed by abusive persons and to help victims make sense of their abusers behavior. The power and control wheel is so comprehensive and accurate that is it is a great start toward agreed-upon diagnostic criteria for abusive personality disorder.
Although there are a variety of other disorders and behaviors that persons tend to try and conflate with abusive behavior, such as narcissistic personality disorder, anti-social personality disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, addictive personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and others, none of them truly encapsulates the phenomena. Many of these disorders often mimic the symptoms of abusive personality, but none of them truly account for the fact that the central focus of the behavioral symptoms are targeted at specifically ones romantic partner and the behavioral patterns are not consistent in other situations.
Critics of this approach are most commonly from the Dating Violence Community as they are afraid that the acceptance of abusive personality disorder as an actual mental health diagnosis would lead to abusers using it as an excuse, legally and otherwise, that they are not responsible for their behaviors. Although it is likely that abusers will use any excuse they can to avoid responsibility for their actions, just because it is a diagnosis doesn’t mean it is will make the legal system more lenient on them and that it will arouse much sympathy for them. Serial killers who are diagnosed with Anti-Social Personality Disorder are not given much sympathy for their condition and few consider it as justification for their actions.
The institution of an Abusive Personality Disorder diagnosis would help dispel myths about DV making abusers more easily identifiable to the public therefore leading to more accountability for abusers. It would also legitimize what domestic violence workers already know and would make these persons with abusive personalities easier to study for prevention or intervention purposes. Also, many anti-DV laws and approachs are often labeled by critics as anti-male or biased towards males, the legitimization of Abusive Personality Disorder Diagnosis simply have the abuser identified by their symptomology not their gender.