Identification With the Aggressor and Inward and Outward Aggression in Abuse Survivors

Yael Lahav, Santiago Allende, Anat Talmon, Karni Ginzburg, David Spiegel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Childhood abuse survivors may display both inward and outward aggression manifested in self-injurious behavior (SIB) and violent acts toward others. Scrutinizing the literature reveals that the relational dynamics between victims and their perpetrators might be involved in these phenomena. Yet, research on this subject matter has been sparse. Filling this gap, this study investigated the contribution of the singular bonds between victims and their perpetrators, known as identification with the aggressor, in explaining survivors’ aggression. The study was conducted among 306 Israeli college/university students who reported a history of childhood abuse. Results revealed that levels of adopting the perpetrator’s experience, identifying with the perpetrator’s aggression, and replacing one’s agency with that of the perpetrator were significantly associated with survivors’ inward and outward aggression. Moreover, profile type—that is, having high versus low levels of identification with the aggressor—was implicated in participants’ SIBs, urge to harm others, and violent acts toward others, above and beyond the effects of gender and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. The present findings suggest that identification with the aggressor might make survivors prone to the re-enactment of past abusive dynamics, which, in turn, could eventuate in aggression toward themselves and others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2705-2728
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Volume37
Issue number5-6
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2022

Keywords

  • aggression
  • childhood abuse
  • identification with the aggressor
  • self-injurious behavior
  • violence

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