There are many possible causes of intimate partner violence. Although abusers are not a homogeneous group and the pattern of abuse differs from person to person, research on why people abuse their partners has found several persistent themes.
Abuse of both alcohol and illicit substances has been strongly and consistently linked to intimate partner violence. 49,50
Children who have been abused or have witnessed abuse are more likely to become abusers and use intimate partner violence.51
Bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and (possibly) attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have been identified as risk factors for intimate partner violence.52 The prevalence of depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social phobia was noted to be high in a group of men who had been arrested for domestic violence.53
Researchers have noted that there is a significant difference in the cognitive processes and social skills between violent and non-violent men.54-57Perpetrators are likely to have high levels of anger, low levels of cognitive flexibility, cognitive empathy, and emotional recognition, and a high level of hostile sexism. They often have low self-esteem and antisocial tendencies, 58and the psychopathologies of bipolar disorder and PTSD that have been identified as risk factors for intimate partner violence are associated with poor impulse control and impaired executive functioning.
There may be genetic risk factors for intimate partner violence,59but the research in this area is inconclusive.
The causes of elder abuse and child abuse are similar to those of intimate partner violence. In addition to substance abuse, psychopathologies, and the other factors outlined above, caregiver burnout, behavioral problems or disabilities in an elder adult, a history of having been abused, dementia in an elderly adult, external stress, and social isolation can all cause people to abuse an elderly adult.60
Many of these same factors will cause adults to abuse a child. In addition, several studies have shown that adults who are likely to abuse a child can be identified by certain risk factors: the presence of intimate partner violence; intoxication and/or substance abuse; suicide attempts or auto-mutilation, and; perceived and actual difficulties in child-rearing.61-63