Painful bonds: Identification with the aggressor and distress among IPV survivors

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Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a global health problem that often results in a variety of mental health detriments, including trauma-related distress and depressive symptoms. According to the trauma literature, IPV victims may develop strong bonds with their perpetrators – a phenomenon known as identification with the aggressor (IWA) – in order to survive the abuse. Yet, this defensive reaction may endure after the abuse has ended, and may adversely affect victims' mental health. Nevertheless, research exploring these suppositions is lacking. Filling this void, this study investigated IWA in light of current versus past IPV as well as the relations between IWA, trauma-related distress, and depressive symptoms among a convenience sample of 297 women. Of them, 68 and 229 participants reported being subjected to IPV at present or in the past, respectively. Results indicated that whereas participants who reported current IPV had elevated trauma-related distress and depressive symptoms compared to participants who reported past IPV, no differences were found in IWA levels between the groups. Identification with the aggressor was related to trauma-related distress and depressive symptoms. Furthermore, IWA had a unique contribution in explaining trauma-related distress and depressive symptoms above and beyond background characteristics and IPV features. The findings of the current study suggest that IWA may mirror the unique relational dynamics that characterize IPV, which continue to exist even after the abuse ends, and may be implicated in IPV survivors’ psychological distress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-31
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Depression
  • Domestic abuse
  • Identification with the aggressor
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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