Jealousy, Intimate Abusiveness, and Intrusiveness

Donald G. Dutton, Cynthia van Ginkel, and Monica A. Landolt

Department of Psychology

University of British Columbia

Address reprint requests to Dr. Donald G. Dutton, Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, 2136 West Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6T 1Z4.


An examination of self report scales of 160 men and 76 of their partners or former partners found significant correlations between jealousy and abusiveness (for coupled dyads) or intrusiveness (for separated dyads). Jealousy was related to borderline personality and to MCMI-II measures of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Rejection sensitivity leading to pathological acts such as abusiveness and intrusiveness is seen as originating in early insecure attachment, and exposure to shaming experiences.


Key Words: Jealousy, Intrusiveness, Abuse.

Jealousy, Intimate Abusiveness, and Intrusiveness

Spinoza placed anger and aggression at the very center of his definition of jealousy when he stated that "the hatred towards and object loved, together with the envy of another is called jealousy" (Spinoza, 1948, 1677). White and Mullen (1989) describe domestic violence as "the violence of jealousy". Daly and Wilson (1988) linked sexual jealousy to spousal homicide in a variety of cultures.

Extreme jealousy or "conjugal paranoia" is frequently described as a central feature of the personality makeup of men who abuse their wives (Walker, 1979; Sonkin, Martin & Walker, 1985; Dutton & Starzomski, 1994). White and Mullen (1989) differentiated pathological jealousy from normal jealousy by suggesting that the pathologically jealous individual "searches for jealous conflict, in contrast to the normal person who has it thrust upon him...and takes a morbid pleasure in willfully prolonging the suffering" (p.176). Furthermore, the normal person expresses jealousy only where there is clear evidence where as the "morbid person regards even slight signs as conclusive evidence and reacts forcefully" (p.177). This definition circumvents prior problems in defining pathological jealousy as delusional with the ensuing difficulties of proving delusion of infidelity. The connection of jealousy to abuse arises from "the desire to hurt the partner that is found so often in jealousy is connected with a predisposition to act aggressively and arises out of feelings of anger and humiliation" (p.178). "The jealous individual's attention is focused on the actual or supposed love...the central object of jealousy is the partner with the rival usually occupying a subordinate role" (p. 179). At least two subsequent empirical studies support this last contention. Mathes and Verstraete (1993) and Paul, Foss, and Galloway (1993) found that jealous individual's anger and blame were focused more on the partner than on the rival. Sonkin et al. (1985) viewed such jealousy as a manifestation of extreme dependency and suspiciousness, themselves results of "the physical and emotional isolation and alienation that many men feel" (p.43). Dutton, Saunders, Starzomski, and Bartholomew (1994) argued that insecure attachment was a source of both jealousy and abusiveness. They reported a strong association between abusiveness as reported by the men’s female partner, men’s self report of jealousy and the man’s attachment style. Insecure attachment, especially a style known as "fearful attachment" was strongly associated both with jealousy and abusiveness. Fearful attachment, carries with it both strong approach needs and fear of loss. Dutton et al. (1994) argued that, in Bowlby's original formulation, fearful attachment could as easily be called angry attachment since the correlations between the two were so high. In their study, Dutton et al. found fearful (angry) attachment to be correlated +.34 (p < .0001) with the Interpersonal Jealousy Scale (Mathes & Severa, 1981) This finding. although correlational, is consistent with the notion that adult experience of jealousy may have an origin in early attachment. In this formulation, early attachment fears develop into a felt anxiety in adult intimate relationships. This anxiety is converted into anger and control behaviors by male sex role conditioning. Physical abuse of the intimate female and stalking her during periods of separation, are extreme forms of attempts to maintain faltering control. (Dutton, 1995a, 1995b) While consistent with feminist views on the role of male sex role socialization and the function of abusiveness, this model has an advantage in being able to account for variation in male jealousy and abusiveness. The objective of the present study is to examine the relationship of jealous reactions to abusiveness and intrusiveness in a group of physically abusive men and in a control sample and to ascertain which personality factors are most closely related to reports of jealousy and secondly, the relationship of jealousy to abusiveness in dyads and intrusiveness with separated partners. In the present study, we will attempt to relate the core measures of this psychological model described in detail in previous work (Dutton, 1994a, 1994b, 1995a, 1995b; Dutton & Starzomski, 1994, in press), to jealousy. We will also extend the previous work by examining the association of these personality measures in male perpetrators with ex-partners reports of his stalking or intrusiveness into her life. We would predict that males scoring high on measures of attachment insecurity and/or identity instability would experience greater jealousy. We would also predict that this experience of jealousy would be related to intrusiveness.



Testing and clinical assessment was done on 120 court-referred and self-referred males interviewed by the Vancouver Assaultive Husbands Project, the Victoria Family Violence Institute, and the Burnaby Family Life Institute. One hundred and twenty men were assessed. A demographically matched control group of 40 men was also assessed. Further, 43 female partners of the assaultive group and 33 partners of the control group provided data relating to the men's psychological abusiveness.

Only North American acculturated men were included in the current sample to avoid interpretative problems arising from language difficulties or from different cultural norms. The demographic profile of the assaultive group is as follows: average age = 35 (range 17 - 65), average level of education = grade 12, average income was $34,285 (63% self-identified as blue collar, 37% as white collar). Men in the treatment groups reported an average assaultiveness in the prior year of 5.87 (S.D. 6.22) acts of physical violence against their wife; 56% were still living with the assault victim.

Control group men were contacted through their local union representative and asked to participate in a study on family conflict. This group reported an average age of 35 (range 19-45), an average level of education of grade 12, and a modal family income of $35,000; 65% were married, and the mean self-reported score for physical assaultiveness against their partner in the prior year was 1.34 acts of violence (S.D. = 3.4). These men were selected to provide a demographically matched, relatively non-violent, non-criminal sample (although, as reported above, they did self-report some violence towards their wives).

We assessed differential patterns of attachment, emotional expression (anger and jealousy), presence of current trauma symptoms, and a style of personality called Borderline Personality Organization for these two groups. Not all men completed all assessments. Hence, in some cases reported n's are less than the total sample sizes.

Testing and assessment included:

. Attachment. The Relationship Scales Questionnaire (RSQ: Griffin & Bartholomew, 1994) is a 30-item self-report measure with items drawn from Hazan and Shaver's (1987) attachment measure, Bartholomew and Horowitz's (1991) Relationship Questionnaire, as well as items from Collins and Read's (1990) Adult Attachment Scale. Measures of each of the four attachment patterns (secure, fearful, preoccupied, dismissing) identified by Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991) were created by summing four or five items from the corresponding prototypic descriptions. The RSQ attachment scores show convergent validity with interview ratings of the four attachment patterns (Griffin & Bartholomew, in press). Note that each subject receives a continuous rating for each attachment pattern.

Borderline Personality Organization (BPO). The Self-Report Instrument for Borderline Personality Organization (Oldham, Clarkin, Appelbaum, Carr, Kernberg, Lotterman, & Haas, 1985) is a 30-item instrument derived through factor analysis of a 130-item questionnaire designed by the authors. The three subscales measure: 1) identity diffusion (a poorly integrated sense of self or of significant others), 2) primitive defenses (splitting, idealization, devaluation, omnipotence, denial, projection and projective identification.), and 3) reality testing (external versus internal origins of perceptions, evaluation of own behavior in terms of social criteria of reality, differentiation of self from non-self, etc.).

Oldham et al. (1985) report on the scale's intrascale consistency, interscale relationships and relationship to BPD differential diagnosis, and the application of the scale to differing theories of BPO and its DSM-IIIR Axis 2 definition. Cronbach's alpha for the BPO subscales are identity diffusion .92, primitive defenses .87, and reality testing .84. In our current sample, we obtained Cronbach’s alphas as follows: identity diffusion .85, primitive defenses .87, and reality testing .80. Dutton (in press) shows the BPO scale to be significantly correlated with frequency and severity of violence in a wife assault sample, and Dutton and Starzomski (in press) demonstrated men's self-reports of BPO strongly and significantly correlated with their wives' reports of the man's psychological abusiveness.

Psychopathology. Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-II (MCMI-II). The MCMI-II (Millon, 1992) contains 175 items that form 25 scales intended to measure a variety of Axis I (six clinical syndromes, three severe clinical syndromes) and Axis II disorders (10 clinical personality patterns and three severe personality pathologies) from the DSM-IIIR (APA, 1987), as well as three response styles (disclosure, debasement, and desirability). Scoring of the MCMI-II is complex: first, raw items are weighted to yield scale scores; second, scale scores are weighted to control for response styles; and finally, weighted scale scores are transformed into base rate (BR) scores. Base rate scores over 75 are indicative of the presence of a particular characteristic (e.g., passive-aggressive personality disorder), and those above 85 define a characteristic as a predominant feature in the respondent's personality. All MCMI-II protocols in the present study were machine scored by National Computer Systems.

Anger. The Multidimensional Anger Inventory (MAI: Siegel, 1986) is a 38-item self-report scale assessing the following dimensions of anger response: frequency, duration, magnitude, mode of expression, hostile outlook, and range of anger-eliciting situations. Siegel reports the results of a factor analysis of this scale and the reliability of its subscales (alphas = .51 to .83) and the scale as a whole (alpha equal to .84 and .89 for two separate samples). The scale was validated by correlation with other, conceptually similar anger inventories.

Jealousy. The Interpersonal Jealousy Scale (Mathes & Severa, 1981; Mathes, Phillips, Skowran, & Dick, 1982) is a 28-item scale that measures romantic jealousy. Tests of the construct validity of this measure have shown it to be correlated with dependency. The scale has a high internal reliability with a coefficient alpha of .92 and a low correlation with social desirability response bias. In the present sample, the internal consistency was .86.

Trauma Symptoms. The Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-33: Briere & Runtz, 1989) is a brief (33-item) reliable instrument showing predictive and construct validity. It has been shown to discriminate female victims of childhood sexual abuse from non-victimized women. The TSC-33 contains five subscales: Dissociation, Anxiety, Depression, Post-Sexual Abuse Trauma-hypothesized, and Sleep Disturbance. The PSAT-hypothesized includes those symptoms thought to be most characteristic of sexual abuse experiences but which may also occur as a result of other types of trauma. Analysis of the internal consistency of the five subscales indicated reasonable reliability with an average subscale alpha of .71 and a total alpha for the TSC-33 of .89 (Briere & Runtz, 1989).

Psychological Abuse. Tolman's (1989) Psychological Maltreatment of Women Inventory (PMWI) was used to provide a more comprehensive assessment of abuse, since psychological abuse is more common than physical abuse (Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980). It was completed by the women partners, who reported the men's abusiveness. The PMWI contains 58 items (rated from 1 "never" to 5 "very frequently") which comprise forms of emotional/verbal abuse and dominance/isolation. Dominance/isolation includes items related to rigid observance of traditional sex roles, demands for subservience, and isolation from resources. In contrast, emotional/verbal abuse includes withholding emotional resources, verbal attacks, and behavior that degrades women. Factor analyses support the inclusion of the two factors. In the sample considered in this study, Cronbach's alpha's for the dominance/isolation subscale was .82, and for the emotional/verbal subscale it was .93.

Physical Abuse. The Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS: Straus, 1979) is a standardized scale designed to measure the frequency and intensity of 19 tactics used by couples to resolve conflict. The scale includes verbal and physical abuse. Respondents report both their own use of these tactics and their use by a partner. In the current study, subjects reported the number of times during the past year that various tactics were used. Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz (1980) have published population norms for the usage of each tactic in a variety of intimate relationships.

Severity of Violence Against Women Scales (SVAWS: Marshall, 1992) is a 46-item measure consisting of four subscales: threats, mild physical violence, severe physical violence and sexual violence. The SVAWS assesses the incidence and severity of violence towards the female partner during the last twelve months.

Intrusiveness. The Intrusiveness Scale is an ordinal scale of fifteen items derived from the Canadian Criminal Code and included a variety of intrusions. ranging from the relatively minor to the serious, such as: "My partner followed me from place to place," "My partner engaged in threatening behavior directed at me," and "My partner has forced his way into my home against my will." The scale was given to 30 separated female former partners of assessed men. The scale obtains frequency ratings for each of the 15 items commuted by the male partner during the past year.

Social Desirability. Dutton and Strachan (1987) and Dutton and Hemphill (1992) emphasized that studies of wife assaulters need careful assessment of the degree to which self-reports minimize violence or other socially undesirable behavior or attitudes. The Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale (Crowne & Marlowe, 1960), consisting of 33 items, was employed in this study as a measure of subjects' attempts to underreport their unfavorable conduct on self-report measures. Saunders (1992) reported a technique for using scores on the Marlowe-Crowne to correct for social desirability responses on other assessment instruments. Dutton and Starzomski (1994) found however, that correcting self reports of jealousy for social desirability had minimal effect on reported means or correlations with other scores.


Men entering the Vancouver Assaultive Husbands Program and the Victoria Family Violence Project were administered the above scales either prior to treatment or during the first 3 weeks of treatment in order to minimize effects from treatment on test results. Their partners were also administered questionnaires, by mail, at that time. Although participation was voluntary, cooperation was encouraged by offering, and providing, a subject fee and, for the men, individual feedback on questionnaire results. One hundred and twenty subjects completed the questionnaires individually and returned them to the experimenter at the next session (the men only) or by mail.

Control data was obtained by posting signs in two union locals requesting participation in exchange for a subject fee. Forty subjects demographically matched to the assaultive males (see Dutton, Saunders, Starzomski, & Bartholomew, 1994) completed the questionnaire.

Confidentiality was assured. The men and women were asked to not discuss their respective responses with each other. All results were adjusted for social desirability using a procedure developed by Saunders (1992). This procedure, as it applies to data obtained from wife assaulters, is described in Dutton and Starzomski (1994).


Assaultive males scored significantly higher on the Interpersonal Jealousy Scale (+8.2) than did control males (- 10.2). This difference was significant at the .001 level. Men self reported less jealousy than their female partners' reported them experiencing (t = 3.01, df = 75, p <.001). The correlation of self reports with partners' reports was + .62.

Linear correlations of scores on other self report scales with jealousy are reported in Table 1. Jealousy is significantly correlated with self reports of BPO, fearful attachment, trauma symptoms and with the PTSD profile "82C" on the MCMI. Wives’ reports on the man’s jealousy were significantly correlated with her reports of his Fearful attachment on the RSQ (r = + ‘36, p <.01) and her reports of his borderline tendencies on the BPO scale (r = + .28, p <.05). However, her reports of his jealousy were not significantly correlated with her reports of his experience of trauma symptoms or anger. A technique for correcting for social desirability (Saunders, 1992) had no effect on these correlations (see also Dutton & Starzomski, 1994).


insert table 1 here


Table 2 shows correlations of jealousy with "output" behaviors such as abusiveness and intrusiveness. Note the extremely strong correlations with wives’ reports of Control/Domination and Emotional Abuse (from the PMWI) and with Intrusiveness.

Multiple regressions were run on each output factor of the Psychological Maltreatment of Women Inventory and Intrusiveness Scale using the man's self report of borderline personality organization, jealousy, trauma symptoms and fearful attachment. These four predictor variables generated a multiple R of .63 and an adjusted R square of .32 for Factor 1 (Dominance/Isolation). For Factor 2 (Emotional Abusiveness), the multiple R was .80 and the R square was .63. For Intrusiveness, the multiple R was .82 and the R square was .65. In each case a stepwise regression entered all four predictors in the regression equation.


insert table 2 here



Jealousy was significantly correlated with a variety of measures of physical and emotional abusiveness completed by female partners of men in this study. It was also significantly correlated with ex-partners’ reports of intrusiveness by their former partner. Jealousy also demonstrated a significant relationship with self reported anger scores. None of these relationships were affected when corrections were made for social desirability.

Measures of the "abusive personality" reported in previous work by Dutton and his colleagues were significantly correlated with self reports of jealousy. Borderline personality , fearful attachment and the experience of trauma symptoms all correlated strongly and significantly with jealousy in this sample of assaultive men. Dutton, Saunders, Starzomski, and Bartholomew (1994) had shown a strong association between borderline personality organization and fearful attachment, suggesting that the former had its origins in attachment disruptions. Fearful attachment carries with it a strong fear of abandonment of which jealousy may be a component. Unable to recognize the broader concept of attachment fear, the assaultive male may construe attachment anxiety in terms of a sexual theme. This narrowing and shaping of their construction of attachment anxiety is probably a by-product of male sex role socialization (Dutton, 1995b).

The strong association of jealousy with the primitive defenses scale of the BPO measure suggests another personality-based mechanism for jealousy; projection. The two main primitive defenses tapped by this scale are splitting and projection. In the case of the latter, unacceptable sexual impulses are projected onto the woman, leading to jealousy and fueling abandonment panic. As seen in Table 1, jealousy is a by-product for BPO and is typically delusional or projected.

The strong associations of avoidant, negative (passive-aggressive and self-defeating) and borderline scales from the MCMI-II with jealousy provide another clinically intriguing hint at its origin. The combination of these scales, the so-called "82C" profile is common to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Dutton (1994a) showed assaultive men to resemble groups diagnosed with PTSD and suggested that some combination of childhood experiences generated the profile in the wife assault group. Early trauma as well as insecure attachment are probably confounded and the origin of jealous reactions may reside in this combination of early negative experiences.

Dutton and Browning (1988) exposed assaultive men to videotaped scenarios depicting a variety of couples conflicts. Assaultive men exhibited heightened anger and anxiety responses to a conflict labeled "abandonment" where a woman was arguing for greater independence. These were elevated above reactions to other depicted conflicts and above the reactions of control groups. This strong emotional reaction to separation provides the basis for continued intrusion into the woman's life post-separation. Jealousy was the single strongest predictor of such intrusion (.43), typical of men who stalk former partners.

At present, insecure attachment, jealousy and abandonment sensitivity can be said to be associated in samples of abusive men. Bartel (1995) factor analyzed self-report data of abusive men and found independent factors. The first of these factors he called Jealousy/Insecurity (based also on the Interpersonal Jealousy Scale and the RSQ). In his sample, Jealousy/Insecurity correlated strongly and significantly with wives' measures of abuse on both the Marshall (SVAWS) and Tolman (PMWI) scales. Dutton, Saunders, Starzomski, & Bartholomew (1994) have made the point that insecure attachment could be called intimacy anger, since the correlations of the attachment measure with self reported anger are extremely high (.48). Another emotional sequela of intimacy anxiety appears to be jealousy. Jealousy, along with anger and borderline personality combine to form what Dutton (1994b) has called the "abusive personality". The current data support the centrality of jealousy in this personality complex.

The personality complex called the abusive personality has its origins in attachment insecurity (Dutton et al., 1994, Dutton, 1995a, 1994b) and early shaming experiences (Dutton, Starzomski, & van Ginkel (1995). Its attachment origin makes it especially sensitive to uncontrollable rejections or abandonments and can produce pathological reactions to separations and estrangement. In the less serious form, these manifest as pronounced anger (Dutton & Browning, 1988). In extreme cases it manifests as femicide (Crawford & Gartner, 1992; Wilson & Daly, 1993). In the latter case, certain predispositions toward ruminative thought probably contribute to the "incubation" of homicidal impulses (Revitch, & Schlesinger, 1981; Meloy, 1992). Dutton & Yamini (1994) have discussed these forms of deconstructed thought in the context of parricides. Similar processes may also transpire during the stalking phase of estrangement. That this incubation is exacerbated by cyclical tension building as a personality process is hinted at by the current data. BPO, which generates cyclical tension states is significantly related to jealousy and jealousy to intrusiveness. Hence, stalking or intrusiveness may be more likely for men with serious deficits in self concept. These would include the borderline aversion to the experience of being alone coupled with extreme abandonment anxiety and an inability to self soothe. All three of these psychological features appear to have origins in early attachment disruption.


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Table 1

Pearson Correlations of Psychological Variables with Jealousy (entire sample n = 160)

  Self Report Partner Report
BPO Total .41*** .28*
Primitive Defenses .43***  
Identity Diffusion .39***  
Reality Testing .30***  
RSQ Fearful Attachment .34*** .36**
TS Total .42*** .20
Anxiety .31**  
Depression .36***  
MAI (anger) .28**  
MCMI Self Defeating (8B) .32***  
MCMI Borderline (C) .31***  
MCMI Avoidant (2) .30***  
MCMI Passive Aggressive (8A) .29**  

*** p < .001, ** p < .01, * p < .05

Table 2

Pearson Correlations of Jealousy with Abusiveness

  Self Report Partner Report
CTS Total Physical Abuse +.19*  
CTS Severe Physical Abuse +.19*  
SVAWS Total Score +.29**  
Severe Violence +.19*  
Mild Violence +.30**  
Threats +.28**  
Sexual Violence +.28**  
PMWI 1 .43*** .57***
PMWI 2 .50*** .80***
Intrusiveness   .43**

* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001

Note: Self report: n = 160; Partners’ report: n = 76; Ex-partners’ report: n = 30

CTS - Conflict Tactics Scale; SVAWS - Severity of Violence Against Women Scale;

MAI - Multidimensional Anger Inventory.

Submitted to American Journal of Orthopsychiatry July 27, 1995

Submitted to Journal of Family Violence October 17, 1995

01/28/00 2:08 PM dd & ak

01/28/00 2:08 PM Resubmitted to the JFV.