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Q: Incest (traits of perpetrator and victim) ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Incest (traits of perpetrator and victim)
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: aracelis-ga
List Price: $100.00
Posted: 16 May 2004 18:56 PDT
Expires: 15 Jun 2004 18:56 PDT
Question ID: 347329
This is my first time posting on this site, so please forgive me if my
question needs clarification.

I am interested in the consequences of parent/child incest;
specifically, on what level the development of the abuser, and
post-trauma development of the victim, is influnced by biological

My question is posed after learning about the suggested biological
basis for Borderline Personality Disorder.  I am curious as to what
traits may predispose an individual to abusive tendencies.  ("Traits"
such as introversion/extroversion, narcissism, intelligence,
aggression, perfectionism, obsessive compulsive behaviors, etc)
I have read basics on this subject, I am looking for more in depth information.

I am also interested in the way in which the child/victim's cognitive
and emotional processing of information and experiences is affected
and how this may influence behavior (with perpetrator, others, and
throughout life events.)

Thank you very much for your help.
Subject: Re: Incest (traits of perpetrator and victim)
Answered By: sublime1-ga on 17 May 2004 14:15 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

I've worked in the field of mental health for 20+ years,
so I took an interest in your question.

You note your familiarity with the relatively new topic
of the biological bases for Borderline Personality 
Disorder, or BPD. In this article by Larry J. Siever,
M.D., on the BPD Sanctuary site, he documents some of
the biological differences which can be seen in the 
biochemical nature of a person with BPD, with regard
to both affective instability and impulse aggression.
He then goes on to note that these differences are
likely the result of early abuse:

"It is also clear that the environment plays an important
 role in the development of borderline personality disorder
 and may even influence the biology of impulse and affect
 regulation. One prominent environmental antecedent to BPD
 is a history of abuse or neglect. Many studies suggest a
 high proportion of borderline patients have experienced
 some form of abuse, particularly sexual abuse, during
 their development. While it is not clear that BPD over
 other personality disorders always have a demonstrated
 increased history of abuse, there is no doubt that the
 history of abuse is common in personality disorder
 patients, particularly in BPD patients."

"New studies suggest that abuse may sensitize or alter
 the activity of the stress system such as the
 hypothalamopituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and may have
 long term effects on the monoamine systems as well.
 Some studies even suggest that certain kinds of trauma
 or early abuse may actually cause structural changes
 in a central part of the brain involved in emotional
 memories, the hippocampus."
Much more on the page:

This certainly supports the idea that abuse can serve
as a significant precursor to the psychobiological
sensitivities which contribute to a variety of mental
disorders, including the mental state of those who
commit incest, since abuse in the history of one or
both of the parents of incest victims has a high

In my research, there is probably no documentation of
the factors surrounding incest which is more complete
than the 56-page treatise, in pdf format, entitled:

by Rod O?Connor, Senior Research Fellow at Monash University
in Australia.

The pdf file can be downloaded and viewed here:

Or you can read it in your browser from Google's cache:

In section 4.3.1, he notes:

"Fuller (1989) reported a sample of 154 cases of
 intra-familial abuse where the offender was a
 biological father or step-father (legally or de
 facto). The data indicated that the mothers were
 more likely than the offenders to have experienced
 sexual abuse, with 50% of mothers having been 
 directly sexually abused as a child, as opposed to
 27% of the offenders (compared with an average of
 about 21% for women and 7% for men in the general
 population; see Finkelhor, 1986)."

He also notes:

"Goodwin et al (1982, cited Alter-Reid et al, 1986) also
 found that mothers of physically or sexually abused 
 children had a much lower rate of successfully disclosing
 sexual abuse during their childhood compared to non-abusing
 mothers who had been victimised as children. In other words
 it is not only the child sexual abuse of women that is a
 factor, it is the fact that women never disclosed (or had
 disclosed) the abuse."

A vast variety of other factors are analyzed in this 
very thorough discussion of the topic, and it would be
pointless to paraphrase them when the author has done
such an excellent job of organizing and elaborating
on them. The conclusions which are reached are as follows:


1) The process of sexual abuse can be subtle and binding.
   With a significant number of incest victims, the child
   may love, need, or depend on the perpetrator.
2) There is limited information regarding the nature of
   extrafamilial abusers (ie. offenders against children
   not of the same family), versus intrafamilial abusers
   (those committing incest, or sexual abuse of family 
   members). However it is possible that extrafamilial 
   abusers are more child fixated, in the sense of engaging
   in more compulsive, repetitive and indiscriminate abuse
   than do intrafamilial abusers.
3) Approximately half of mothers of sexually abused children
   in incest cases have been sexually abused themselves.
   They tend to have a negative attitude to sexual behaviour,
   and a poor relationship with the daughter that may
   contribute to a low capacity to protect the daughter.
4) Disclosure of the abuse may be important in reducing or
   preventing intergenerational transfer (the abused girl 
   becoming the mother of an abused child).
5) There is evidence that many incest families have multiple
   forms of dysfunction.
6) The friends and siblings of the abused child should be
   considered to be themselves at high risk.
7) There is little evidence for a single factor explanation
   for intrafamilial abuse. For example, the idea that all
   or nearly all the fathers were themselves molested as
   children was not supported.
8) Many incest fathers (but certainly not all) tend to be
   passive, with low self-esteem, and an impaired sense of
   masculine identification, consistent with their having
   been abused (physically and sexually) and neglected by
   their own fathers.
9) Only a minority of incest fathers may have a focussed
   deviant sexual attraction to children in general.
10) Incest fathers exhibit lower empathy and bonding with
    their daughters, suggesting a lack of concern for the
    well-being of their daughter, as is an awareness of the
    consequences of their actions for the feelings of others.
    This lack of empathy and concern may be related to a
    lack of involvement in the early care of the child,
    although it could also be a symptom of pre-existing poor
    parenting capacities.
11) It should finally be noted that virtually all studies
    represent biased samples, in that the subjects have
    disclosed or been disclosed.

    Because of this and given the tendency for incestuous
    fathers to deny their abuse, the more normal appearing
    and less disturbed abusers may be more effective at
    preventing disclosure. All the above conclusions arrived
    at could be weaker if they included undetected abusers.


As for how "the child/victim's cognitive and emotional
processing of information and experiences is affected and 
how this may influence behavior (with perpetrator, others,
and throughout life events.)", Section 2.1 of the treatise,
titled 'The impact' notes the following:

"Plunkett and Oates (1990) in their review of methodological
 considerations in sexual or child sexual abuse, noted that
 consistent trends in the reported effects of child sexual
 abuse were low self-esteem, depression, low levels of social
 interaction, feelings of social isolation, poor family
 relationships when adults, substance abuse, and anxiety."

Two other studies are cited as well.

Additionally, this page on the Talent Development Resources
site, entitled 'Cognitive Accommodations to Childhood Sexual
Abuse' by Douglas Eby, offers a 10-page discussion of the
effects of childhood sexual abuse on the victim. Once again,
I cannot comment on a way which will improve the content:

And, finally, you may also be interested in the contents of
this previous question which I answered, which examines the
topic of physical abuse toward children, since incest is
often a matter of abuse, moreso than pedophilia. The difference
between these two is discussed in the treatise above by 
Rod O?Connor (see Section 1.2 of the document):

Please do not rate this answer until you are satisfied that  
the answer cannot be improved upon by way of a dialog  
established through the "Request for Clarification" process. 
A user's guide on this topic is on skermit-ga's site, here: 

Additional information may be found from an exploration of
the links resulting from the Google searches outlined below.

Searches done, via Google:

"biological basis" "Borderline Personality Disorder"

"risk factors for incest"

incest "biological factors"

Request for Answer Clarification by aracelis-ga on 17 May 2004 17:14 PDT
Thank you very much for all of your information- it is beyond helpful.

My only other question is if you know of any studies which show
inclination of male incest abusers (or abusers in general) towards
certain personality characteristics such as those mentioned above
(perfectionism, narcissism etc. .)

What personality disorders (if any) are most common among these people?
(If this deviates too greatly from my original request please let me know.)

Clarification of Answer by sublime1-ga on 17 May 2004 18:54 PDT

Some of the 'traits' you listed in your original question
are actually diagnoses, such as obssessive-compulsive and
narcissistic personality disorders. I'd prefer not to leave
you with the impression that people with certain diagnoses
are more likely to be perpetrators of incest, so I just
want to clarify that up front.

Also in the document authored by Rod O'Connor, he makes it
clear, in Section 4.4.2 on page 24, that:

"While some studies reported some fathers with evidence of
 psychological disturbance, Williams and Finkelhor found
 that the majority of incestuous fathers are unlikely to
 manifest severed [sic] psychiatric impairment. Indeed,
 they felt they could state with confidence that 'there
 are an important group of incestuous fathers, at least a
 quarter or a third, who seem virtually completely normal,
 and who would likely pass psychological testing or
 psychiatric evaluation without problem.'"

That being said, the traits of the abusive personality can
be found summarized nicely on The Recovery Web site:
- Uncontrolled temper.
- Extreme Jealousy. (See Love Addiction.)
- Intense fear of abandonment. 
- A background involving physical, emotional or sexual
  abuse, abandonment, ACOA [Adult Children of Alcohlics]
- Unrealistic expectations of a relationship. (To "fix"
  them or solve their problems.)
- Isolation and antisocial temperament. 
- Recklessness. (dangerous sexual behavior, reckless
  driving, drug use etc.)
- Inability to accept responsibility for their behavior
  and actions, even in the face of dire consequences.
- Cruelty to children/animals.
- Threats of violence.
- Low self-esteem, shame. 
- Codependent personality disorder and/or Love addiction.
- Inability to respect interpersonal boundaries, a
  compulsion to violate boundaries.
- Drug or Alcohol Dependence, self medication.
- Emotional volitility - fear of being "out  of control".
- Need for power and control to compensate for the above.
- Bipolar disorder and / or Borderline Personality Disorder.
- Abuse generally escalates when the partner leaves.
Many of the characteristics above are documented trauma based
adaptations to childhood emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

Since, as I mentioned before, there is somewhat of an overlap
between the abused/abusive personality and those who go on to
commit incest, this is a good starting point.

As Rod O'Connor notes, however, the traits of incest
perpetrators cannot be so neatly generalized, with a 
good percentage of them appearing quite normal.

This is borne out by an article in the Direction Journal,
a Mennonite forum, on 'Child Sexual Abuse in the Church',
by Irene Loewen, under 'PROFILE OF THE AGGRESSOR', about
a third of the way down the page:

"Sexual offenders of children come from all sectors of
 society, are intelligent, and are most often between 35
 and 40 (though grandfathers have been apprehended).
 They are not the 'crazed sex perverts one might expect'
 (Butman, 1983), but were often physically and/or
 sexually abused themselves . . . almost always
 unreported (Groth, 1979). By outward appearances,
 the majority are good providers, the religious heads
 of their homes, active in their church, and hard working.
 Internally, one finds persons who were themselves
 emotionally deprived by their fathers. Fathers were
 either absent frequently or preoccupied. The role
 modeling then was that of a distant, authoritarian
Much more on the page:

So it isn't surprising that a search for the terms
"traits of abusers" results in 38 results, while
adding the term 'incest' or searching specifically
for "traits of incestuous" reduces the useful results
to almost zero. I have illustrated this in the search
results below.

Best regards...


Additional searches done, via Google:

"personality disorders among abusers
1 result

"personality disorders among incest
0 results

"personality disorders of incest
0 results

"personality disorders of perpetrators
1 result

"personality disorders in abusers
0 results

"personality traits in abusers
1 result

"personality traits of abusers
9 results

"traits of abusers
38 results

"traits of abusers" incest
8 results
aracelis-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $15.00
I was under the impression that people may exhibit obsessive
compulsive behaviors and different levels of narcissism without being
diagnosed with a personality disorder.  I thought that it has been
suggested that certain personality characteristics (such as higher
levels of narcissism)may be passed down genetically.  I have noticed
certain patterns in my own family (with many generations of abuse
being replicated) which is why I posed the question.
I'm just a college student, (and not a pysch major!) so I have very
little knowledge in this area.

Thank you so much for all of the information you have provided.  You
have indeed answered my questions- and left me with a great deal more
to think about!

Thanks again,

Subject: Re: Incest (traits of perpetrator and victim)
From: sublime1-ga on 18 May 2004 15:42 PDT

Thanks very much for the rating and the tip.

In regards to your rating comment, it is true that people
use the terms narcissistic, obsessive, and compulsive to
describe behaviors, but there is a difference between, e.g.,
calling someone narcissistic because they seem overly 
concerned with their appearance and the actual diagnosis
of narcissistic, which has less to do with conceit and
more to do with a complex syndrome characterized by 
self-preoccupation, lack of empathy (to the point of 
coming off as cruel), and unconscious deficits in 
self-esteem. One definition of narcisstic, in the 
colloquial sense, is even "The attribute of the human
psyche charactized by admiration of oneself but within
normal limits."

So colloquial usage of a psychological term is often
very imprecise and judgmental, whereas a diagnosis is
formed on the basis of the presence of several unique
identifying factors.

Best regards...


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