SHS students deprived of abuse education


The graphic above depicts the national educational requirements regarding teen dating violence. The information shows the Wyoming is 1 of the 25 states that do not require teen dating violence education

Dating abuse is an appalling and ever-growing issue. Most people are relieved that it’s not happening to them…or is it? Studies show that one in three adolescents will experience an abusive or unhealthy relationship at some point in their lives and a decent majority of that group (roughly 33%) won’t even recognize that they’re being abused, nor will they end up reporting it. Mike Swan, the head counselor at SHS, backs this up by saying, “Students are typically very reluctant to report that sort of thing. Typically, a friend or peer will come to one of the counselors and from there we proceed to take the necessary steps.”  It can’t be certain whether or not one will be a part of an abusive relationship, but knowing the signs of abuse now may prove to be crucial in the future.

The physical signs of abuse are typically the most easily identified. Physical abuse includes (but is not limited to) any type of purposeful biting, kicking, hitting, scratching, or pushing with the intent to harm the other person. Sexual abuse, the forcing of undesired sexual behavior from one person unto another, falls into this category as well. According to a study done by Teen Research Unlimited, one in four teenage girls have revealed that they have been pressured to perform sexual acts with their partner against their wishes. Early in this abuse cycle, the violence is often accompanied by what is referred to as a honeymoon period of sudden “niceness” from the abuser, including increased generosity, attention, and affection. Of course, the honeymoon period ends quickly and the abuse generally picks up again afterwards. This form of abuse is dangerous and only continues to worsen the longer it remains unaddressed.

Physical and sexual abuse almost always comes after or is accompanied by emotional abuse. Psychological abuse is the most common and yet least recognized form of dating abuse. According to several online sources, psychological abuse, also known as emotional abuse, is characterized by one partner exerting behaviors that may result in psychological trauma to the other. It involves a regular pattern of verbal offenses, threatening, bullying, and constant criticism, as well as subtler tactics like intimidation, shaming, and manipulation. Abusers will also typically “gaslight” their victim; meaning that they withhold or present false information to make one question their own judgment and sanity. Emotional abuse can easily be ignored because victims often are manipulated into believing the behavior of their partner is normal or that the behavior will change with time. It has been noted in several studies that psychological abuse is cumulatively more severe and damaging than physical abuse.

Abuse of any kind comes with extensive physical and emotional trauma, the possibility of PTSD or acute stress disorder, dissociative disorders, lowered self-esteem, suicidal thoughts or actions, and a wide variety of other health and psychological issues. Characteristics of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other disorders include: emotional numbness, avoiding memory triggers of abuse in people or places, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, increased irritability, vivid flashbacks or dreams, distorted blame of self, inability to remember traumatic events, and hyper vigilance.

“We [saw thinning] in areas that have to do with self-awareness and emotional regulation subsequent to abuse, areas in the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal lobe, which typically show activation when people are asked to think about themselves or reflect on their emotions,” says Jens Pruessner, associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal. The hippocampus is a small organ located within the brain’s medial temporal lobe and forms an important part of the limbic system, the region that regulates emotions. The hippocampus is associated mainly with memory, in particular long-term memory. The organ also plays an important role in spatial navigation and neurogenesis. An atrophy of the hippocampus can be caused by psychological abuse due to excess amounts of stress. After damage to the hippocampus, the brain is always scanning the environment for patterns similar to those in the memories associated with abuse. This is the way this part of the brain is striving to ensure the individual’s survival. But it overreacts or responds to things that are not dangerous, situations that do not truly call for a fight or flight response that the brain ends up triggering.

If you feel you are being abused, remain calm, and remember; the abuse is not your fault and you did not do anything wrong. Seek help from a trusted authority figure such as a police officer, parent, counselor or teacher. The desire to hide the details of the abuse is normal but will be counterproductive in treatment. The best course of action, when you plan to leave your abuser, is to cut off as much contact as you can from this person. Block this person on social media, remove yourself from their environments, seek police assistance to remove this person from your life, and finally seek help from a therapist with experience in psychological abuse.

Even if you do not wish to leave your abuser, it’s important to get help. There are steps you can take without seeking help from others, however the success rate of these methods are very low. Should you choose to stay with your abuser, begin with trying to understand this person; while it may seem counterintuitive to have compassion for the abuser, sometimes a perspective switch can give you insight into coping with the abuse. A considerable amount of abusers also suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses–the abuse is not just about you, it’s also about them as well. After you have a new perspective, it’s critical to no longer act out of emotion, but instead out of complete rationality. Make it clear to your abuser that you are not going to condone their destructive behaviors in your life or anyone else’s. If you choose to pursue therapy with your abuser, it’s important to realize early on that many abusers are skilled manipulators, and may manipulate the therapist into believing you are the problem. It is recommended to only see a very experienced therapist because of this. Professionals suggest that leaving the abuser is the best course of action, as many abusers will not be responsive to the efforts you are putting forth to resolve the issue. Psychological abuse is an increasingly dangerous issue, the difference between a victim’s safety and sanity hang in the balance of knowledge and action.