Speaking to Students about Emotional Abuse

Wahpeton Daily Post

Wahpeton, MD & Breckenridge, MN

Posted: Thursday, November 8, 2007 12:00 am

Emotional abuse begins as a control issue and can spiral into physical abuse. Tom and Melanie Heuerman visited North Dakota State College of Science Wednesday to speak to students on how abuse affects everyday life.

Tom Heuerman, Ph.D., is currently a consultant who has devoted the past 14 years of his life to coaching the impact of abuse. Melanie Heuerman is the administrative officer for the U.S. Department of Justice in Fargo, and also volunteers her time at the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center in Fargo-Moorhead.

“At one time or another, and sometimes more frequently, all of us have been made to feel like ‘nobody’s’ in our life,” Tom Heuerman said, speaking to roughly 50 students in the Plains and Prairie Room. “That includes the most successful and least successful of us.”

Tom Heuerman is a former agent in the U.S. Service and worked for 18 years at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. When he was 52, he received a Ph.D. in leadership and organizational change. In his experience working under corporate management, he found that the male-female dynamic in relationships can be applied to the workplace.

“I’ve never been in an organization where you can’t find abuse,” he said.

Emotional abuse can cause tremendous damage in a work environment, such as money loss, poor employee work efficiency and high turnover. Part of his desire is to help those in the corporate world and in schools to recognize the multiple forms of emotional abuse and the measures individuals can take to prevent it.

Emotional abuse is characterized by body language, words and actions that can hurt or frighten others. While a number of adjectives are associated to each element of abuse, such as rejection, humiliation, anxiety and withdrawal, there is only one element consistent in all definitions.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Tom Heuerman said, “But the core point of the relationship (for abusers) is to hurt and frighten for the purpose of control.”

Other forms of abuse include maltreatment of pets, which is sometimes a precursor to abusing people, and in family settings, an example might be one parent treating a child nicely to emphasize their anger at the other partner.

Abusers tend to be predictable, manipulative and charming, which is a method used to draw the victim in. They have a tendency to always give excuses during arguments and blame others for their troubles.

As a result, victims of abuse typically lose all sense of self, living their life in fear and deny their own needs to avoid furthering it. They suffer from low self-esteem, depression or start abusing drugs. When someone feels consistently put down, ignored, or that their partner is withholding approval or appreciation, these can all be signs indicating an abusive relationship. And while men experience abuse in their life, the great majority of victims are women.

In 2006, roughly 2,800 people passed through the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center in Fargo, Melanie Heuerman said. One thousand six hundred of those victims reported domestic violence and the remaining 1,200 were sexually assaulted.

“In a small community like ours, to hear that there were 1,200 sexual assaults in the Fargo-Moorhead area, that’s a lot,” she said.

One issue that specifically faces women is economic exploitation, where they earn a portion of the family income but it is either taken away or they have little say in where it is pooled. But whether men or women suffer from emotional abuse, the scars run deep and cause the greatest harm.

Tom Heuerman told the male students to stand up for women and get involved.

“The greatest problem is indifference,” he said. “Unless we start holding ourselves absolutely accountable, organizations like the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center will only help the wounded. We have to get on the other side of it.”

One thought on “Speaking to Students about Emotional Abuse

  1. Excellent offering — both the event and your article about it…
    Thanks to both of you for bringing such an important topic forward.
    In loving spirit, Eleanor


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