Abuse: It’s not just physical

Chapman students Riley Zehnle, Madison McGregor, Katy Titus and Sophia Yeh have much in common besides their studies: They’ve left romantic relationships bruised, scarred and hurt. Yet no one ever touched them.

Physically, that is.

Instead, they were the victims of emotionally unhealthy relationships.

“He would make me feel worthless. Absolutely worthless. Any time I would hang out with him, I’d find myself feeling even lonelier than if I was by myself,” said Titus, a sophomore business administration major.

Many Chapman students unknowingly reside in unhealthy romantic relationships and believe they lack the skills to recognize and leave it behind. However, at Chapman there are resources and educational tools in place to combat this problem.

One of them is Healthy Panther, an orientation program for freshmen and transfer students. It was in a Healthy Panther session that McGregor, a freshman oboe performance major, first realized how much her relationship was in trouble.

“I never labeled my relationship as abusive because there was no physical contact and I didn’t know the definition of dating abuse,” she said. “That was where the Healthy Panther slide came in with 14 bullet points defining an unhealthy relationship. I said yes to every single one of them, and every yes was a strong yes.” 

Another source for support is Dani Smith, a rape crisis counselor who also runs the PEER program dealing with all kinds of relationships. She has counseled countless Chapman students.

Smith points out that not everyone knows what an unhealthy relationship looks like.

“A healthy relationship is where you have two individuals who feel relatively good about themselves and are not using another individual for their self-esteem or for their happiness,” Smith said. “The bottom line is that we have to make ourselves happy.”

McGregor was under the misconception that the scars on her heart meant nothing since none showed on her skin. She thought that an abusive relationship was only classified by physical violence.

“Many people think that abuse is hitting, physical, and that is abuse, but abuse can be much more insidious than that,” Smith said. “If folks are overly jealous that’s a red flag or really controlling of another human being or if one of the individuals in the relationship wants to see [their partner’s] passwords and emails and Facebook, all these are strong indicators that the relationship is unhealthy.”

McGregor recalled many warning signs of how her relationship was abusive, such as obsessive texts and a controlling partner.

“I felt miserable. I wasn’t allowed to have any friends,” McGregor said.   

Zehnle, sophomore news and documentary production major, felt threatened in her controlling relationship and was left with no freedom to do what she wanted to do, whether it be wearing an outfit she loved, or spending time with her close friends.

“You should be able to be your own person in a relationship without worrying about what your partner will think,” Zehnle said.

According to some students, the hardest part is reaching out to people for help.

“If you think a friend is the victim of an abusive relationship don’t be a passive bystander,” Zehnle said.

Yeh’s partner controlled her life, with “rules” dictating her actions, threatening to burn her possessions if she broke his rules. He even went so far as to threaten to commit suicide if Yeh decided to break up with him.

“I felt like my hands were tied behind my back. It made me feel like an object, like property. Whatever I did had to be approved. It was very demeaning and upsetting. I felt so stupid all the time,” said Yeh, sophomore business administration and accounting double major.

Yeh’s relationship became so toxic that she became physically unhealthy due to the emotional abuse. Yeh was expected to spend every moment outside of class talking to her partner, even at the cost of her missing meals.

“Freshman year I lost so much weight because I couldn’t go to the caf,” Yeh said.

However, since coming to Chapman, McGregor, Zehnle, Titus and Yeh found support through their new friends made on campus.

“Chapman is a place where healthy relationships can thrive, though there are those dark corners where the unhealthy ones can thrive too,” McGregor said. “But I like the environment better because the people I’ve met so far are all so open and almost protective as friends. And that’s pretty much everyone on this campus that I’ve met.”

If a student thinks her relationship may be unhealthy, counselor Smith said to “simply end it like a grown-up. Go to the individual and say ‘I just don’t think this is working out.’”

Smith also encourages students who feel unsafe in their relationship to seek out the

Chapman Student Psychological Counseling Services (SPCS), located at 410 N. Glassell St. It offers therapy sessions and overall support by licensed therapists and psychologists free to undergraduate Chapman students. This service is available to students Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“The Psychological Services Center has been beneficial in helping me find a long-term therapist,” Zehnle said.

If the situation is more serious or involves threats, students should go to the offices of the Dean of Students in Argyros Forum room 101 or the office of Dani Smith in Argyros Forum room 303.


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