Emotionally Abused by Teacher

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

(I’ve edited this letter down by half) From a 19 year old young man:
When I was 12 years old a new teacher came to my school. She was young, approx. 22 years old, and this was her second year of teaching. We clicked from day 1, and over time, we developed a strong, positive student – teacher relationship.. . We began email communication between her and I. At first, they weren’t really anything, just conversations about school, the subject she taught, and things we had in common (which turned out to be a lot).

With time however, the emails changed and they became more personal. Soon, I became the all – knowing ear, with total insight into my teacher’s personal life. No topic was off limits. Now, she wasn’t stupid, she never disclosed serious details in the emails, merely just hinted at them. Instead, she told me of the juicy stuff in person.

We spent a significant amount of time alone together. She would ask me to stay in the classroom alone with her during the recess and lunch hour breaks and she would tell me the issues, stresses, and joys of her life: past, present, and future. I often stayed after school with her. . . On occasion, she pulled me out of some of my classes to spend time with her during her preps, telling my teachers some lie about how she needed me, or I had to do some “make – up test” that never really existed. This behaviour, as I have said, started when I was 12 and continued on for 4 years.

In the 10th grade, when I was 15, a new guidance councellor. . . asks me about the relationship I had with my teacher. She tells me said teacher had come to her the previous day and they had A NICE LONG TALK ABOUT ME. I am informed that I had crossed the imaginary boundary that should exist between student – teacher relationships and measures must be taken to nudge me back across. I am then given a list of rules I am to follow and I am threatened that If I ever break any of an exagustave set of rules, my permanent records may “suddenly” change, making sure I never get to go to university. . .

Amongst the threats I began to get this overwhelming feeling wash over me, and the only word that comes close is NUMB. Not like the sensation from the cold, but numb to my surroundings. I guess I was trying to remove myself from that situation; it was like I had gone somewhere else. That numbness never left. Sure, it weakend over time, but I still walk around like a part of me is numb to this day, and it follows me. . .It’s like the part of me that looked up to my teacher, that part that trusted her, the part that cared, well It died, but never
went away… I felt so depressed, so upset, and so confused. Never had I ever been made to feel like I wasn’t a person, like I didn’t deserve the respect of a human being, and yet somehow I was left to feel that way.

I was 15, and that day has scarred me for the rest of my life. I believe that I would have been a much different version of myself if not for that day. That day I lost all faith in people. I couldn’t believe that a person whom I trusted whole – heartily was capable of such cruelty. As a result of that day, I run from people for fear of anyone putting me through that kind of pain again. I CAN’T go through that again. . .

I know that endings are inevitable, it is one of life’s hardest lessons to learn. But she strewed me along for 4 years,depended on me, then suddenly betrayed me, walked all over me, and went out of her way to make sure she made me feel like I didn’t exist for the next 2…… It left wounds so deep that time has yet to heal. I know that she was responsible for the individuals she taught every day. She was supposed to mentor them, guide them, and help them. One student (ie.Me) was NOT supposed to do that for her. I was not there to be her one-person support group. I wasn’t supposed to be herr crutch, or offfer her advice and encouragement, but I did, because she asked me to. . .

I get flashbacks of what happened that day with the guidance. counc. and although I have been out of school for almost a year, I’m still afraid of what they said they’d do to me if I ever talked. I often drift off into old memories, almost as If I’m reliving them, I sleep way, way too much and still cry about this experience like I did the day after it happened.

this year I did make the decision to see a therapist at my university, and it was the 1st time I had told my story to someone who mattered. It was difficult, as I have serious trust issues in general, but specifically with people in positions of authority. I have continued my sessions, but I still feel like I’m stuck back in that office, in 2005, and the numbness just won’t go away. I was told that this experience mildy traumatized me, but I think it’s more than a mild trauma. I am just looking for a second opinion I guess.

A: Thank you for writing. I’m sure it was difficult to put the story into words yet again. I’m very glad you are seeing a therapist. And, yes, I agree with the diagnosis – with one exception. I don’t think this was a “mild” trauma. From your description, this was a highly traumatic experience for you. I wonder if you shared the whole story with your therapist. If not, please consider showing him/her the entire letter you wrote to me.

Your teacher crossed an important professional boundary. The fact that you think you had a lot in common despite a 10 year age difference suggests she was also highly immature. She used you for her personal emotional needs. By keeping you so involved with her, she also deprived you of normal teen experiences. As painful as it can be, flirting, trying out relationships and the shake ups and break ups, help a young person learn what kind of person they want to be with and how to be close to someone special. By convincing you that you were her most intimate friend, your teacher gradually isolated you from your peers. This is emotional abuse. She pulled you into emotional content and experiences that you weren’t ready for. The only “silver lining” in this story is that the relationship was stopped before it became even more intimate; perhaps even sexual. It seemed to be headed that way.

My guess is that someone tipped off the authorities and her job was in jeopardy. Rather than take responsibility for what she had done, she somehow convinced her superiors that there was something wrong with you, leaving you, a young boy, feeling betrayed and ashamed and scared. If that weren’t enough, you were threatened into silence. It’s no wonder to me that the way the relationship ended traumatized you.

Fortunately, you are still young. At 19, your feelings and your intellect are still growing. With some good therapy, you can integrate what happened and move on. Yes, you were deeply, deeply wounded. But with proper treatment wounds do heal and scars can fade over time.

I encourage you to stick with your therapy and to be as honest as you know how with your therapist. You will at times feel strong feelings. Let your therapist help you through them instead of running from them. Once the wound is cleaned out, you can assign the blame and shame where it belongs — with a teacher who misused her position and your vulnerability for her own ends.

I salute you for telling your story in this forum. By sharing you are helping other young people who have been hurt this way feel less alone.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 May 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). Emotionally Abused by Teacher. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/05/16/emotionally-abused-by-teacher/

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