Emotional Abuse

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What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse is the continual emotional mistreatment of someone. It can sometimes be called psychological abuse. It involves deliberate repeated acts which are intended to be emotionally harmful. Although emotional abuse can happen on its own it is often a part of other kinds of abuse such as domestic abuse, stalking, grooming, neglect, bullying, discrimination, harassment and more.

Emotional abuse is a key part of a lot of different kinds of abuse – in domestic abuse of adults as well as the abuse of children. It can happen in the home, in the workplace, in school, online, anywhere. It can happen in families, with friends, colleagues and strangers. It is usually subtle and cunning but it can be very harmful and damaging.

Types of emotional abuse

Emotionally abusive behaviour includes:

  • Humiliating or being constantly critical;
  • Threatening, shouting or calling names;
  • Making the victim the subject of jokes or being sarcastic;
  • Blaming and scapegoating;
  • Trying to control the victim’s life and what they do;
  • Coercing or controlling the victim to do things which they don’t want to do, including performing degrading acts;
  • Stopping contact with friends;
  • Persistently ignoring;
  • Being absent and out of contact to keep the victim off balance;
  • Manipulating;
  • Not saying anything kind or positive or congratulating successes;
  • Not showing any positive emotions in interactions.

These are only some examples and many victims will have their own experiences that can be included.

Signs of emotional abuse – how it’s affected the victim and its impact

There might not be any obvious physical signs of emotional abuse but there will be immediate effects as well as an overall impact which might include:

  • Upset and crying;
  • Shock;
  • Dread and anxiety of it happening, particularly in situations where it has occurred before;
  • Being preoccupied and continually thinking about what’s happening;
  • Wanting to hide or run away;
  • Not being able to concentrate on normal things;
  • Loss of confidence or self-assurance;
  • Struggling to control emotions;
  • Difficulty making new relationships or keeping up relationships with family or friends;
  • Depression, anxiety, heavy drinking or other mental health problems;
  • Sleeplessness.

How can I prove emotional abuse?

As emotional abuse doesn’t take any physical form, it can be hard to prove. The abuse is often behind closed doors and it can leave the victim questioning if it really is emotional abuse.

These doubts may mean that you don’t know if (and when) you should try and gather evidence, but trust us – having the evidence there really does help.

With our online tools and downloadable evidence gathering app, you can collect and record examples of behaviour which can be used to ascertain if you are being emotionally abused. These tools could be vital in helping to give you some clarity on the situation and keep a record of unacceptable behaviour that you are being subjected to.

Read our essential advice guide on how to prove emotional abuse.

How can ONRECORD help with my emotional abuse case?

We developed ONRECORD to help you collect, record and store evidence.

Developed by a lawyer and a doctor, ONRECORD will allow you to gather sufficient evidence and make your case.


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Record Examples

See some records made using ONRECORD to help you understand what kind of records you should keep.

Useful Websites

For advice and support regarding emotional abuse, here are some useful helplines:


Mental Health Foundation