Accessibility: A A A Colour Black and White

Psychological or Emotional Abuse

Psychological or emotional abuse

Types of psychological or emotional abuse

  • Enforced social isolation – preventing someone accessing services, educational and social opportunities and seeing friends
  • Removing mobility or communication aids or intentionally leaving someone unattended when they need assistance
  • Preventing someone from meeting their religious and cultural needs
  • Preventing the expression of choice and opinion
  • Failure to respect privacy
  • Preventing stimulation, meaningful occupation or activities
  • Intimidation, coercion, harassment, use of threats, humiliation, bullying, swearing or verbal abuse
  • Addressing a person in a patronising or infantilising way
  • Threats of harm or abandonment
  • Cyber bullying

Possible indicators of psychological or emotional abuse

  • An air of silence when a particular person is present
  • Withdrawal or change in the psychological state of the person
  • Insomnia
  • Low self-esteem
  • Uncooperative and aggressive behaviour
  • A change of appetite, weight loss/gain
  • Signs of distress: tearfulness, anger
  • Apparent false claims, by someone involved with the person, to attract unnecessary treatment

BBC Scotland: ‘I didn’t know emotional abuse was a thing’

  • 1 February 2018
Image caption Jennifer says it is now clear she suffered psychological abuse

Looking back Jennifer says it is “as clear as day” that she suffered emotional abuse in her relationship with her ex-boyfriend.  However, at the time, she did not realise how bad it was because it was “death by a thousand cuts”.

“It was not until afterwards, until I’d actually managed to get out of the relationship, that I recognised some of the behaviour,” she says.  “Looking back it was pretty damaging. You are left with a residue of particular behaviours that are not ok.

Jennifer said it had taken a long time since she split with her boyfriend to realise that she was not responsible for his behaviour during their relationship.  She says she was constantly changing her own behaviour in response to his unreasonable expectations.

“It is little things like you would be out for a night out with friends and after he would say how you had embarrassed him and you’d be rattling through your mind thinking ‘what did I do?’,” she says.

“It sounds ridiculous now when I say it out loud but a lot of that happened.  “It is that idea of getting systematically chipped away at until you just submit.”  Jennifer says it made her start believing there was a problem with her behaviour.

“You start thinking maybe I’m too much,” she says.  “Maybe there is something wrong with me.”

Scottish government advert

That led to “coping” methods, she says, changing her behaviour so that she did not annoy her boyfriend.  “You think ‘he doesn’t like that so I’d better change that bit about me’,” she says.

“You start to clock up these ideas of ‘I’d better not wear this’ or ‘if I say this or I’m too loud then maybe it’s my fault’.”  Jennifer says she created her own “prison” in her head.

“We are taught as women to absorb this stuff and adapt to it rather than to ask questions about that behaviour in the first place,” she says.  “Friends were saying to me ‘this isn’t right’,”  “I didn’t know that emotional abuse was a thing really,” she says.

“I look back now and it is as clear as day but at the time I didn’t realise it because it was all little things.”  Jennifer now wants other women to recognise the signs of psychological abuse.

She says: “It has often not been taken seriously until there are bruises, until there are cuts, until people are in situations where they are almost getting killed.  “I think it can be stopped way before then if you recognise the signs and the signs are taken seriously.”

What now?- Relate suggests the following:

(Please click on this link) Relate

One of the most helpful first steps if you feel you’re in an abusive relationship is to speak to someone outside of it.

If you can talk to someone who isn’t involved, they might be able to lend you a little perspective. This can be a particularly useful if you’re not sure where you stand – sometimes, behaviour we’ve become used to can seem quite clearly unreasonable to an objective outsider.

This person might be a member of your family or a friend. Or it may be a Relationship Counsellor. Counsellors are trained to unpick situations like this, helping you and your partner to understand where any abusive behaviour might be coming from and how you can work together to move towards a more mutually respectful and healthy relationship.

You may want to come along by yourself at first, especially if you don’t think your partner would react well to the suggestion. We can then help you figure out what’s happening – and whether inviting your partner along so you can work on things together would be a good idea. Our Live Chat service allows you to exchange messages with a counsellor online for free – that could be a good place to start.

Other organisations also provide support. These include:

  • Women’s Aid, which has a 24 hour helpline (0808 2000 247). They can talk you through any issues and help you figure out what you’d like to do next. They also have an email service.
  • Live Fear Free, advice on domestic abuse, sexual violence and violence against women (Wales), 0808 8010 800.
  • The Men’s Advice Line (0808 801 0327) provides the same service for men
  • End Domestic Abuse