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Emotional or Psychological Abuse

This means acts, or behaviour, of one person, or persons, which affect the emotional health of another, or causes distress / anguish. Often it overlaps with other types of abuse. This can make it harder to spot, or to show the impact, particularly in relationships.

However, behaviour by a person that is “controlling or coercive towards another person in an intimate or family relationship” is now a criminal offence under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015.

The key point here is how does the behaviour make the adult at risk feel? If it is stopping them from doing what they want to, causing anxiety or fear, controlling them, isolating them, it is abusive.

This can happen outside of relationships, with carers and even organisations behaving in ways which cause emotional / psychological distress.

What can it look like?

  • Enforced social isolation, depriving people of contact with others – preventing someone accessing services, educational and social opportunities and seeing friends
  • Criticising, making the person feel guilty
  • Intimidation, coercion, harassment, use of threats, humiliation, bullying, swearing or verbal abuse, blaming
  • Removing mobility or communication aids or intentionally leaving someone unattended when they need assistance (this can link with physical abuse)
  • Unreasonable and unjustified withdrawal of services or support (e.g. a carer not carrying out certain tasks)
  • 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
  • Addressing a person in a patronising way
  • Cyber bullying
  • Radicalisation (being exploited by those who would want them to embrace terrorism)

How might you recognise it?

  • A change of mood or behaviour when a particular person is present
  • Withdrawal or change in the psychological state of the person; self-harm
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Low self-esteem, loss of confidence
  • Uncooperative and aggressive behaviour
  • A change of appetite, weight loss/gain
  • Signs of distress: tearfulness, anger; confusion, anxiety
  • Apparent false claims, by someone involved with the person, to attract unnecessary treatment