What is Emotional Abuse?

It is important to consider the legislation and statutory guidance in place relating to emotional abuse. Emotional and psychological abuse can be found in both Domestic Abuse Act 2021 as well as Care and Support Statutory Guidance under the Care Act 2014. 

Domestic Abuse Act 2021

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 came into force in April 2021, statutory guidance was published during 2022. 

For more information Please see the Domestic Abuse Pages 

Emotional or psychological abuse

Domestic abuse often involves emotional or psychological abuse. Some of these behaviours will also be controlling or coercive behaviour. Emotional or psychological

abuse can include:

  • Manipulating a person’s anxieties or beliefs or abusing a position of trust;
  • Hostile behaviours or silent treatment as part of a pattern of behaviour to make
  • the victim feel fearful.
  • Being insulted, including in front of others. This includes insulting someone
  • about their race, sex or gender identity, gender reassignment, sexual
  • orientation, disability, age, faith or belief or undermining an individual’s ability to
  • parent or ability to work.
  • Repeatedly being belittled.
  • Keeping a victim awake/preventing them from sleeping.
  • Using violence or threats towards assistance dogs and pets to intimidate the
  • victim and cause distress, including threatening to harm the animal as well as
  • controlling how the owner is able to care for the animal.
  • Threatening to harm third parties (for example family, friends or colleagues).
  • Using social media sites to intimidate the victim and persuading a victim to doubt their own sanity or mind (including ‘gaslighting’).

Verbal abuse

Verbal abuse may amount to emotional or psychological abuse, threatening behaviour or controlling or coercive behaviour. Examples include:

  • Repeated yelling and shouting;
  • Abusive, insulting, threatening or degrading language;
  • Verbal humiliation either in private or in company;
  • Being laughed at and being made fun of; and
  • Discriminating against someone or mocking them about their disability, sex or
  • gender identity, gender reassignment, religion or faith belief, sexual orientation,
  • age, physical appearance etc.

For emotional abuse to be considered Domestic Abuse the victim (term used in the act to denote someone who has experienced domestic abuse) and perpetrator must be personally connected. Section 13 of the statutory guidance state that: Section 2 of the 2021 Act provides the definition of “personally connected” and this includes those who would constitute a “relative” of the victim. The definition of “relative” has the meaning given under section 63(1) of the Family Law Act 1996 (‘the 1996 Act’) which includes immediate biological family, stepfamily and extended family of an individual including such family members of their present or former spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner” and s14 of the statutory guidance outlines that the victim and perpetrator does not need to be living together.

Psychological abuse according to Care and Support Statutory Guidance

Chapter 14 sets out:

  • emotional abuse
  • threats of harm or abandonment
  • deprivation of contact
  • humiliation
  • blaming
  • controlling
  • intimidation
  • coercion
  • harassment
  • verbal abuse
  • cyber bullying
  • isolation
  • unreasonable and unjustified withdrawal of services or supportive networks

Some further information in regard to examples and certain circumstances of psychological 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

It is important that we have an awareness and understanding of the different legislation in place and how we need to respond to concerns about emotional and psychological abuse depending on the situation. For example, we need to know how to respond to emotional abuse when the involved are ‘Personally Connected’ as this would differ to how we respond to someone with care and support needs who are being cyber bullied as an example.  

Emotional and psychological abuse and care and support needs

Emotional abuse of someone with care and support needs indicate a safeguarding concern and should be reported to Local Authorities under s42 Care Act 2014. Emotional abuse which is not Domestic Abuse can take several different forms: a care worker who mocks a person they care for, people in a community setting who yells and bullies a person with care and support needs. However, someone with care and support needs could also be the victim of Domestic Abuse (which is a Type of Abuse set out in statutory guidance).

When we talk about safeguarding the term used is often if ‘harm occurred’, with psychological abuse this would not be as easy to spot as it would someone who was harmed by a physical assault. As such, as practitioners we must consider whether we have reasonable cause to suspect that the persons dignity was impacted and that there emotional wellbeing was subjected to harm. This may not be the easiest thing for someone to express to you, therefore you must consider how you approach this as emotional and psychologic abuse is closely linked with a person’s sense of self, worth and wellbeing.