Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse (also known as psychological abuse) is when a child or young person is persistently emotionally mistreated.

Emotional abuse can take many forms, including:

  • Humiliating, mocking, and calling names
  • Isolation and ignoring
  • Constant criticising
  • Threatening
  • Shouting or deliberately making the child afraid
  • Blaming and scapegoating
  • Manipulating
  • Being absent or never expressing emotions (also known as emotional neglect)
  • Never saying anything kind or expressing positive feelings or praise
  • Exposing the child to traumatic events (i.e. taking drugs, violence)
  • Not recognising a child’s individuality, boundaries or limitations
  • Imposing inappropriate or unrealistic expectations on a child
  • Not allowing a child to socialise
  • Making a child perform degrading acts
  • Telling a child they are worthless or ugly

It may involve bullying, making a child feel frightened or in danger or exploiting or corrupting them.

Emotional abuse can have long-lasting and devastating effects on a child’s emotional health and development. Children and young people who are emotionally abused may also be the victims of other types of abuse, such as physical abusesexual abuse and neglect.

Effects of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse has serious long-term effects on the physical, emotional, and social health and development of a child, including:

  • Behaviour problems. Children who are emotionally abused might become ‘clingy’, develop risky or dangerous behaviour (i.e. stealing, bullying, running away), stop caring about the consequences of their behaviour, and act in a way that purposefully offends or upsets other people.
  • Impaired emotional development. Children who have been emotionally abused ay have difficulties expressing and controlling emotions, may have difficulties with relationships later in life, may lack confidence and be shy, and are more likely to have mental health problems compared to people who experienced different types of child abuse.
  • Mental health issues. Emotional abuse can increase the risk of mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts.

Find out how to spot the signs of emotional abuse here.


If you are concerned about a child, please contact Front Door For Families on 01273 290400, FrontDoorForFamilies@brighton-hove.gov.uk, or use their Online Referral Form.

If a child is in immediate danger,
you should contact the
police by calling 999.