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Understanding emotional abuse

When someone is repeatedly hurting you with their words or actions, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone.

Content Warning: this article contains violence and trauma related content that may be triggering or distressing.

Teen sitting in the dark while adult swears at them

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse happens when someone repeatedly treats you in a way that makes you feel scared, worthless or alone.

  • It’s sometimes called psychological or verbal abuse.
  • It can happen in any relationship – with a parent, family member, partner, ex-partner, carer or support worker.
  • It involves someone repeatedly saying or doing things that are damaging to your confidence, self-esteem and independence.
  • Emotional abuse can include constant yelling, criticising, isolating and bullying.
  • Emotional abuse can be just as harmful as physical abuse.
  • Nothing you say or do makes it ok for someone to emotionally abuse you.

Types of emotional abuse

Some examples of emotional abuse include:

Calling you names or constantly putting you down

Never saying anything kind or praising you on a success

Forcing you to do things by scaring you

Bullying, teasing or insulting you

Constantly criticising, humiliating or blaming you

Frequently swearing, shouting, yelling or screaming at you

Ignoring you or pretending you aren’t there

Controlling or withholding your money

Making you feel afraid, intimidated or threatened

Isolating you from family, friends or restricting your freedom

Having unrealistic expectations or unreasonable demands of you

Driving recklessly in the car to scare you or destroying your property

Threatening to harm you, your pets or other people you care about

Telling you that you’re worthless, unloved or not enough

Not allowing you to express your view or making fun of what you say

Treating you badly because of things you can’t change (eg. disability, religion, race, past)

You deserve to be treated with care and respect. No-one has the right to make you feel bad about yourself.

Emotional abuse can be just as hurtful and painful

While emotional abuse might not be as obvious or hurt you physically, it can be just as harmful on your mental health and wellbeing.

You may feel:

  • Anxious, angry or confused
  • Fearful of doing something wrong
  • Shame, guilt, helpless or controlled
  • Sad, lonely or like hurting yourself
  • Self-conscious or self-critical
  • Unable to express your feelings
  • Unloved, unwanted or rejected
  • Worthless, hopeless or betrayed
  • Unable to trust others or eager to please them
  • Other areas of your life (work, study) are impacted too

If emotional abuse is happening to you…

It’s important to remember:

You’re not alone
Abuse is NEVER OK
This is NOT your fault
Anyone at any point in their life can experience abuse
You deserve to be treated with care and respect
Kids Helpline is here for you

When you’re constantly being treated in a way that makes you feel bad about yourself, you may start to believe what they’re saying is true and that you deserve to be treated this way – BUT you don’t.

There are people you can talk to who can help

Here’s a list of some people you could try talking to. Remember, if at first you don’t get help, keep trying until you find somebody who will help you.

Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800

1800 RESPECT - 1800 737 73


A relative or friend

Doctor or nurse


There’s always help available

If you’re worried or scared for yourself or a friend, our counsellors will listen and support you.

Talking about abuse can be hard, but we’ll always listen and support you. Give us a call, start a WebChat or send us an email.

This content was last reviewed 19/07/2018

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