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Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse refers to emotional torment instilled in one person by another. It can be carried out by a family member, partner, or in the work environment. Often seen as a form of bullying, it represents the imposition of control of the victim by the abuser through a deliberate and repeated act of instilling psychological distress.

The abuser tends to be someone the victim has an emotional attachment to (partner, child, etc.) or a person in a position of power (boss, work colleague etc.) It is more than a one-off event and is done intentionally to distress over a period of time.


Both men and women can be victims of emotional abuse either at home or in the workplace.


Overt abuse refers to the direct application of emotional distress.

This can include:

  • The abuser being derogatory towards the survivor, for example: “you’re useless”, “you’re ugly” etc.

  • The abuser placing undue pressure on the survivor, for example: giving a large workload and demanding that it is completed within an unrealistic time frame. When the work has not been completed, the abuser may shout, be derogatory, or impose social restrictions.

  • The abuser imposing social restrictions on the victim.

  • The abuser may be controlling the victim’s financial freedom, checking emails or phone texts or other controlling behaviour.



Covert abuse refers to the indirect application of emotional distress which can be more subtle and not so obvious but is still abusive in nature.

  • This can include:

  • Ignoring the survivor.

  • Allowing the survivor to overhear derogatory remarks made about them to others.

  • Ignoring the needs of the survivor, for example: turning music up when the survivor is trying to concentrate; turning off a television programme that the survivor is watching; etc.


As a one-off experience, any of the above actions could effectively be coped with. However as a repeated act it will cause prolonged distress and suffering to the survivor.

The effects of prolonged emotional abuse can include:

  • Lack of self-esteem

  • Fear

  • Lack of self-belief

  • Depression

  • Stigmatisation

  • Future relationship issues

  • Feelings of responsibility

  • Feelings of isolation

  • Trauma

  • Stress

  • Anxiety


The fear instilled by the abuse prevents the survivor from appropriately handling the situation and consequently allows the abuse to continue.

What you should know and do if you are emotionally abused

If you feel you are a victim of emotional abuse within a relationship, remember you have a right to be treated with equal respect by your partner. You have the right to your own opinions, financial independence, social freedom and the right to say no to sexual contact. You also have the right to end the relationship if it is not right for you. 


Recognise too that you cannot change your partner. Many victims stay in the abusive relationship in the hope that their partner will change. Abusers do not change from receiving compassion, they change by learning to act with compassion and this is not your responsibility.

Although it may feel as though you are betraying your partner it is essential you confide in someone. Reach out to family, friends, neighbours or search for professional help by going to this page : on the Living Without Abuse website and look at the Get Help Now section.

If you are victim of emotional abuse at work, you should:

  • Talk to others within the workplace - colleagues, supervisor, personnel department, trade union representative. Take advice on the options open to you to deal with this e.g. by making a formal complaint through the grievance procedure. 

  • Find out whether your place of work has an Anti-Bullying Policy in operation. 

  • Keep a diary of all incidents with dates and times and copies of any notes, memos etc. from the bully which you feel constitute bullying, intimidation, harassment etc. 

  • Write to the bully clearly saying that you find their behaviour is unacceptable and amounts to bullying and set out the reasons why you believe this. Keep copies of any letters you send to the bully. 

  • If it is possible to tape conversations where you are being bullied then do so. 

  • Try to look at ways of being assertive and standing up to the bully. 

  • If other colleagues witness any incidents where you are being bullied ask them whether they would be willing to write a statement relating to what they witnessed. 

If you have to take time off sick due to being bullied at work ask your GP to record this on your certificate. (1)

More advice and support is available at SupportLine:

Tel : 01708 765200
email :
Workplace bullying, stress, employment law and you.


The aim of hypnotherapy for survivors of emotional abuse is to help support them regain a sense of their former balanced emotional state. This may include helping develop assertiveness skills, which may have become seriously damaged during the abuse; regaining a positive sense of self; recovering from traumatic events and periods of emotional distress and learning to reduce the anxiety or lowered mood which may have been created by the abuse.

If you feel you would like to experience how hypnotherapy can help you restore a feeling of well-being please do get in touch for a free 30 minute confidential consultation or to book a session. 

1.    Retrieved from

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