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Emotional abuse

If someone is always putting you down, shouting at you or making you feel bad about yourself, this is emotional abuse. It's wrong, even if they are not doing it on purpose. It can make you feel scared, stressed and upset.

What is emotional abuse?

Girl looking downward gloomily

Emotional abuse happens when someone regularly behaves nastily to you. It could be someone you care about, someone who looks after you or someone you often have to spend time with. You might find yourself worrying a lot about how to please them or keep them in a happy mood.

Emotional abuse is when someone:

  • calls you names or keeps shouting at you, even if you haven't done anything wrong

  • puts you down or says you aren’t good enough
  • ignores you or leaves you out of things
  • says or does things that make you feel bad about yourself
  • pushes you away or makes you feel like you don’t belong in the family
  • makes you do things that are not your responsibility, like caring for your brothers and sisters
  • tries to control you or push you too hard
  • treats you differently from your brothers or sisters
  • puts you in dangerous situations
  • is aggressive and violent to other people in your family and you keep witnessing it
  • stops you from having friends.

What to do if you are being emotionally abused

Tell someone
If you are being emotionally abused it can help to tell someone about what is happening. You can talk to a ChildLine counsellor online by having a 1-2-1 chat, or phone free on 0800 1111. We know this can be difficult and you might worry about what may happen or whether you will be believed. ChildLine is here to listen to you. 

Write it in a letter
If it's too difficult to tell someone in person you might find it easier to write a letter about what is happening to an adult you trust. If you feel like it you can talk about it with a ChildLine counsellor.  

Keep a diary of what's happening
You could also keep a diary of the abuse, recording what has happened and when. Show this to an adult you trust. This could be a family member, a friend or someone at school such as a teacher or counsellor. Keeping a diary can help you get your thoughts in order and decide what you want to say.

Contact social services
Social services (also called children’s services) are people who work for the government by making sure families have the things they need. They are not part of ChildLine. Some young people make the decision to contact social services so they can get help for themselves or their family. If you’re thinking about this, a ChildLine counsellor can talk to you about what you would like to happen. They can support you with making the decision. In certain situations ChildLine can contact social services on your behalf.

  • Who emotionally abuses people?

    Emotional abuse can come from:

    - parents or carers
    - brothers or sisters
    - other people in your family
    - people your own age including friends, classmates, boyfriends or girlfriends
    - other adults you spend time with such as teachers.

    Sometimes it can be hard to know if something is emotional abuse. If you think you are being emotionally abused you can talk to ChildLine in a 1-2-1 online chat or call us free on 0800 1111.

  • Why do some people emotionally abuse others?

    There are lots of different reasons why a person might choose to abuse you emotionally. Only the person doing this would know why they are behaving in this way. Whatever their reasons, it’s definitely not okay. It is also not your fault.

    Someone might not realise that what they are saying or doing is upsetting you, but this can still be emotional abuse. At other times, they might be doing it on purpose to hurt you. The person doing it might try and frighten you, make you feel embarrassed or make you feel bad about yourself in some way. They might be taking their own stress out on you. They might also feel a need to control other people. Emotional abuse is never right and you shouldn’t have to put up with it.

  • How can emotional abuse feel?

    Emotional abuse can hurt people very deeply. It can affect your whole life including your confidence and your self-esteem. You can be left feeling angry, upset or like you don’t matter. You might be feeling like you deserve to be treated in this way or are not good enough. Because emotional abuse is not physical, it is sometimes hard for people to express how they feel about it and get help. 

    Some young people who call ChildLine about emotional abuse tell us they self-harm or develop problems with eating. This could be a way of coping with emotional abuse or showing the pain they're going through inside. Being emotionally abused can leave you feeling anxious, depressed and sometimes even suicidal. If you are having any of these feelings ChildLine is here to help you.

  • Is it my fault if I’m being emotionally abused?

    No. Nobody has the right to emotionally abuse you. Sometimes the person who’s abusing you might try very hard to make you believe that it’s your fault. This could be their way of trying to stop you from getting help. If you’re being made to feel bad, you don’t have to put up with it. It’s the abusive person who needs to change.

    Sometimes young people who talk to ChildLine don’t realise that what has happened to them is emotional abuse and that it's wrong. This can be because they are used to being treated in this way. It can seem normal to them. You deserve to be treated with care and respect.

  • What if no one believes me?

    It can be a big step to tell someone about what’s happening. It can also be difficult to explain why someone is making you feel bad. It might feel strange or embarrassing to talk about it, but we are here to listen to you. You can say anything you want to a ChildLine counsellor.

    No one at ChildLine is going to laugh at you or say they don't believe you. ChildLine is a confidential place for you to talk. If you are worried about people finding out you spoke to ChildLine, you could look at our confidentiality promise which explains more about why you can trust us. Find out more about how to hide your visits to the ChildLine website.

  • My friend is always getting shouted at. Is this emotional abuse?

    Many families argue, but if your friend is often scared or depressed because of the way somebody treats them, this could be emotional abuse. The best thing to do is talk to your friend and suggest that they contact ChildLine or talk to an adult they trust. If that doesn't work you could talk to us yourself. You can also look at our page about helping a friend.

Other sites that can help

Find out more about how to spot the signs of abuse in relationships, including emotional abuse.
This Is Abuse

Quizzes to help you spot the signs of abuse in your family or relationship.
Is it happening to me? (The Hideout)

Learn more about verbal bullying, which can form part of emotional abuse.
Bullying UK

Online chat

Chat to a ChildLine counsellor online in a 1-2-1 session any time you want. Sign up to start talking.

Online chat

Emotional abuse

Have you ever experienced emotional abuse, or do you know someone who has? Post a message on the message board and get support from the ChildLine community.

Abuse and safety message board

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Emotional abuse 


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