There are many ways we can hurt each other. The worst kinds of hurt are not necessarily the ones caused by physical attacks. To cause emotional harm to another person means that you have behaved in a way which will hurt someone’s sense of self, by making them frightened, confused or  thinking they aren’t worth loving.

For behaviour to qualify as ’emotional abuse’ in care proceedings it must be serious and persistent behaviour, not a ‘one off’. Professor Iwaniec describes it as:

‘hostile or indifferent behaviour which damages a child’s sense of self esteem, degrades a sense of achievement, diminishes a sense of belonging, prevents healthy and vigorous development and takes away a child’s well being’.

For example,  if children regularly have to see or hear their parents fighting, if their parents never express any positive emotions towards them, or if the parents constantly humiliate or criticise a child; the court may consider that this is likely to cause  significant emotional harm.


Further reading

In the Matter of Re B (A Child)  [2013] UKSC 33 which discusses the risk of future emotional/psychological harm. Read what the NSPCC have to say about emotional abuse. Domestic Violence UK discusses how to recognise an emotionally abusive relationship. Emotional abuse may become a criminal offence.