Emotional abuse is the most difficult category to define, and unfortunately, the most difficult type of abuse to investigate. Examples include harsh criticism, name-calling or derogatory comments, shaming, threatening, withholding love and affection, and possibly exposing children to domestic violence.

Emotional abuse can include:

  • Rejecting or ignoring: telling a child they are unwanted or unloved, showing disinterest in child, little or no affection, not validating the child’s feelings
  • Shaming or humiliating: calling a child names, belittling, demeaning, berating, mocking, using language or taking action that takes aim at child’s feelings of self-worth
  • Terrorizing: accusing, insulting, punishing with or threatening abandonment, harm or death, setting a child up for failure, manipulating, taking advantage of a child’s weakness or reliance on adults, slandering, screaming
  • Isolating: keeping child from peers and positive activities, confining child to small area, forbidding play or other experiences
  • Corrupting: engaging child in criminal acts, telling lies to justify actions or ideas, encouraging misbehavior
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Physical signs of emotional abuse:

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  • Delays in development
  • Wetting bed, pants
  • Speech disorders
  • Health problems like ulcers, skin disorders
  • Obesity and weight fluctuation

Behavioral signs of emotional abuse:

  • Habits like sucking, biting, rocking
  • Learning disabilities and developmental
  • Overly compliant or defensive
  • Extreme emotions, aggression, withdrawal
  • Anxieties, phobias, sleep disorders
  • Destructive or anti-social behaviors (violence, cruelty, vandalism, stealing, cheating, lying)
  • Behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age (too adult, too infantile)
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
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The laws that define child abuse in each state vary, so investigations look different in every state. If you are experiencing any type of abuse or have questions—please feel free to reach out to the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline by calling or texting 1-800-422-4453. Whatever you are feeling is valid and we want to help.