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What is Emotional Abuse?

Louise Barretto's picture
Published: 23/11/18 - Country: United Kingdom

Since March 2013, the government has been trying to ensure that there is cross-government agreement on what constitutes domestic violence and abuse.

Domestic abuse is no longer confined to physical abuse but extended to include all manner of incidents or a pattern of incidents consisting of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between people aged 16 or more who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members. The abuse can include, but is not limited to:

  • Psychological
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Financial
  • Emotional

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse and is often difficult to recognise.

The problem with trying to define accurately what constitutes emotional abuse is undoubtedly because there is a subjective element to it.

Objectively, one party may be experiencing emotional abuse if he or she is:

  • often left humiliated by something their partner has said or done
  • unable to express disagreement with their partner without being subjected to criticism and ridicule
  • constantly being told by their partner that they are worthless or inadequate
  • made to feel guilty for no good reason
  • blamed for everything going wrong regardless of the circumstances

There are many other examples.

What are the affects of emotional abuse?

The effect of this abuse on the person receiving it is likely to include:

  • a feeling of anxiety
  • having to provide constant detailed explanations in an attempt to assuage their partner’s mistrust or anger
  • a sense of being out of control
  • having to “walk on egg shells” to avoid arguments

From my experience the primary difficulty experienced by those clients who have suffered emotional abuse at the hands of their partner, is deciding at what point “enough is enough”. Many clients have endured this kind of behaviour in excess of 40 years, and their reasons for doing so are often perfectly understandable. Some of these may be: they believe this is “normal” behaviour, or they think it will improve; they want to do the best for their children or because they are fearful of what the consequences of change might be.

The legal team dealing with clients who have experienced emotional abuse will need to be acutely aware of the effects of this on their client and the decisions he or she will have to make. They may need to encourage the client to seek additional emotional support; otherwise they can become overwhelmed and unable to provide clear instructions on the conduct of their case, leading to increased legal costs and further stress levels for them.

Having a selection of excellent professionals who can be called on to help a client alongside their legal team can be extremely valuable.

If you would like to find out more about the issues raised in this article or need advice concerning family and divorce matters more widely, please contact Louise.

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Louise Barretto's picture

Louise is a partner in our Family Team and a solicitor specialising in all aspects of family law, with a particular emphasis on complex financial matters, including those involving business assets and those with an international element.

She is dual qualified in England and in South Africa. Although she now practices solely in England, she deals with many cases which have a South African connection.  She has  been called upon to assist as an expert witness on English divorce law in the High Court of South Africa.

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