How to Prove Emotional Abuse

Three Parts:Identifying Emotional AbuseDocumenting Emotional AbuseReporting the Abuse

Emotional abuse affects millions of people. It can strike the young and the old. Because of emotional abuse, you may lose weight, sink into depression, or want to harm yourself. You are not alone. To prove that someone is emotionally abusing you, you will need examples of the abuse, such as abusive emails, or witnesses. If you have evidence that someone is being emotionally abused, then you should contact the appropriate authorities.

Part 1
Identifying Emotional Abuse

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    Define emotional abuse. Emotional abuse, also known as “psychological abuse,” is any act of verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, isolation, or confinement that diminishes someone’s self-worth or dignity. It can take many forms and can exist in every relationship, whether familial, intimate, or work-related.
    • Emotional abuse, like physical abuse, develops in cycles: the abuse builds as the abuser tries to establish dominance, then the abuser expresses remorse and life returns to normal. However, the cycle will start up again, often with the abuser acting in a more extreme manner.[1]
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    Identify common abusive acts. Any act that diminishes your sense of self-worth can be abusive. Common abusive acts include:[2]
    • swearing or yelling
    • name calling, mocking, and insults
    • verbal or physical threats or intimidation
    • isolation or excluding someone
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    Check for abuse in romantic relationships. Emotional abuse is every bit as damaging as physical violence in a relationship. Emotional abuse begins to take its toll on your self-esteem, happiness, and even your physical health. Common signs of emotional abuse in romantic relationships include:
    • The abuser criticizes, judges, or humiliates you.
    • The abuser dominates or controls you.
    • The abuser focuses on blame and accusation.
    • You are the victim of emotional distancing.
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    Identify child abuse and neglect. Children can be abused emotionally, not just physically. Although children may lack the words to tell someone that they are being emotionally abused, there are common warning signs:[3]
    • The child withdraws socially.
    • The child loses self-confidence or suffers a decline in school performance.
    • The child is desperate for approval and affection.
    • The child suffers repeat ailments like stomachaches or headaches that do not have a medical cause.
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    Understand elder abuse. The elderly can also be abused emotionally. In the United States, over half a million cases of elder abuse are reported each year.[4] Elder abuse can be perpetrated by anyone who cares for the elderly, whether a family member or a professional. There are many symptoms of emotional abuse in the elderly:[5]
    • They often suffer from hopelessness or low self-esteem.
    • They become shy and withdrawn.
    • They experience sudden changes in sleeping or eating habits.
    • They express a desire to hurt themselves or someone else.
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    Recognize emotional abuse in the workplace. Workplace bullying is a serious problem. It is not limited to supervisors bullying subordinates. In fact, almost anyone can become the victim of bullying in the workplace. Some tension is common in most workplaces, but you may be the victim of bullying if:[6]
    • You obsess about work while at home and have trouble sleeping at night.
    • You come home from work lifeless and without any emotional energy.
    • You are afraid to admit to loved ones that you are being bullied and may even suspect that you brought the abuse on yourself.
    • You are isolated by other employees, some of whom are afraid to work with you.
    • Nothing you do is good enough for your boss, and your boss expects perfect performance without offering adequate training or supervision.

Part 2
Documenting Emotional Abuse

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    Keep a journal. One good way of documenting the emotional abuse is to record it in a journal.[7][8] Write down what the abuser said, the date, and how it made you feel. Also note the names of any witnesses.
    • You may also find that writing a journal is cathartic and an effective defense mechanism against the emotional abuse. However, you should be careful that you do not leave the journal lying around. If you live with the abuser, then the abuser could find the journal.
    • Instead of keeping a clothbound journal, you could keep a digital one. Take notes on your smart phone or laptop and store them electronically. It is much harder to find your notes on an electronic device, especially if it is password protected.
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    Preserve abusive communications. You should hold onto any letter, email, note, or voicemail in which the abuser uses abusive language.[9] This evidence will help you later establish the abuser’s behavior.
    • If you live with the abuser, then see if a trusted friend or family member will hold onto copies of these communications.[10]
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    Visit the doctor. Emotional abuse can manifest itself in physical symptoms: anxiety, weight loss, high blood pressure, depression, and heart disease.[11] Although emotional abuse is serious regardless of any resulting physical symptoms, the presence of these symptoms will increase your ability to prove emotional abuse at a later date.
    • Tell your doctor about the emotional abuse. By reporting it, your doctor can make a note in your medical records. A copy of your medical reports will then serve as powerful evidence of the emotional abuse and its physical effects on you.
    • If you are taking a child or elderly adult to the doctor, then you can inform the doctor that you think the person is being emotionally abused. The doctor can then talk to the patient and draw out helpful information.
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    Ask abuse victims what they are feeling. You can help prove emotional abuse if you document the abuse someone else is suffering. You need to write down the dates the abuse happened and the substance of the abuse, just as you would if you were the victim.
    • Some people might hesitate to tell someone else that they are being abused. The elderly, for example, may feel embarrassed that they are powerless. Children may be fear that you will believe the things the abuser says about them. To put people at ease, simply ask them what they are feeling. This strategy can help them open up.
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    Share your feelings with other people. If you are experiencing emotional abuse, then you should share that fact with at least one trusted person. It is always difficult to come forward and admit that you are in an abusive relationship. However, a witness can help confirm your history of abuse.
    • Find someone you trust. You may fear physical violence from your abuser. You don’t want the person you confide in to tell other people. In that situation, the abuser could find out that you have been complaining about him or her and strike back.

Part 3
Reporting the Abuse

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    Determine the appropriate authorities. To effectively deal with emotional abuse, you need to report it to the authorities who can deal with it. The appropriate authority will depend on the abuse. For example, if someone is suffering extreme emotional abuse, then you should call the police. However, if you know a child is being emotionally abused, then contacting Child Protective Services might make more sense.
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    Call the police. If the emotional abuse has gotten to the point where the person feels terrorized or is suffering severe physical ailments, then you should call the police. Only the police can extricate someone, in particular an older person being emotionally abused by a caretaker or legal guardian.
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    Contact Child Protective Services (CPS). If a child is being emotionally abused by an adult in the house, then you should report the abuse to your local CPS office. You can find the appropriate office by calling the Childhelp hotline at 1-800-422-4453.[12] When you are connected to CPS, you may be asked for the following information:[13]
    • your relationship to the child
    • the child’s name and age
    • the child’s home address and current location
    • the suspected abuser and his or her relationship to the child
    • the parents’ contact information
    • the names of other witnesses and contact information for each
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    Report elder abuse to Adult Protective Services (APS). Each state should have an APS agency. To find the number for your state, call 1-800-677-1116. You may also use the Eldercare Locator at Be sure to provide the following information:[14]
    • the elder person’s name
    • his or her address and contact information
    • the reasons why you suspect emotional abuse
    • the extend of the elder person’s family or social support network
    • whether you have seen abusive behavior
    • if you know of any medical problems, such as dementia
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    Contact Human Resources to report workplace bullying. Your company should have a grievance process in place. Check your employee handbook or manuals. If you can’t find any information, then reach out to Human Resources and ask for a meeting.[15]
    • You might work for a small company without a Human Resources department. In that situation, you should talk to the business owner to report bullying by your coworkers. If your boss is the bully, then you might not have any other choice but to quit your job.
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    Share your documentation. The appropriate authorities will want proof of the abuse, and you should readily share it with them. For example, you can provide copies of any abusive communications. You can also share copies of your medical records or give the authorities the names of witnesses.


  • If you are in danger of serious injury because of the abuse, then you should seek immediate help. You can worry about documenting the abuse at a later date.

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Categories: Abuse