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Psychological or emotional abuse

Psychological abuse includes emotional abuse, which may take the form of intimidation, coercion, threats, harassment, humiliation, bullying, swearing or shouting. It also could be enforced social isolation (for example, preventing someone from accessing a service or seeing friends), failure to respect privacy/dignity or online bullying.

Possible signs or indicators of psychological abuse include:

  • low self-esteem
  • signs of distress: tearfulness, anger etc
  • withdrawal or change in the person’s mood
  • an air of silence/discomfort when a particular person is present
  • a change of appetite – weight loss or gain
  • insomnia

Case Study:

Rachel is a young lady with a learning disability. She has always lived with her mum, but has recently been given the opportunity to move to an independent living flat with regular support, which she is really keen to try. Rachel has a support worker who has been helping her to prepare for the move. The worker recently noticed that Rachel often looked like she had been crying and had visibly lost weight. She asked Rachel if anything was wrong, and Rachel told her that her mum was being very negative about the move. Rachel’s mum had told her she was ‘useless’ and would ‘never manage’ by herself. Rachel said she was constantly putting her down, and was also stopping her from attending cookery classes she had signed up to help her prepare for cooking for herself.

With Rachel’s consent, the support worker contacted the Local Authority safeguarding team. A safeguarding social worker met up with Rachel and her support worker to talk more about her situation and what she wanted to change. Rachel was clear that she wanted to go ahead with the move but she was really worried it could permanently ruin her relationship with her mum. She wanted her mum to stop belittling her and to be supportive of the move.

Rachel decided she would be happy for the issues to be addressed directly with her mum, so the social worker organised a family meeting with the support worker also attending. The social worker offered Rachel support from an advocate as well, who came to the meeting to help Rachel in expressing her views and wishes. Rachel’s mum was initially shocked and defensive when Rachel explained why the meeting was taking place, but with mediating support from the social worker, support worker and advocate, Rachel’s mum did acknowledge her behaviour and expressed that it was because she was struggling so much with the idea of Rachel moving out.

Rachel and everyone at the meeting came up with a plan to make the coming weeks more manageable for her and her mum – Rachel knew who she should go to/approach for different areas of support, including from her mum who was keen to help where she could. Rachel’s mum was already a member of a local carers' organisation, and with support from the social worker, she accessed some therapeutic support around her changing role as Rachel’s parent/carer. Rachel’s support worker also gave Rachel some helpful tips and practical guidance of how to respond if/when situations do arise where her mum does belittle her or try to control her again.