Family Violence Initiative

Emotional Abuse

Harvey scooped up his youngest daughter and carried her in his arms. It would be warm in the library and he would soon find a quiet spot to dry her tears. They would look at books together and then he would use one of the computers there to look for a better job. Tonight had been too much. So many nights now he had come home from work to the sting of his wife's endless complaints. He had pretended it didn't bother him so he would not lose control in front of his children. It was no wonder his stomach hurt so often! Back home, he and Maria had shared so many dreams together. They had wanted to build a new life for their family in Canada—one where their daughters would have an equal chance for an education and a career. But now that they were in Canada, it seemed like everything he did was disappointing to Maria. She didn't hesitate to criticize him in front of the girls. Every night, Harvey felt helpless in his own home. He had asked her to stop screaming at him in front of the kids, but it was no use. Today during supper, she started complaining about how much money they had budgeted for groceries. She started yelling at him "You are stupid and lazy. You don't even care that your job is beneath you and doesn't pay well. You're good for nothing and will never amount to anything. You are not much of a man. My father could look after us better. I should take the children and go back." Then she threw her plate of food at him and stormed off to her bedroom. When the girls had begun to cry, he had grabbed their coats and taken them out the door. Maybe when he got to the library, he would look again at that pamphlet about abuse that he had noticed last week. He realized now that this was his situation. He couldn't let it go on like this. He needed to find someone who could help them—someone who understood the pressures on people who come to this country.

What does it look like?

Emotional abuse happens when a person uses words or actions to control, frighten or isolate you or take away your self-respect. Emotional abuse is sometimes called psychological abuse. It can include:

  • putting you down, calling you names or insulting you
  • constantly yelling at you
  • keeping you from seeing friends or family
  • making fun of your faith or religion, not letting you practise it (spiritual abuse)
  • controlling what you wear, where you go, whom you see (if you are an adult)
  • preventing you from going out, taking classes or working if you want to (if you are an adult)
  • threatening to have you deported if you don't behave in a certain way
  • making threats to harm you or another person
  • destroying your belongings, hurting your pets or threatening to do so, or
  • bullying: intimidating or humiliating you (including on the Internet).

Some forms of emotional abuse are crimes: stalking, threatening to hurt you, harassing you on the phone, intimidating you on purpose or counselling (advising) you to commit suicide. Many other forms of emotional abuse are not crimes. Still, they can do a lot of damage and might lead to criminal acts later on.

If a child is emotionally abused, child protection authorities could intervene and remove the child from his or her parents.

Emotional abuse is serious. Inner wounds can take a long time to heal.

Criminal harassment

Criminal harassment, also known as stalking, is a crime. It involves repeated conduct that makes you fear for your safety or the safety of someone you love. This can include:

  • watching or following you
  • making threats that cause you to fear for your safety
  • making threats to your children, family, pets or friends that cause you fear, or
  • repeatedly calling or sending gifts after being asked to stop.
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