workplace, bullying

How To Recognize Emotionally Abusive Behaviours

September 30th, 2020 Respect Tools & Tips

We all have the right to feel safe in the spaces where we live, work, and play. Physical safety is often proactively considered and addressed by organizations and leaders as many potential risk factors (ex. tripping hazards) are visible and easily identifiable. Psychological safety is equally important, but has less visible risk factors and is harder to identify, which can lead to harmful behaviours going unaddressed or unacknowledged.

An important place to start is by understanding which behaviours are threats to psychological safety. When the behaviours below occur consistently over time, they cross the line from one-off behaviours to form a pattern of emotional abuse. As you will learn from the behaviours below, any other type of abuse, including physical or sexual abuse, includes a component of emotional abuse through the violation of safety and trust.

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse is psychologically destructive behaviour by a person in a position of power, authority or trust, that includes an ongoing attack on an individual’s self-esteem. Though often traumatic for victims, emotional abuse is often inflicted without offenders knowing or recognizing that they are using these behaviours.

Emotionally abusive behaviour includes but is not limited to:

Ignoring and Isolating
Where a person in a position of power avoids or pushes a victim away. The individual is denied sensitive caregiving or emotionally neglected and kept isolated from interaction with peers.

Where a person uses their power to criticize or stigmatize a victim. The individual is deprived of dignity, humiliated or made to feel inferior.

When a person in power frightens another by threatening them or someone or something they care about.

Where a person uses their power to teach a victim to behave in anti-social ways. This can include illegal activities, like providing the individual with alcohol or drugs, including performance-enhancing drugs.

Where a person in a position of power takes advantage of another. The victim is used to meet the needs of the offender, or the victim is asked to do things that are not age/role appropriate.

Understanding and recognizing the signs of emotionally abusive behaviours is the first step to learning how to step in and step up when these behaviours occur. To learn more about how to step in and step up to make change in your workplace, school, or sport organization, you can explore our online programs below:


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