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What is Emotional or Psychological Abuse and Coercive Controlling Behaviour?

Emotional or psychological abuse and coercive controlling behaviour are forms of domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021* includes emotional and psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour within the definition of domestic abuse.

Emotional abuse and coercive controlling behaviour are often perpetrated as a pattern of behaviour as opposed to a specific incident. A perpetrator of domestic abuse can utilise several forms of emotional abuse and coercive control at the same time. It is the cumulative effect of these behaviours which create the abusive relationship. Although each individual action or incident, taken on its own, may not seem significant, it is the repetition and constant fear that is considered emotional or psychological abuse and coercive controlling behaviour.

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Given that emotional abuse and coercive control often consist of small, repeated behaviours it is often difficult for a victim to recognise and identify these behaviours as domestic abuse. It can also be very difficult to explain to someone else that you are suffering domestic abuse and to make them understand the severity.

Common examples of emotional abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour may include:

  1. Encouraging someone not to spend time with family and friends and making them feel guilty that they are not spending time with the abuser.
  2. Excessive jealousy of friends, family members or work colleagues so someone is forced to change their behaviour to appease the abusers’ jealousy.
  3. Monitoring someone’s whereabouts, by putting tracking devices on their phone or car.
  4. Demanding someone account for all of their time, having to provide detailed updates on their location and who they are with.
  5. Playing mind games and making someone doubt their judgment or memory of events.
  6. Manipulating someone to comply with the abusers demands by threatening or intimidating behaviour, these threats do not have to be physical but can be, for example, threats to expose a victim to family members or authority figures.
  7. Putting someone down, by making them feel they are not as intelligent or knowledgeable as the abuser.


Emotional abuse and coercive control often have a profound effect on the victim’s life. It can make the victim live in constant fear or uncertainty. Victims have often described a feeling of walking on eggshells around their abusers. This can ruin the victim’s self-esteem and confidence which often deters the victim from seeking help or support to leave the abusive relationship.

It is well understood that emotional or psychological abuse and coercive controlling behaviour can escalate into physical abuse, threatening the victim’s safety*. Therefore although emotional abuse and coercive controlling behaviour may be seen as a less dangerous form of abuse, it is very serious. It is very important to seek advice and support if you believe that you are being subjected to emotional abuse or controlling behaviour.

If you have identified any of the above methods of emotional abuse in your relationship and would like to seek legal advice to safeguard yourself or your children against an abuser, please contact our specialist domestic abuse team to arrange an appointment.



Molly Hood


  1. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 –
  2. In Control: Dangerous Relationships and How They End in Murder by Jane Monckton-Smith

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