What is Emotional Abuse?

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 What is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse is an extremely harmful form of abuse that often arises in family law cases. There is no one legal definition of abuse because there are many forms. Emotional abuse is also known as psychological or mental abuse. This type of abuse involves exposing an individual to behavior or language, by means of verbal-based harassment, that may result in psychological trauma.

In general, emotional abuse occurs in a situation where there is a power imbalance. It often leads to anxiety, depression, or other psychological symptoms that can result in physical manifestations. Psychological or emotional abuse is, in many cases, one factor in a situation that is one-sided in terms of power and influence.

Emotional abuse can be accompanied by physical violence, threats of violence, or sexual assault. In many cases, a cycle of abuse exists over long periods of time and results in emotional damage or a psychological imbalance in the victim. The victim may be able to sue the abuser for damages, depending on the circumstances of the case. 

Emotional abuse can occur in many settings, including:

Emotional abuse is a type of domestic violence. It is illegal in many states under various domestic violence laws. In addition, many of the domestic violence laws make reporting emotional abuse mandatory in some cases.

If an individual is in a situation where they are being emotionally abused or if an individual knows of a person who is suffering from emotional abuse, they should investigate resources for domestic violence. The individual should also report the violence against them or another individual to the authorities. 

Emotional abuse is usually harder to identify than physical abuse, but it is just as harmful. There is no standard emotional abuse definition but it often contains many of the following elements:

  • Verbal aggression, which often includes false statements or lies directed towards another;
  • Dominating or repressive behavior against another individual;
  • Implanting ideas of jealousy or slander of another individual; or
  • Forcing an individual to view disturbing or negative images or behavior.

Is Emotional Abuse Recognized as a Legal Cause of Action? 

Yes, emotional abuse is recognized as a legal cause of action. In the past, emotional and psychological abuse was not readily recognized in the eyes of the law. In today’s times, emotional abuse is often considered a major factor in family law cases and is reviewed closely in child abuse or elderly abuse matters. 

As previously noted, many states have criminalized emotional abuse under various abuse laws including:

  • Child abuse;
  • Elder abuse;
  • Domestic violence; or
  • Other forms of abuse.

In cases involving certain offenses, an individual should immediately seek out the assistance of an experienced criminal law attorney in their area, who can assist with reporting emotional abuse or protection for themselves or loved ones. These types of offenses include:

How Do I Prove Emotional Abuse in Court?

In certain cases of emotional abuse, a victim may file civil lawsuits. The majority of lawsuits for emotional abuse are based on a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress

Intentional infliction of emotional distress is an intentional tort based on an individual’s conduct that causes another individual extreme emotional trauma. In many states, an individual cannot recover damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress unless they also manifest physical symptoms, such as a stomach illness or a nerve-related illness.

In order to prevail on an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim and prove emotional abuse, an individual must show:

  • The defendant acted intentionally or recklessly towards the individual;
  • The defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous, which means it was more than just harmful or offensive; 
  • The defendant’s conduct was the actual cause of the injury; and
  • The individual suffered measurable severe emotional distress.

In many cases, evidence such as medical issues or time missed from work is an important factor in a successful claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Therefore, if an individual is seeking to file a lawsuit involving emotional abuse, they should keep track of any of the treatments they received as well as any drugs that were prescribed in order to help cope with anxiety or depression.

In addition, if an individual’s emotional abuse results in a physical manifestation, such as a nerve-related illness, they should keep any documentation involving that physical manifestation. Other important evidence includes anything that ties the emotional or physical injuries back to the abuser. 

When Can I Bring My Emotional Abuse Claim?

It is important to seek the assistance of an attorney as soon as possible for any emotional abuse claims. There may be a statute of limitations, or a time limit, on bringing a claim. An emotional abuse claim can be brought on its own, under the intentional infliction of emotional distress, or include with other claims which may be related to family law cases. 

Every state has different statutes of limitations for different types of cases. In general, an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim has a statute of limitations of one year. Some states have a two year statute of limitations that begins at the date of the harm.

What Are Some Legal Remedies for Emotional Abuse?

In a criminal context, one legal remedy for emotional abuse may include issuing a restraining order against the victim’s abuser, or jail time for the abuser. A restraining order is an order by the court that requires an individual to stay a certain distance away from another individual. It may also include a no contact provision, which prohibits the individual from contacting the person listed in the order by phone, text, email, or other forms of communication.

Restraining orders are commonly issued in situations where emotional abuse is accompanied by physical violence. In general, courts will look at the totality of the circumstances when determining the legal remedies for criminal emotional abuse cases. 

In a civil context, emotional abuse may result in an award of damages for the victim. These damages seek to compensate the victim for their losses. The victim may be granted damages for expenses related to the abuse such as therapy sessions, medical costs, or time missed from work. Additionally, in family law cases, emotional abuse may be a determining factor in child custody matters, child support matters, or child visitation.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with Emotional Abuse Claims?

Yes, an individual should consult a family lawyer for any issues involving emotional abuse. This type of abuse is very serious and often requires the assistance of an experienced attorney. 

If an individual is seeking to file a lawsuit in order to recover for injuries caused by emotional abuse, an experienced lawyer will be able to help gather the necessary evidence to file a successful claim. They can also represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary.

If you or someone close to you is suffering from emotional abuse involving another family matter, a family law attorney will be able to help. They can help you understand your rights as well as offering advice on a course of action for your family law case.


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