Psychological maltreatment (also called emotional abuse) is a repeated pattern of parental or caregiver behavior that communicates to the child that he or she is worthless, unloved, unwanted, or endangered. This behavior can impair a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth. It may include constant criticism, threats, rejection, or the withholding of love, support, or guidance.
To warrant intervention, psychological maltreatment must be sustained and repetitive. This type of maltreatment is often difficult to prove. Therefore, child protective services agencies may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm to the child. Psychological maltreatment, however, is almost always present when other forms of abuse and neglect are found.