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What is Psychological Harassment?

Laura M. Sands
Updated May 16, 2024
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Psychological harassment, also known as emotional bullying or mental bullying, includes unwarranted hostile behavior, verbal threats, intimidating actions and aggressive gestures made toward another individual. This type of psychological abuse may also include sexual harassment, as well as other types of harassment that often leave individuals feeling ashamed or fearful of the person initiating these actions. Incidents such as these tend to leave victims with deep emotional wounds and are usually the source of intense stress and depression.

It is not unusual for psychological harassment to also include group bullying. This type of behavior is frequently found in certain school-aged children who join groups of other students while engaging in the incessant teasing and taunting of another student. Reasons given for this type of behavior often include a victim’s sexual orientation, ethnic origin, physical disabilities or any number of perceived differences. Researchers, parents, teachers and other adults often find that this sort of psychological abuse leads to depression in some children and, in some instances, children and young adults may even resort to suicide as a final effort of escape from bullying.

Psychological harassment is not only relegated to children, however. Adults often experience such behavior in the workplace. These experiences frequently lead to the submission of a complaint or lawsuit in places where laws have been enacted to protect people against intimidating tactics and other hostile threats.

This type of behavior is also common in personal relationships. Such relationships may include parent-child relationships, sibling relationships, dating relationships and marriages. Often, such harassment includes name-calling, threats of physical violence, demeaning statements, excessive criticism, yelling, stalking and other constant aggressive behaviors from one individual to another. This is frequently referred to as mental and emotional abuse.

In some places, human rights legislation is designed to prevent psychological harassment or, at the very least, provide a way to try to stop it when it occurs. When it is not stopped, this type of harassment often escalates to physical abuse. Even when mental harassment ceases, however, the trauma of such an experience frequently leaves a person with deep emotional stress that sometimes lingers throughout a victim’s lifetime. Experts recommend that people experiencing this type of harassment address it at the earliest onset by terminating the relationship with the harasser, reporting threats to the appropriate authorities and seeking psychological counseling to cope with any lingering effects of mental abuse.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Laura M. Sands
By Laura M. Sands
Laura Sands, the founder of a publishing company, brings her passion for writing and her expertise in digital publishing to her work. With a background in social sciences and extensive online work experience, she crafts compelling copy and content across various platforms. Her ability to understand and connect with target audiences makes her a skilled contributor to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By anon358805 — On Dec 12, 2013

I want to ask anyone who can recommend a passionate attorney who will fight for an employee's right on a contingency basis and has a heart of gold.

I worked for a drug company. During my employment, I was in a hostile work environment which affected my emotional and physical condition. I was under tremendous stress at work. I was against the manager who uses his power to control and to push me out.

My career has been blocked and sabotaged. The effect was so great, I cannot even move forward. I was terminated, which was also employer's action of retaliation. I would like to know if there is anyone who went through a situation like mine and had legal help to resolve the issue successfully. Please help me!

By amypollick — On May 28, 2013

@anon336357: Unless one is dealing with a case of mental illness, I'd say harassment is most often caused by the need for control, and to boost a low self-esteem by degrading someone else.

Some people need control so desperately, that they are willing to make others miserable so they can exercise some authority. It's a self-esteem issue, nine times out of ten, I think.

By anon336357 — On May 28, 2013

What causes harassment? Does anybody know?

By sunkist85 — On Dec 04, 2012

I have a sales manager at my job who has verbally abused the heck out of me. I currently live in Virginia, and the amount of emotional and verbal abuse is ridiculous. It has put me in a financial crisis, caused me anxiety attacks, and now I just don't want to go to work.

I have anxiety attacks at work and on the way to work. I have been called a piece of you-know-what, other profane names, and was threatened that if I ever were to speak about my problems to another sales agent, that my used car director will publicly announce my financial issues to the entire dealership while outside smoking his $1000 cigar.

I have been yelled at humiliated and have it on a recording -- a one-hour-long skit to another sales manager and he confessed and said that he knew what was said was wrong, and he even confessed that he too has verbally and emotionally abused me at work, and says that he has changed, and he knew it was wrong.

How do I go about pursuing this? I have even gone as high up to the vice president of the company about it and nothing has changed. What do I need to do, and could this be a lawsuit? Someone please help.

By Charred — On Dec 12, 2011

@allenJo - That stuff doesn’t bother me. I’ve been on the receiving end of blowups at work and I just brush it off.

What concerns me is that I think the harassment laws are being taken too far. We live in a very litigious society. Even the slightest misunderstanding can slap an employer with a harassment lawsuit.

I think parties on both sides need to tread carefully here. If an employee needs correction, correct him. That employee shouldn’t file for mental and emotional abuse, however, even if the correction is not that gentle.

By allenJo — On Dec 11, 2011

@MrMoody - My boss has an anger problem. He yells at us from time to time. We have all been subject to his tirades, including myself, so I can’t exactly say he practices discrimination.

Some people blow it off but I take it personally. I was warned not to; I was told that was his way of blowing off steam, but frankly I think it’s not professional. If you have such a problem you need to get help.

This is the only company I’ve worked at where I’ve ever been yelled at and it’s not fun. Employers need to realize that their employees can go elsewhere for work, even in a tough economy.

By MrMoody — On Dec 11, 2011

@miriam98 - Wow, you sound pretty ticked off. You must have been pushed around a lot. I got teased occasionally but nothing serious.

I think workplace bullying is worse, especially when it’s so subtle. At our work there is this lady who likes to make jokes that are inappropriate. They’re not very explicit, but I don’t think they are appropriate, considering the fact that she is married and the guys she is making the comments to are married too.

Frankly, I don’t know if she is simply naive or just doesn’t care, but we’ve had to warn her once or twice. She doesn’t mean anything by it; it’s all in good fun. However nowadays, even lighthearted humor can get you a lawsuit.

By miriam98 — On Dec 10, 2011

I think we can all relate to childhood schoolyard taunts and bullying – whether we were the victims or the aggressors. If you were the aggressor, I hope you’ve matured in your adult years and come to regret the foolish actions of your childhood.

It’s clear nowadays that there is a zero tolerance policy for bullying of any kind, and I for one am glad. I was the victim of ridicule myself, and while the saying about sticks and stones and name calling may be partially true, that type of ridicule does tend to stay with you. You have to make a conscious decision to move on.

Personally, I believe that bullies are cowards on the inside, who are using their aggressiveness as a means to masquerade deeper personal issues.

Laura M. Sands
Laura M. Sands
Laura Sands, the founder of a publishing company, brings her passion for writing and her expertise in digital publishing...
Learn more
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