Emotional Incest: How Parents Who Turn Their Children Into Partners End Up Damaging Them

By July 20, 2018 Parenting

For those who do not know, emotional incest is not what it sounds like. It is what we call the act of a parent seeking emotional support from their child.

While the effects can be similar to that of physical incest, it does not have anything to do with sexual abuse, so please keep that in mind as you read on. These emotional interactions really push the lines and boundaries that should be established. They wage a psychological war within the child and leave them feeling as if they have to grow up too quickly and are forced to experience far more than they should at too young of an age.

Children should not be having to live with things like eating disorders, self-harm, intimacy issues, substance abuse or other things of the sort in the face when they aren’t even in high school yet. Examples of emotional incest could include anything from asking the child for advice in regards to adult situations or even treating them like they are your best friend instead of your son or daughter.

There is a lot more to it than you’d think and it can really do a lot of harm. Sure, as a parent you might feel like there is no one else to turn to but you shouldn’t ever be letting them be the ones to hold your hair back while you puke into the toilet after getting home from a night out partying/drinking. Children are much more fragile than they seem, even when they appear strong and capable they are still just children and we should be the ones protecting them not tearing them apart.

This is something that goes overlooked most of the time because unlike physical abuse or sexual abuse there are not visible indicators, not at first glance anyway. It is a hard demon to point out and when it happens sometimes we think it is actually going well even when it isn’t. What is overly dysfunctional and causing the child heartache might not seem that bad at face value.

Dr. Kenneth Adams said as follows in regards to covert/emotional incest:

Basically, what I see with men, and women too, as a result of covert incest is that they never quite feel free to be who they are. Because a parent has caused them to feel obligated, burdened, and overly responsible — with a sexual element underneath that — their relationships elsewhere are affected. They meet someone and they think, “I don’t want to be with you if you burden me.” Sometimes they become sexually shut down with their long-term partner because the relationship feels so burdensome. They can’t enjoy it or be spontaneous with it anymore. It starts to feel icky to them, just like their unhealthy, overly enmeshed relationship with mom or dad. So they’re drawn to sex where there’s no commitment and there’s no obligation. Sometimes they don’t even want to know the other person’s name. The more anonymous it is, the less they know about the other person, the better. For example, guys who experienced covert incest with mom might struggle to maintain an erection with their wife or a serious girlfriend, but with a stranger, they don’t have that problem because they don’t feel burdened and the sex doesn’t feel icky.

I’ll never forget one client I worked with. He talked about all the women in his life and he said that there were at least a few ships that he let pass by because he felt like he had to take care of his mother instead, and he started crying when he was talking about that. He desperately wanted to connect with those women in an intimate way but he couldn’t. Here he was, a 40 or 50-year-old man, handsome and successful, but he couldn’t commit to a romantic relationship no matter what. He just wasn’t able to take advantage of situations that were in his best interest.

Children are much more impressionable than we tend to realize. We should really be looking out for them in all possible ways. What do you think about this? Do you think emotional incest is as much of an issue as it is made out to be?

Image via Getty Images

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