Emotional incest, also sometimes referred to as covert incest or psychic incest, occurs when a parent expects/forces the child to take on the emotional role of an adult/spouse.
Although it does NOT involve sexual intimacy between the child and the parent, it does involve intense emotional intimacy which would far more usually be expected to take place between sexually involved, adult partners.
In my own case, my mother used me to act as her ‘counsellor’ from when I was very young (about 11 years old) and would reinforce this behaviour by referring to me as her ‘Little Psychiatrist.’
The child, then, is used to satisfy the parent’s needs. I provide examples of such needs below:
– ego fulfillment (especially if the parent is narcissistic – click here to read my article about the effects of narcissistic parents on their children)
– the need to have a confidante
– the need to have a ‘best friend’
– the need to have a substitute spouse
– the need to have a substitute parent (indeed, some parents ‘parentify’ their own children – click to read my article about this
– emotional support
Because the focus within the family dynamic is on the child meeting the needs of the parent, the child’s own needs are likely to be neglected. Examples of such neglected needs include:
Adverse Effects Of Emotional Incest :
THE ADVERSE EFFECTS ON CHILD OF BEING FORCED TO PARTICIPATE IN AN EMOTIONALLY INCESTUOUS RELATIONSHIP INCLUDE:
– crisis in identity – may vacillate between seeing self as talented and worthless/having high and low self-esteem
-isolation from peers – this can mean the child grows up without developing necessary social skills
– learns to repress/suppress own needs
– development of a compulsion to be ‘special’/excel – as it was learnt in childhood being ‘special’ was the only way to gain the parent’s approval
– become out of touch with own feelings
– personal boundaries fluctuate between being too strong and too weak
– a fear of intimacy and personal commitment (due to unconscious fear of being exploited in the same way as was exploited by the ‘needy’ parent or due to fear that any such relationship will become ‘suffocating’ like the childhood relationship with the parent
– a compulsion may develop to recreate another intense relationship in adulthood (repetition compulsion) or a relationship with a selfish/self-absorbed person (again, repetition compulsion)
– addictions ( eg alcohol, drugs, gambling)
– problems with emotional intimacy
– problems with sexual intimacy
Parents At Risk Of Emotionally Enmeshing Children:
WHICH PARENTS ARE AT GREATEST RISK OF ENMESHING THEIR CHILD INTO AN EMOTIONALLY INCESTUOUS RELATIONSHIP?
– single parents
– divorced parents
– unhappily married parents
– isolated parents with little social support from other adults
– narcissistic parents ( click here to read my article on this)
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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Copyright 2015 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery