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Friday, 27 March 2015 19:22

The Foundations of Emotional Incest

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Mother-son bonding: Brandi was extremely affectionate with the black shorts-clad youngster Mother-son bonding: Brandi was extremely affectionate with the black shorts-clad youngster

You’ve probably seen it a thousand times.  The lonely parent who uses the child as a replacement for their spouse.  We typically think of this in terms of single mothers, but it can happen to dads too.  Of course there is nothing sexual happening, it’s all emotional.  Similar to the way emotional cheating can occur, there are relationship experts who believe that emotional incest can also occur.

The existence of a relationship in which the child becomes a replacement for the spouse can not only be emotionally weighty for that child, it can hinder his/her ability to have mature relationships with others once they reach adulthood.  

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“Emotional incest” is a tricky term because it sounds as though it implies a sexual relationship when it doesn’t. Some scholars use the term “covert incest” instead, but that doesn’t really help because it retains the word “incest.” Other scholars have used the term “enmeshment,” “co-dependency,” and “emotional abuse” is another related concept as well. For the sake of this short series of posts, I will use the term “emotional incest” because I think that if you can get past the “ick” factor of the word incest, this construction is actually very descriptive.

Emotional incest involves an unhealthy relationship between parent and child in which the child serves as a sort of emotional “spouse” to the parent. This can be mother/daughter, father/daughter, mother/son, or father/son. Here are a couple definitions, some using the term “covert incest” and others using the term “emotional incest.”

Covert incest occurs when a child plays the role of a surrogate husband or wife to a lonely, needy parent. The parent’s need for companionship is met through the child.  The child is bound to the parent by excessive feelings of responsibility for the welfare of the parent. The demand for loyalty to the lonely, needy parent overwhelms the child and becomes the major organizing experience in the child’s development.

Covert emotional incest begins when a person perceives and responds to a family member as a replacement or substitute for a partner.

This form of incest is described as a relationship where a parent turns a child into a partner or confidante that is inappropriate to the child’s age and life experience. Or to put it another way, when a child is manipulated into the role of a surrogate wife or husband by a needy parent. While some refer to this as covert incest, others refer to it as emotional incest.

Read 9719 times Last modified on Friday, 12 February 2016 03:04