Also known as covert incest and surrogate spouse, some adults use their children to fulfill unmet emotional needs (not sexual) in the absence of a spouse or in place of an emotionally absent one. It’s incredibly damaging to a child’s development and largely goes unnoticed by the child since it’s normalized in their family. Some examples of emotional incest are:
A parent’s job is to love their child unconditionally, set limits, know their own boundaries, provide attunement and respect that their child is a different person. This helps a child foster their sense of self and set them up for successful relationships. It’s not a parent’s job to think they can use their child for emotional comfort. It’s the parent’s responsibility to seek out other adults and/or their significant other for solace and emotional support. Better yet, if a parent learns how to regulate their own emotions without depending on their child, they’re modeling adult behavior that helps their child navigate life’s challenges.
Adult survivors of emotional incest may experience:
If you’ve survived emotional incest and/or are continuing to find yourself in this type of parent/child relationship you can learn to SET BOUNDARIES with the parent. Children are very intuitive and you may have already felt uncomfortable or creeped out by a parent’s behavior for years or maybe you feel incredible guilt as an adult. Listen to your gut. It’s telling you something and it’s okay to start saying NO to the inappropriate behavior. YOUR body and mind, YOUR rules.
If you’re interested in learning more about emotional incest to determine if you’re a perpetrator or victim of this type of abuse and you’d like to heal from it, please read, “The Emotional Incest Syndrome,” by Dr. Patricia Love.