What is Emotional Incest?

Emotional incest is troubling any time it shows up in families. Many of us grew up in households that were dysfunctional, where boundaries between parents and adults were blurred in unhealthy ways. Emotional incest is not sexual in nature. It does, however, describe unhealthy emotional interactions between adults and children that are psychologically damaging.   In a real-life this looks like a parent treating their child as a partner, relying on them for emotional support and care. Here are some of the classic ways parents cross this line:  

Asking a Child for Advice

  When a parent turns to their child for advice about marital issues, sexual problems, financial worries, etc. this blurs the boundaries and causes the child to feel anxiety to which they should not be privy.  

Ego Booster

  Narcissistic parents often look to their children to give them a much-needed ego boost. With the parent’s ego being a priority, the child’s emotional needs take a backseat.  

BFF Syndrome

  A parent should never be best friends with their child as this results in many boundaries being blurred. And a child should never be a trusted confidante to their parent.  

Therapist

  Parents that turn to their child for comfort during an emotional crisis, rob the child of learning age-appropriate socialization. These children may grow into emotionally struggling adults, seeking approval from others by taking care of someone else's emotional needs.  

Emotional Incest Outcomes

  Emotional incest is sometimes called “covert” incest because while it’s not sexual, the outcomes of this family dynamic are often similar.  
  • Trouble setting healthy boundaries
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-harm
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sexual intimacy issues
  • Substance abuse/addiction
  • Obsessive/compulsive issues
 

Healing from Emotional Incest

  When a child grows up and leaves the unhealthy environment and dynamic, they may experience any lasting repercussions. Most adults will suffer from at least one of the outcomes just listed.   The good news is, through counseling, victims of emotional incest can heal and live a healthy and satisfying life filled with strong emotional connections.   If you believe you are suffering from lingering effects of emotional incest and would like to speak to someone who specializes in this area, please reach out to me.