Posted: September 20, 2021
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 AdviceWhen 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 BoosterNarcissistic 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 SyndromeA 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.
TherapistParents 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 OutcomesEmotional 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
- Low self-esteem
- Sexual intimacy issues
- Substance abuse/addiction
- Obsessive/compulsive issues