Emotional Incest Notes Dec 21
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Covert Incest, Emotional Sexual Abuse, Emotional Incest & Enmeshment Page 1 of 3 An Overview SILENTLY SEDUCED -- When Parents Make Their Children Partners Understanding Covert Incest Kenneth M. Adams, Ph.D., Health Communications Inc. Kenneth Adams PhD is a licensed psychologist and internationally recognized expert with 27 years of experience in treating trauma-induced intimacy disorders, disorders, enmeshment, child abuse and addictions. He is the author of three books and numerous peer-reviewed professional articles.
There is nothing loving or caring about a close parent-child relationship when it services the needs and feelings of the parent rather than the child. “Feeling close” with your parents, particularly the opposite-sex parent, is not the source of comfort the image suggests. It is a relationship in which the individual, both as a child and later as an adult, feels silently seduced by the parent. parent. (Page 2) Overt Incest Overt Incest occurs when there is sexual contact in any dependent relationship, the most obvious being between parent and child. … Children are not property. They feel terrified and degraded when a parent or any adult is sexual with them. …Overt incest is one of the most frightening and traumatic experiences a young girl or boy ever has to endure. (Pages 5-7) Covert Incest Victims of covert incest, also referred to as emotional sexual abuse, suffer pain similar to that of overt victims. Identification is more difficult since direct sexual sexual contact does not occur. However, similar feelings and dynamics are at work. Covert Incest occurs when a child becomes becomes the object of a parent’s affection, affection, love, passion and preoccupation. preoccupation. The parent, motivated by the loneliness and emptiness created by a chronically troubled marriage or relationship, makes the child a surrogate partner. The boundary between caring and incestuous love is crossed when the relationship with the child exists to meet the needs of the parent parent rather than those of the child. child. As the deterioration of the the marriage progresses, the dependency on the child becomes increasingly characterized by desperation, jealousy and a disregard for personal boundaries. The child becomes an object to be manipulated and used so the parent can avoid the pain and reality of a troubled marriage. The child feels used and trapped, the same feelings overt incest victims experience. Attempts at play, autonomy and friendship render the child guild-ridden and lonely, never able to feel okay about his or her needs. Over time, the child becomes preoccupied with the parent’s needs and feels protective protective and concerned. A psychological marriage between parent and child results. results. The child becomes the parent’s surrogate surrogate spouse. An important difference between overt and covert incest is that, while the overt victim feels abused, the covert victim feels idealized and privileged. Yet underneath the thin mask of feeling special and privileged rests the same trauma of the overt victim: rage, anger, shame and guilt. The sense of exploitation resulting from being a parent’s surrogate partner or spouse is buried behind behind a mask of illusion and denial. (Pages 8-10) These children were given a special position by being idealized idealized by the parent. But there is no privilege in being cheated out of a childhood by being a parent’s surrogate partner. As adults these individuals in turn idealize idealize their parents to cover the pain of the abandoned and victimized child within. To be a parent’s surrogate partner is to be a victim of covert incest. (Page 3) In a covertly incestuous relationship, relationship, the parent complains to the child about the difficulties in the marriage. The child becomes the the parent’s confidant. confidant. (Page 12) Again, it cannot be stressed enough that the mother’s preoccupation with the child is not a statement of love for the child, but a statement of dire dire neediness by the mother. (Pages 39-40)
WHEN HE’S MARRIED TO MOM How to Help Mother-Enmeshed Men Open Their Hearts to True Love and Commitment Kenneth M/ Adams, Ph.D. with Alexander Morgan Morgan 2007 Fireside Fireside Books
I use the term “covert incest” to distinguish enmeshment from physical incest. incest. When a parent uses a child as a surrogate husband or wife, the child will develop in adulthood a definite collection of problems that are similar to the problems of of adults who suffer physical incest. incest. (Page 249) Over the course of my twenty-five years of clinical practice, I have worked with and successfully treated hundreds of men who have excessive emotional ties to their mothers. They feel trapped, guilty, and disloyal when attempting to follow follow their own wishes and lead their own lives. I refer to this syndrome as mother-son enmeshment; those who suffer from it are mother-enmeshed men, MEM for short.
Covert Incest, Emotional Sexual Abuse, Emotional Incest An Overview
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WHEN HE’S MARRIED TO MOM, excerpts, continued Most close relationships between mothers and sons are not enmeshed relationships. The key distinction is that, in a healthy mother-son connection, the son’s needs are being addressed and the mother meets her own needs for emotional support and companionship elsewhere. In an enmeshed relationship, the mother uses her son for emotional support and companionship. He becomes her surrogate husband. Struggling under this burden, he is drained of his youthful energy. (Pages xiii –xiv) There is a universe of difference between a mother who loves her son dearly and a mother who makes her son the primary focus of her passion and preoccupation in an attempt to compensate for her own emptiness. (Page xvii) Characteristics of a MEM’s Childhood 1. His mother keeps him close to her. 2. His mother often intrudes into his privacy, even when he protests. 3. His mother tells him about her anger with her husband, her sexual frustration or other adult matters. 4. He often escorts his mother to social functions. He is her little companion. 5. Grown-ups often comment how “well-behaved” he is, or they say he is a “little adult.” 6. His mother discourages activities that take him away from her, including sports, and play with other children, especially girlfriends. 7. He sometimes avoids going to school or going out so that he can stay home, close to his mother. 8. His mother makes decisions for him, and determines his interests without asking him. 9. His mother has few outside interests or adult friends. He is the predominant focus of her life. 10. His mother is unhappy in her marriage and a martyr. He has become the person she can count on. 11. He takes on in his own personality the same depression and social isolation of his mother. 12. His father is either absent or ineffective, while the son becomes the man of the house. 13. His mother discourages any connection with the father.
He feels abandoned by or distant from his father. He feels scorn and contempt towards his father.
THE EMOTIONAL INCEST SYNDROME: What To Do When A Parent’s Love Rules Your Life Dr. Patricia Love with Jo Robinson, Bantam Books, paperback edition, 1991 Dr. Patricia Love, Ed.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist, an approved supervisor in AAMFT, and a past president of the International Association for Marriage and Family Counseling and author of numerous books on marriage, relationships and family. Introduction: This book describes a syndrome known as emotional incest , a surprisingly common but rarely identified style of parenting in which parents turn to their children, not to their partners, for emotional support. To the casual observer, the parents may appear to be loving and devoted. They may spend a great deal of time with their children and lavish them with praise and material gifts. But in the final analysis, their love is not a nurturing, giving love – it’s an unconscious ploy to satisfy their own unmet needs. Being a parent’s primary source of support is a heavy burden for young children. Forced to suppress their own needs, they struggle to satisfy the needs of the adults. Because of this role reversal, they are rarely given the adequate protection, guidance or discipline, and they exposed to experiences well beyond their years. In adolescence and adulthood they are likely to be plagued by one of more of the following difficulties: depression, chronic low-level anxiety, problems with self-esteem and love relationships, overly loose or rigid personal boundaries, some form of sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, and drug or alcohol addiction. (Page 1) When there is a high degree of enmeshment it merits a special term: emotional incest . Just as children are powerless against a parent’s sexual advances, they are powerless against an emotionally Invasive Parent. Their sense of self is so limited and their need to be connected to their parents is so great that adults have total control over the relationship. When a parent takes advantage of this power and turns to a son or daughter for need fulfillment, there is a violation of the intimacy taboo between parent and child. (Page 8)
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THE EMOTIONAL INCEST SYNDROME, excerpts, continued Varieties of Emotional Incest Emotional incest can take many forms. … a Romanticizing Parent [is] a parent who turns to a child of the opposite sex for the intimacy and companionship one would normally expect to find in a love relationship. In essence, the child becomes a surrogate spouse. 1. The parent is using the child to satisfy needs that should be satisfied by other adults. The parent is turning to the child for intimacy, companionship, romantic stimulation, advice, problem solving, ego fulfillment, and/or emotional release. The child is not equipped to handle these needs and suffers long-lasting consequences as a result. 2. The parent is ignoring many of the child’s needs. When a parent turns to a child for emotional support, the child is rarely given adequate protection, nurturing, guidance, structure, affection, affirmation or discipline. It’s a flip-flop of healthy parenting: instead of the parent meeting the needs of the child, the child is meeting the needs of the parent. The parent lacks sufficient companionship and support. Almost without exception, a parent who is enmeshed with a child has an inadequate adult support system. …. To fill in the void, the parent turns to the child. (Pages 9-10)
So far in this chapter, I’ve mentioned two factors that can transform a parent’s natural love for a child into emotional incest: a lack of a strong marriage relationship and a lack of good information about healthy family life. Now I want to add a third factor: a lack of self-awareness. Many people become enmeshed with their children because they fail to see their own lives objectively. They don’t see to what extent they are siphoning off their energy to their children. Oh, how clearly they see the mistakes other people are making! But when the curtains are drawn around their own living rooms, they suddenly lose perspective. Ways of relating that seem way out of line to others feel normal – even desirable – to them. If they were able to penetrate their denial and see exactly what they were doing, they might make some immediate changes. (Page 79) Warning signs of emotional incest: [excerpts] Nursing a baby into the toddler years; permitting a child to sleep in the adult bed; teaching a child at home. (Pages 82-84) The Only Child (from Chapter 6: Identifying Families At Risk) One-child families have a higher than normal incidence of emotional incest. …The lack of in-house playmates further heightens the bond between parent and only child. With no brothers and sisters, the only child may spend hours a day alone with the parent. As a result of all his adult interaction, the only child can become an articulate, surprisingly mature little person. This pseudo-maturity tends to make the only child a favorite of teachers and produce dramatically high scores on achievement tests, but it wreaks havoc with peers. It is not uncommon for only children to: (1) bemoan the immaturity of playmates, (2) reject them, or (3) be rejected by them. This makes the child even more reliant on adults for companionship, increasing the likelihood of emotional incest. (Page 90) Emotional incest and the single-parent family: When children live in a single-parent household, conditions are ripe for emotional incest, because it takes a strongwilled adult not to rely on the ready comfort of the child – especially in the tumultuous years following a divorce. (Page 86)
Few enmeshed single parents, whether custodial or non-custodial, are aware of the degree to which they’ve come to depend on a child. As we’ve seen, an emotionally needy parent often has a hard time differentiating between normal parenting and emotional incest. (Page 87) Functional parents establish clear rules and guidelines. Limits give children a safe a nd secure environment in which to grow. … When a parent and child are “best friends,” rules and limits go by the wayside…. When a child grows up without limits, the child will not have the proper respect for authority and natural hierarchies. She may feel that she is above the law and disobey traffic rules or participate in juvenile crimes. She may have difficulty in adhering to school rules and regulations. She may have little guilt or remorse associated with these violations, feeling that she can write her own rules. (Page 105) Ten rules for healthy parenting [excerpts] 1. Share personal information with your child only when it’s in the child’s best interest. 2. Keep the details of your marital problems between you and your partner. 3. Turn to adults for your emotional needs. 7. Give your child the safety and security of limits. 9. Make your adult relationships a priority. 10. Assure your children of your well-being. (Pages 239-242)