• Anthony Dimitrion, LCSW, ACS

Sexual Abuse without Sex? Understanding Emotional Incest

Updated: 6 hours ago



Mom's confidante. Daddy's little girl. The child who picked up the pieces when mom was sobbing in bed with the blinds shut, while dad went off to work like nothing was wrong. Many children have been victims of emotional incest without even realizing that what they went through blurred the line between healthy parent-child relationship.


As adults, children of emotional incest may juggle the pain, anger, and loss of childhood that came with this form of incest, while navigating the still blurry relationships with one or both parents. We may be confused as to why we feel such strong distain for our caregivers, while also feeling the pull to care for them while sacrificing our own independence, adult relationships, and well-being.


So what exactly is emotional incest?


Emotional incest is a type of sexual abuse in which a parent looks towards their child as the sole source for emotional comfort and support. These children often are leaned on to meet their parent's emotional and social needs in a way that a spouse would be responsible for supporting. The qualifier for emotional incest is that the care, affection, and validation was directed towards meeting the parent's needs rather than toward the child and their needs. Many adult survivors of emotional incest describe it as feeling like their parent's surrogate spouse, caregiver, primary emotional support, or best-friend-by-default.


Examples of emotional incest as a child might be: Often soothing your mother while she sobbed after a fight with your father. Frequently attending "daddy daughter dates" because mom was too depressed to go out to dinner and dad couldn't rely on mom for company. Being your mother's designated driver and social companion during her weekly intoxicating nights at the local pub. Frequently sleeping in the same bed with your parent past age-appropriateness, and often times with little to no pushback from the parent.


Examples of emotional incest as an adult survivor might be: Feeling the urge to answer your parent's phone call, regardless of the number of times they have called each day/week. Feeling obligated to place your parent's needs before your own. Sacrificing relationships or personal engagements to be available for your parental figure. Experiencing both anger and care for your parent and their frequent needs.


So what can you do to change the dynamics?


- Begin by re-examining your personal boundaries with that parent. What is the appropriate level of closeness, contact, and support that you as their child feel comfortable with providing? Pay close attention to your instinctual gut reactions when trying out new boundaries.


- Try having a conversation with your parent, letting them know of the boundary/boundaries you are going to set. All boundaries don't have to be set at once. It's better to set one and stay firm in that one, than to set eight and experience difficulties maintaining all of them.


- Be mindful of the new boundaries that you wish to set. It can be tough to keep boundaries in place when both you and your parent(s) are not used to them being there. There most likely will be pushback from your parent(s). There most likely will be parts of you who have trouble with boundaries set.


- Intentionally take time to care for yourself throughout this adjustment. Self-care and healthy supports are necessary ways to keep you grounded through a new change.



3 views0 comments