The obvious signs of covert incest are obscured from plain view. It is like the air in the room – it’s here, but you don’t see it.

Covert incest survivors typically respond in the same ways as survivors of overt (hands-on) sexual abuse, with many of the following adult-life symptoms and consequences:

  • Addiction and/or compulsivity (especially sex and porn addiction)
  • Difficulty developing and maintaining long-term intimacy
  • Shame and feelings of inadequacy
  • Dissociation
  • Difficulties with self-care (emotional and/or physical)
  • Love/hate relationships (especially with the offending parent but also with others)
  • Inappropriate bonding with their own child (intergenerational abuse)

As pervasive and damaging as covert incest is, it frequently goes unrecognized in treatment settings. This is because most people (including many therapists) seem to think that if there’s no actual physical sexual contact, then no harm has been done. But that belief is just not true. Covert sexual abuse is just as damaging as overt sexual abuse.

Just for Today
Dig beneath the surface to see if covert incest may underlie some of your behaviors. If you think it might, discuss this with your therapist or a supportive friend in recovery.