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 and the same rage, anger, shame, and guilt.
Covert incest, also known as emotional incest, is the surreptitious, indirect, sexualized emotional use and abuse of a child by a parent, stepparent, or caregiver. In contrast to overt sexual abuse, which involves hands-on sexual contact, covert abuse involves less direct forms of sexuality—sexuality that is emotionally implied or suggested rather than overtly acted out. Though there may be little to no direct sexual activity, these overly enmeshed relationships have a sexualized undertone, with the parent expressing overly graphic verbal interest in the child’s physical development and sexual characteristics or betraying the child’s boundaries through voyeurism, exhibitionism, sexualized conversations, inappropriate sharing of intimate stories or images, and similar behaviors.
Task for Today
Think about the familial relationships in your life. Were you covertly sexualized as a child? Have you covertly sexualized a child in your adult life?