The boundary between caring and incestuous love is crossed when the relationship with a child exists to meet the needs of the parent rather than those of the child.
Covert incest (also known as emotional incest) typically occurs when parents have distanced themselves from one another physically and emotionally, or when one (or both) of the parents is addicted to a substance or behavior. When dysfunctional parents distance themselves from each other (for whatever reason), one of the parents may focus on a child, seeking adult emotional fulfillment by using the child as a surrogate partner. Or the parent may tie his or her self-esteem to the success of the child. Either way, the child’s developmental needs tend to be ignored, and emotional growth (especially in the area of healthy sexual and romantic attachment) can be profoundly stunted. Amazingly, the adult is usually completely unaware of the emotional damage he or she is perpetrating.
Task for Today
Think about the possibility of covert incest in your life. If you sense that it was or is present, speak about this with your therapist or a supportive friend in recovery.