Understanding Covert Incest

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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 (and sometimes as psychic incest), is the surreptitious, indirect, sexualized emotional use/abuse of a child by a parent, step-parent, or some other important 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 and/or betraying the child’s boundaries through voyeurism, exhibitionism, sexualized conversations, and inappropriate sharing of intimate stories and/or images. Notably, covert sexual abuse is just as damaging to the victim as overt sexual abuse.

Just 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?