I’ve been hesitant to write about emotional incest for two reasons: First, it’s too easy for people to think “emotional incest” implies a sexual relationship when it doesn’t, and second, I’ve had some experience with it and drudging that up can be painful. But given how integral emotional incest is to the teachings of Vision Forum and Christian Patriarchy, I’ve decided to devote a few posts to it.
Emotional incest is sometimes also called covert incest. It does not involve actual sexual or physical contact. Rather, it involves an unhealthy relationship between parent and child in which the child serves as a sort of emotional spouse or companion to the parent. Here are a couple definitions, some using the term “covert incest” and others using the term “emotional incest.”
Covert incest occurs when a child plays the role of a surrogate husband or wife to a lonely, needy parent. The parent’s need for companionship is met through the child. The child is bound to the parent by excessive feelings of responsibility for the welfare of the parent. The demand for loyalty to the lonely, needy parent overwhelms the child and becomes the major organizing experience in the child’s development.
Covert emotional incest begins when a person perceives and responds to a family member as a replacement or substitute for a partner.
This form of incest is described as a relationship where a parent turns a child into a partner or confidante that is inappropriate to the child’s age and life experience. Or to put it another way, when a child is manipulated into the role of a surrogate wife or husband by a needy parent. While some refer to this as covert incest, others refer to it as emotional incest.
You get the idea. Emotional incest is essentially when the relationship between a parent and child becomes like that between two spouses, except that given the immaturity of the child the relationship is one-sided and the parent feeds off the child emotionally while the child ends up feeling responsible for the well-being of the parent.
I think it’s important to remember that there are different degrees of emotional incest. It’s not an all or nothing kind of thing. Sometimes emotional incest is extremely severe and debilitating, and other times it’s more moderate and can almost go unnoticed. Regardless of its intensity, though, emotional incest is harmful and unhealthy.
In Part 2, I’m going to look at the Botkin sisters and reveal that emotional incest is essentially mandatory in Christian Patriarchy, and in Part 3 I’ll point out that emotional incest is in no ways limited to the more extreme world of Christian Patriarchy, and discuss the “daddy’s girl” effect. Finally, in Part 4, I’ll address my own experiences and the pain and harm emotional incest causes.
Discuss this post on the NLQ forum. Comments are also open below.
Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism
She’s graciously allowed us to cross post this from her blog.
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce