In Part 1 I discussed the definition of emotional incest, in Part 2 I discussed its relationship with Christian Patriarchy, and in Part 3 I pointed out just how easy it is to slip into the harmful emotionally incestuous dynamics (the “daddy’s girl” effect). I am now going to turn to the problems and pain emotional incest causes.
But first, I want to note that emotional incest can happen in any family (not just one involved in Christian Patriarchy) and that it can happen with sons as well as with daughters. In focusing as I have on daughters, and also on Christian Patriarchy, I have of necessity left a lot out.
Emotional incest causes a multitude of problems, but I’m only going to address the three I see as most significant: first, it creates a relationship triangle between the parents and the child; second, it makes the child responsible for the parent’s well-being; and third, getting out of this situation can have the same effects as a really, really nasty breakup.
[Editors' note: At the time of writing, Libby Anne and Sierra were unaware of the controversy surrounding Hugo Schwyzer. The discussion of his critique of emotional incest is not an endorsement of Schwyzer by NLQ.]
In Part 1 I looked at the definition of emotional incest and in Part 2 I looked at how integral emotional incest is to Christian Patriarchy, but in this segment I want to look at how easy it can be for even ordinary families to be sucked into (admittedly, less intense) patterns of emotional incest.
I recently came upon an article called “Princesses, Princes, Daughters, and Dads: Against Emotional Incest.” The author explains his own experiences as the father of a young daughter and the measures he plans to take to ensure that he does not fall into the trap of emotional incest. It was such a good article that I’m going to quote from it at length and then finish with some discussion.
Becoming a parent for the first time in one’s forties has myriad advantages, not least that one has had the opportunity to watch a great many of one’s peers “do it all first.” And I’ve seen, a time or nine, an unhealthy triangulation occur with dads, moms, and their daughters. While the dangers of physical incest and abuse are real, there’s a kind of emotionally incestuous dynamic I’ve witnessed between fathers and daughters, one in which dads seek from their daughters the validation and affirmation that they feel they are entitled to, but are not receiving from their wives.
I have already written about the ways that growing up in fundamentalist-evangelical culture made me especially vulnerable to covert incest from my father. There is a flip side to the father-daughter craze in Christian patriarchy, though. I am here to bring you two stories: and one of them isn’t about me!
In what would have been my high school years, a miracle happened. Sven, my best friend from my early childhood, came back to my church. We were fourteen. We had been estranged for about three years while his family lived in another state. But we quickly reconnected (not least due to my idealistic hopes that we could pick up where we left off, and some aggressive book-lending). But the stakes were so much higher now.
Sven’s mother had all but declared me a slut at seven years old, a fact I’ve alluded to several times as it was formative for my conception of myself (in a quite negative way that required overcoming later). But now that we actually had secondary sex characteristics, my apparent sluttitude was all the more threatening. Who knew what debaucheries my round, pimpled face might concoct? Meanwhile, I dreamed that Sven would take me away somewhere to live in childless bliss in the mountains. In retrospect, Sven could hardly have taken me across his driveway without asking his mother’s permission. But who is better at sustaining ill-fated wishes than a lonely fourteen-year-old?
After discussing the definition of Emotional Incest in Part 1, I am now going to address the way the teachings of leading Christian Patriarchy organization Vision Forum and its close affiliates, the Botkins, essentially mandate emotional incest.
Vision Forum teaches that adult daughters are to stay at home until they marry. More than that, it teaches that they are under their father’s authority just as they will after marriage be under their husband’s authority, and that well they remain at home it is their duty to adopt their father’s “vision” in place of their own and serve as “helpmeets in training” to their father in preparation for serving as “helpmeets” to their future husbands.
The possibilities for emotional incest become obvious. In fact, like I said, emotional incest is practically mandated. Adult daughters are to subsume their identities in loving, adoring, and serving their father, and they are to make his vision, his hopes, and his dreams their vision, their hopes, and their dreams. The father in turn is to guide his adoring daughter to maturity in preparation for handing her off to an approved suitor.