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.