Emotional Incest Part 3: Daddy’s Girl

by Libby Anne

[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.

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Emotional Incest: The Mama’s Boy and the Other Woman

by Sierra

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?

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Emotional Incest Part 2: The Botkins

by Libby Anne

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.

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Snipped! Part 4 The Freedom of Divorce

by Incongruous Circumspection

Seven years old was a big year for me. It was at this point that Mama and Dad’s relationship boiled over and broke apart. Dad left and went to live by himself, leaving my siblings and I alone with Mama. At this point in my life, the alone time with Mama wasn’t too bad. She hadn’t learned yet, to take her immature “lashing out,” and reconcile it with her interpretation of the Bible. She was just solidly abusive and then excitingly adventurous.

At one point, Dad did try to come back and give the marriage another chance. I remember being asked to dry the dishes one evening. Dad had pulled our old black and white television from its corner, to the middle of the living room, and was watching a night game between the Vikings and who cares who else. I was drying a dish and became quite interested in the noise coming from the tube, being that I wanted to love what my father loved, so I peeked around the corner into the living room. Dad caught my gaze and motioned for me to climb up on his lap. I obliged and, for the next sixty seconds, I learned everything about football down to the color of the Vikings away laces.

Sixty seconds with my Dad was an eternity. He had come back to try and reconcile with Mama and the whole eleven days that he stayed was a living hell for him. Any time he tried to enjoy his family by playing with his kids, Mama would come into the room and yell, demanding that we go and do some chore that sorely needed to be done. This time was no different. Around the corner she came, swooping in and grabbing me, forcing me into the kitchen to finish my duties. It would be about a year before I watched another game of football with my father.

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Emotional Incest, Part 1: Definitions

by Libby Anne

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.

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