Emotional Incest - an overview - Part 2

Sobriety Navigator: Emotional Incest – an overview Part 2    

Another common scenario of emotional incest occurs when a child is turned into a surrogate caregiver. The parent will make demands that the child care for her emotionally. This parent will give the message that the child “owes” her and is responsible for her wants and needs. A child will interpret this message of being needed and depended upon with life and death urgency. The child will develop an overwhelming false sense of responsibility to keep close to the parent.  The child believes she must keep the parents happy, safe, and alive, so that they, themselves, can also survive. It is not uncommon for these emotional perpetrators to threaten to commit suicide if they are not kept happy and secure. They will send a message that they are the victims, helpless and hopeless to do anything about themselves. This overwhelming sense of responsibility and guilt can easily transform a precious child into a tormented, raging adult. 

When parents repeatedly make the claim, “You belong to me,” they are declaring their ownership of you. These types of emotionally incestuous parents will never willingly relinquish this ownership. Not ever. They have a core, fundamental belief that you were brought into this world through them, therefore they have the absolute authority in determining your worth, value and place in the world. Once the emotionally incestuous parent has determined how you can best serve their needs, you will be permanently pigeon-holed into your assigned role. 

Another form of emotional incest is the blackmail technique, which begins early in childhood and continues throughout adolescence. The objective is to beat the child down into total submission and blind obedience. By emotionally breaking the spirit of the child (hostage) you can almost guarantee that they will never leave you. There are many tactics emotional perpetrators use to guarantee their emotional grip.  A favorite one is the threat of humiliation. It is not uncommon to communicate to the child through verbal or nonverbal means that, “If you defy me in any way, I will emotionally strip you of any sense of dignity you may think you have.”  Another technique of the emotional perpetrator is to subtly (or not so subtly) humiliate the child in front of others outside of the family, or in public. 

The pain and fear of being shamed, humiliated and stripped of their dignity will impede any real chance of intimacy, autonomy, success and self-esteem in their personal relationships with others. They will continue to feel helpless, hopeless and lonely long after they are grown and strong enough to have separated themselves physically from their parents.


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