Thursday, January 31, 2008

Psychological Incest - What Does It Mean?

On the post What If It just Doesn't Seem That Bad to Me? I referred to psychological incest as a particularly insidious form of abuse. Because this abuse is psychological in nature it is much harder to understand the impact it has upon its victims. Victims have enough trouble accepting the fact that physical and sexual abuse ARE bad even with physical elements of trauma present. The damage caused by this more covert abuse is so hard for victims to identify, thus making it all the more powerful.

The use of this term pushed a button with some of my readers. I promised I would address this subject in a post. My guess is this will take many more posts than one. But I'm going to get started and open the door on this big can of worms.

Please, ask all the questions you need. The only way we'll ever get through all the aspects of this abuse is by you guys pushing my buttons for a change. It is just such a vast subject. I know I would probably leave lots of things out. I'm going to start off with giving you a professional accessment. Then I'm going to add a personal antedote on the subject. Don't rule out the subject because this antedote is not your scenario, this is just one of many. I will post more as we go along.

When I was in therapy this abuse was referred to as psychological incest but it is more commonly known as emotional incest or covert incest

Let me start off with a few basic facts. Many of the aspects of this abuse will be present in other forms of abuse. These behaviors are not unique to psychological incest. I think what identifies this abuse is that the child is elevated to the status of the adult on some level.

From the website,

Why It Happens

Covert incest typically occurs in families where one parent (the shadow parent) does not actively participate in family affairs, thus setting the stage for the other parent (the invasive parent) to turn to a child for emotional support. The invasive parent in effect makes the child a surrogate spouse who is forced to take on the responsibilities of the shadow parent. The roles are essentially reversed; instead of the parent looking after the child, the child is responsible for the parent's well being. This is a terrible burden for a
child to carry, as a child is incapable of meeting the emotional needs of an adult.

I would add to this it can take place in families where one parent is very sick or absent. Depending on the reason for the absence, death, work, alcholol or drug addiction, extensive travel, military, etc, there can be a million different scenarios that make this possible within the family system.

What stands out the strongest for me is that this particular abuse can set a victim up to believe that they are somehow special. This "specialness" acts as a wedge to seperate the victim from peers and siblings. That dynamic alone is so damaging that many victims never realize its affects.

I remember a woman from one of my groups who used to go on and on about how burdened she was by her great beauty. While she was a beautiful woman, I'm no slouch in that department myself. I've always turned heads but have never felt burdened by it. Actually I found it difficult to even accept that I was beautiful. I really had trouble understand where this woman was coming from. And while we were friends, I was always aware of how hard she worked to push me away.

Frankly her constant insistance that no one could possibly understand how isolated she felt because of her beauty was in actuality the aftermath of psychological incest. Her alcoholic father had put her up on that pedestal and her mother worked the angle to her advantage to manipulate the father. All the while the child was caught in the middle between her parents feeling like somehow she had power over this whole situation.

While this woman was in therapy to deal with the sexual abuse at the hands of a cousin, she had no clue of the phychological incest that had happeded within her own immediate family. She left group thinking she had resolved her sexual abuse issues when in actuality she hadn't even identified the more insidious abuse she had suffered at the hands of both parents.

to be continued............

Part 2

Anyone reading this Be AWARE! in the comments I have moderated a very explicit comment. I am going to post it because I think it will be very helpful to some. This form of abuse is so difficult for victims to identify, details such as this will be helpful. If you are worried about triggers Do Not Read. The comment starts off with the writer saying she would respect my choice to post or not post so use that as a warning that this is the explicit comment.


Patches said...

Some here can really relate to this.

We look forward to reading more on the subject.

Enola said...

Wow. I can really relate too. I'm looking forward to reading more.

Perfect said...

I can DEFINITELY relate to this topic!! My T refers to it as being "parentalized"; when your parent puts you, the child, basically in the role of being their caretaker whether physical or emotional. My mother did it to me, confiding in me with her marital woes. I still have to fight this inbred urge to take care of her and every time it rears it's head in a situation, I am FULL of rage about it.

I know two men from my past who both suffered the same kind of abuse. With my XDH, it was physical and emotional. His mother was a double amputee from diabetes and he "had" to help bathe her, dress her and all kinds of inappropriate things. To this day, he has sexual confusion, anger issues, aggression and a wild distrust of women.

My XBF also...his parents had a bad marriage and his mother basically made him a surrogate spouse. Here he is now, 43 years old, and is still tied to his mother and can't follow through on a relationship with another woman.

So I relate to and agree with this subject on many levels. It's incredibly devastating.

Daisy said...

**** RR I will not be offended if you choose not to publish this. I don’t want to upset people or trigger them in anyway. It is just that I felt like sharing and maybe prompting you with ideas for the next posts in the series. Seriously, I am taking your view on a call whether this comment should be posted or not****

If you do publish then reader beware….

It is funny that I hadn’t heard the term psychological incest before you raised it. Its something that in one sense I thought "maybe" immediately when I read it, though. Don’t know. I wasn’t considered "special" in any sense. Well maybe. Not in terms of beauty; my sister was always the “pretty” one. I remember my parents saying they thought I was the most intelligent one, never agreed with them though. Never felt it. Quite clearly my brother is as he went to Cambridge and got stunning exam results. I didn’t.

But this is what I was thinking it more in terms of…

Some of my parents friends were inappropriate. Eg I remember the ***s asking my sister and I “when did you last ask your parents when they last made love?”

My parents would quiz my sister and her boyfriends about what sexual activity they were getting up to (in graphic detail, really explicit.)

When I had my first boyfriend they cornered me and asked “Are you two into heavy petting?” These questions horrified me so I made sure I didn’t have any boyfriends until I was older and could keep secret.

My mum had an obsession that us kids had worms. She used to inspect our toilet (we had to go on newspaper sometimes) to see if we had worms. Also our bottom was inspected I think. My sister would then mimick such behaviour with me.

My parents would never have a lock on the bathroom door. I would have to have a bath on a sunday. You could guarantee my mum would always come in. I remember her leaning over me one particular sunday, and she got her finger and stroked me and said "ooh, I see you are starting to grow pubic hair" and laughed. She was leaning right over me and I felt really vulnerable. I felt dirty. I can still picture it.

You know it wasn't like we had that sort of talk normally. When I had my first period I didn’t even know what it was; no-one had told me. I thought I was dying. Yet when me and my sister had boyfriends my mum wanted to talk explicitly about what was going on.

They had friends round one weekend and they took my sisters and my bedroom and we had to sleep on the floor of my parents bedroom. They had sex that night. I didnt know what was happening at the time as I was young and naive; just heard the noises. But that is what my sister told me at the time. My sister was really angry.

And then I think shit happens and maybe it was acceptable. Some parents are open with kids on sexual matters. My question to myself is, am I making a mountain out of a molehill (as my brother used to tell me I constantly did?)

Then of course there was all the times my mum went to bed. She would spend days and weeks at a time in bed under the covers with the curtains shut. She would withdraw from everything and as my father was at work all day, it became me and my sisters responsibility to keep house. To do everything. I used to beg her to get up. I would do anything for her if she would just get up. She used to tell me how much I took her for granted. So I used to try hard to prove my worth.

Anyway, better leave it there. I guess I am in two minds what this represents and whether ultimately, well I don’t know? Some of this stuff just happens and was of the time.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and well written. I believe that sometimes pushing buttons is the only way to resolution. Seeing things for what they really are, can be a very difficult process. I'm looking forward to reading more.

jumpinginpuddles said...

our parents were abusers like this, in fact most of our abusers were to some point or antoher. We have a question can you please tell us when and how you found out you could yell and it was safe to do so. And see our blog to understand why we are asking. We were hoping you might be able to pass the challenege on to some people who might want to participate, let us know

keepers said...

we agree with you, this happens in a lot of families. sometimes we are simply overwhelmed by what people can do to other people, especially children.


lovelee said...

I remember being in a psych ward as a small child, and at first they were amazed, and in turn concerned at how "adult" I was. I was later pushed some to play. This came from having to be the adult in the household. I have never heard of it labeled psychological incest, but it sure makes sense.

healandforgive said...

I read this post with fascination.

Emotional Incest played a damaging role in my family dynamic. It is not often I come across material about Psychological Incest.

Thank you for the validation!

Marj aka Thriver said...

I am so glad we got to include this for THE BLOG CARNIVAL AGAINST CHILD ABUSE. For those of us who were sexually abused, sadistically tortured, etc., it's hard not to overlook this kind of abuse. But, it is oh so important--equally important to heal from it. Thanks for this excellent information!

Anonymous said...

Some comments/reports about psychological, emotional and/or covert incest tend to be fairly extreme, and linked to physical incest. But psychological incest can be far more subtle, involving parents who inappropriately cross boundaries and bond/communicate with their adolescent or teenage kids as they would to a boyfriend, girlfriend or significant other. They put any love interest in their lives in a competitive situation with the kids. I experienced this while dating a woman with three grown kids ranging from 20 to 25. "My boys call me everyday," she said. I replied, "Why?" She would have daily conversations with them that sounded not like mother-son, but girlfriend to boyfriend(s). She bought a pool table for her living room and would party with them (alcohol was a mainstay in this family). She was married for over 20 years, and the marriage went south for the last few years. So as Dr. Kenneth M. Adams described in his book about Covert Incest, she moved too close to her "boys," who are not normally individuated and are immature. Consequently, she could not maintain an intimate relationship with a man -- me.

Anonymous said...

I want to thank you so much for establishing a forum to discuss psychological incest. I can certainly get where just reading about accounts similar to that of ones own experiences can trigger some forgotten fears, feelings, etc. So certainly I will understand if my post is also not posted.

To those of us who are just starting to learn about psychological or emotional incest I would tell you that I do not think I would have been able to face my past or my present or future for that matter if not for the help of my therapist and psychiatrist. If you have reason to believe you may be a victim of this type of abuse please do not talk yourself out of seeking professional help.

Three weeks ago I nearly ended my marriage. I was 100% sure it was over and I was growing so tired of trying to understand why he hated my mom so much, why she hated him, and why I even cared. Although I have a history of Bipolar Disorder, I was always a very calm, collected woman, especially in front of my 2 kids. My husband is a very loving, good father, and is very protective of his family, and worries about me constatntly. His intentions almost always the best, but instead of saying something like, “Honey, you look tired, you sure you do want to go lie down?” he'll say, “OK, C'mon, go to bed”. And I snap. Who is this man trying to tell me what do do? I am 34 years old! But after the constant fighting with my husband, the constant struggle within my own mind to let myself off the hook for millions of little things that had happened to me ever since I was a kid, and just desperation of feeling completely helpless I finally snapped. This last fight made me go into a rage, a true rage (bear with me - I have a point). Luckily my kids were not home. I threw pictures off the wall, through my purse across the room, and swept everything that was on the kitchen counter and sent it all flying everywhere. My husband and I took a time out to absorb what had just happened, I think we were both a bit scared by what had just happened.

It was a horrible event I never want to relive. I was mad at him, but deep down I knew this was bigger than our marriage, and not something I had ever really gotten to the bottom to that was deep in side of me. In the weeks that followed I made a list of some of the things I had been feeling, my behaviors, triggers, and actions. I wont bore you with the details but I googled some of the keywords from my list and no matter how I did it, the same thing came up in my search results: Codependency. What? I didn't even know what that was. But I was interested immediately. I was all about learning. So I went to Barnes and Noble's kiosk and did a search on books about Codependency. Some popped up, but funny enough just a couple of titles down there was a book titles “Toxic Parents” by Susan Forward. I picked it up and was instantly hooked. WOW! I couldn't believe someone wrote a book about something that was so close to my heart, as I got to the middle of the book, I felt liberated and validated. I discovered my mother was controlling, manipulative, and verbally abusive. All things on some level I already knew. I almost skipped the chapter on incest because, well, I had never been molested or sexually assaulted, especially not my mom. But to appease the author who insisted we read through the whole book, I read on. In a small paragraph she discussed what psychological or covert incest was. As I finished the paragraph, I almost dropped the book. I couldn't believe mom did this? I thought she was just being loving and way too overprotective. Sadly the paragraph was brief and most of the rest of the book did not expand on covert incest. So yesterday I went back to the bookstore and bought a book titled, “Emotional Incest - What to do when a parents love rules your life” by Dr. Patrcia Love.

The “Toxic Parents” book made me feel liberated. I am on page 70 of “Emotional Incest” and it is breaking my heart. I am reading about things that happened to me as a child that I thought were things all moms did, like walk in on you every time you were taking a shower, changing, or using the bathroom. The obsessive interest in my sexuality, who I kissed, who I was sleeping with, what was it like. The refusal to accept that I need to grow up now and be with my husband and tend to my kids, all of which she seemed to always take so personally. The book even describes how I am made to feel today as an adult child of a Toxic Parent and how this type of abuse effects things I do every day. Now that I am out of the house things are a bit different but her need to control me and be involved in every decision is still there. And I understand now why it is that every time my Husband tries to baby me or tell me what to do I lose it. I do not wish to be controlled. And anything that my battled mind interprets as an order causes a switch to go off in my head. And clearly her affect on me hasn't healed itself over time. It's still there. But now I know what it is and I intend to face this and get my life back and save my marriage. So I urge to you please seek help. Just because you didn't have a name for it before doesn't make the pain any less real. And it won't just go away. I wish you peace in your home and in your heart.

Anonymous said...

Correction: the book is titled "The Emotional Incest Syndrome: What to do When a Parent's Love Rules Your Life" by Dr. Patricia Love.

Anonymous said...

I just read the last comment. I had forgotten this post. I am glad I came back. And I may try and get hold of those books. I get mad at the same things the last woman mentioned too.


Anonymous said...

Yes I think that this may have happened to me, I am still trying to find my way around after 4 years of indepth counselling, things are being resolved, but I also feel a real fraud that I never had any pyshical symptoms infact to the outside world and even to themselves my parents did their best, but I am in a lot of pain.

ifastudent said...

I got here through searching 'psychological incest'. I did that because I find that whenever I look at images of naked woman or of sex my mum comes to my mind.At times when having sex she comes to my mind.This experience is not one of desire for her but one of a presence,a watchful presence.I conclude that she has tried successfully over the years to program my relationships with women by associating herself with my sexual instincts through very explicit talk about sex to me in the name of concern for me and taking steps to make my relationships run the way she wants by influencing my behavior and taking steps to influence the women I relate with.I suspect her divorce and dominating personality have worked together to make her like this.I would appreciate any advice.I cant afford therapy yet.