Psychological Incest - What Does It Mean? really brought up some issues for folks. The comments on the post have personal accounts of just such abuse. There are complicated issues hidden within such behaviors.
Systemic Coaching for Emotional Incest
describes one scenario of psychological incest.
Emotional incest results when a person loves a family member as a replacement or substitute for a partner.
Keep in mind that this form of abuse can happen without a child being the "emotional support" of a parent. Specialness, like that of my friend, does not always play a prominent role in psychological incest either. Both are just one characteristic of this abuse. Unfortunately I've not found a resource that lists what all of the characteristics might be.
It's such an illusive thing to describe. I can just hear the thoughts "well, I wasn't "special," as a reason to rule out this form of abuse as a problem from one's past. But I think it's appropriate to change the word to "different" as well, and broaden the meaning.
Most of the victims I know were able to see "different" instead of "special." Also, I think that it can depend on how the victim utlitizes the information. The narcissist will jump all over that "special" and buy it in a heartbeat while a victim with less marcissistic tendencies will feel "different."
I think the important thing to remember here is this phrase, the child is elevated to the status of the adult on some level. Whether that child becomes a confidant for an adult, or performs some role in the family that an adult should be doing, that child is caught in this "special" thinking.
I would interpret that specialness to be the feelings that a child might feel because they are helping to care for a sick, dying, or wasted drunk etc parent or because they are caring for the parent left behind in such instances. If the child ends up believing that she/he is someone making life better in the family, that child is experiencing this special thinking.
While there are so many many ways this can manifest, the damage is all the same. The victims as adults have problems with real relationships. They have problems with boundaries. They have a distorted perception of what a relationship should be, big problems with trust and great difficulty committing. Some stay attached to parents into their adulthood while others can't break away fast enough.
Also victims have problems with their peers. This "specialness" acts as a wedge to seperate the victim from peers and siblings. Children who are performing adult roles within a household focus on that and do not have time to interact with their peers. They have been put in a position of authority over their siblings. Both of these things are damaging to those relationships.
Exchanges with peers are affected on a couple of levels. The child who doesn't interact with her/his peers loses touch with "How" to interact and begins to feel seperated from them and different. The child loses the ability to interact with peers in any other way than as an "authority figure" Doing so automatically removes the child from the category of peer and puts she/he into an adult position where there is no acceptance at the peer level.
If that child doesn't feel seperated from siblings, the siblings have their own feellings about being ruled by a sibling who should be a peer and not a parent. They are resentful. The siblings feels seperated from the authorative sibling. The victim is effectively aliented from both peers and siblings making them more dependant on the abnormal relationship with the parent.
This child can not win, even though she/he might feel so at the time. The world the child is functioning in is not normal and will never really feel that way. The parent will only treat the child as a peer when it makes the parent feel better, in all other ways, the parent will still expect the child to remain a child.
The child becomes lost in a netherland between two worlds and doesn't really fit into either of them. This burden stays with the child on into adulthood. The only freedom from this trap is addressing the issues of this insidious abuse.
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