Covert emotional incest – part 2

Covert emotional incest is not just immature love or pampering children. Emotional incest means that a relative expresses love to a child as if the child were a partner, encouraging that child to behave like a partner.

This usually happens when adults cannot fulfill their need for companionship and adult love through healthy communication and mutual respect. Instead they hope that their children will fulfill these needs. While this is often done thoughtlessly, the consequences for the children can be very heavy.

Covert emotional incest is especially dangerous when a child’s parents do not enjoy a healthy partnership. It seems most common when a child lives with a separated, lonely parent of the opposite sex.

When Parents NEED Children

Relatives who use children as a source of love are trying to fulfill their emotional needs. When this happens, adults often bond to children of the opposite sex … a depressed father more often bonds to his youngest daughter while a lonely mother more often bonds to her oldest son. Many other combinations are possible, for example between siblings or an uncle bonding with a nephew or niece.

If a parent feels rejected or alienated, he or she might focus on a child. Sometimes an entangled parent-child couple may treat the other parent as a child, especially if the other parent is immature or sick.

Children who try to support adults emotionally share feelings and responsibilities, help decision making and may care for other children. Children who feel like substitutes for adult partners often develop relationship complications that last until resolved.

Such children often seem to lose their personal identities. Younger children may try to become special or perfect, while adolescents and teenagers may become perfectionist, rebellious or spiteful.

Most parents who abuse children in this way try to maintain these bonds, even when the children are adults. They use different types of manipulation and often show jealousy or contempt to their adult child’s potential partners. They may try to alienate their children’s partners or make those partners look bad.


Expect children who are expected to repay their birth and care to feel enormous guilt, although such feelings are usually too strong (and too dangerous) to be considered consciously. The feelings become taboo! Such guilt is compounded if the child takes a wrong position in the family – displacing a parent.

People who were raised by entangled parents usually consider this kind of behavior normal and justified. As adults they rarely set boundaries or search for maturity … until they have suffered enough.

These patterns seem to be more common in relationships between mothers and sons, than between fathers and daughters or other combinations. Many women confirmed that they experienced this when the partner and relationship were subjected to their partners’ mothers. Other common consequences are that a male partner may:

  • spend too much time with his mother
  • allow his mother to criticize or humiliate his partner
  • allow his mother to be overly and rudely involved in their partnership


My mother gave me life and she has priority … anybody who dares
to say anything against my mother must leave my house!


How About Your Partner?

If you are in a relationship with a bonded person, you already know the consequences to your family and marriage. Ask your partner about the feeling of owing something to parents; and how it would feel if he or she stopped trying to please parents and expressed true feelings to them.

And, if you are a partner of such a person, research your own habits. What attracted you to this person? Why did you stay? People who are bonded to parents are usually strongly attracted to people with similar habits, and may exchange the roles of parent and child with their partners.

Over time, however, they may become irritated by their partner’s behavior (You are just like my father / mother!) Or they feel so much guilt for leaving their parents that they emotionally withdraw and sabotage their own intimacy. This leads to victimization and dependency … patterns of suffering that are usually passed on to the next generations.

What would you have to believe to partner an adult who acts like a child?

If you wish to change, consider emailing us. A first step is to take responsibility for yourself and your own happiness. If a partner definitely does not want to grow up, there is not much that you can do, except perhaps to explore why you want to stay in this relationship. Or wait, pray and hope.

Maybe ask : “What will my life look like in a few years if I ignore this?
and “What will my life look like if I invest in my own maturity?

If covert emotional incest is ignored – families may suffer. We often resolve emotional incest in families. Two common symptoms are feeling special – people believing without evidence that they are extraordinary or exceptional; and identity loss – lost access to qualities, resources and emotions. Such consequences are often accompanied by addictive relationships and passive aggression.

I took many drugs to try to change the effects and
consequences of my father’s warped ideas about love. 

Guidelines for Parents

If you used a child to fulfill your emotional needs, deliberately or not, that child may feel entangled with you. Such children may sabotage their lives and withdraw into distractions or depression. If they realize exactly what you did to them – with whatever your good intentions – they may avoid you.

People who fixate on their parents
may be unable to maintain healthy partnerships!

Entangled people often feel overwhelmed with unpleasant emotions and self-criticism … or empty. Children often recreate their parents’ drama unless they can free themselves of those habits, beliefs and emotional baggage.

They may believe that it’s normal to feel so bad, and that most other people feel the same way. They may feel discouraged, and resigned to living with their problems. They may fear that misery or even insanity awaits them or that they are somehow destined to feel alone and misunderstood.

Don’t ask abused children to forgive their abusers.

Does any of this resonate with you? Do you want to clarify your emotions,
redefine your beliefs, recover your sense of self and build healthy relationships?

Contact us to free yourself of your emotional baggage.