Updated: Jan 24, 2020
I know you’re probably looking at me like “What?! Kobe, what’re you talking about?” (emoji side eyes) But stay with me on this one!
Covert emotional incest refers to an inappropriate emotional attachment between a child and a parent, caretaker, or relative. I’m sure your skin crawled when you read the word “incest” but it’s an important subject to breach. Covert emotional incest is common in single-parent homes or homes where parents are emotionally and physically estranged. The absence of an emotional partner for a parent can lead to emotional dependence on the child in the family. This can happen intentionally or unintentionally.
Signs of covert emotional incest include the inability to set boundaries with parents while in romantic relationships. For victims (the child) it’s normal to feel guilt and shame when trying to engage intimately (emotionally or physically) with potential partners due to feeling like they’re abandoning their parents. The difficult part of this trouble connecting stems from the fact they they don't know why they even feel that way until they're made aware.
So why does this matter?
Covert emotional incest almost always inhibits the victim from developing healthy and appropriate bonds with the people they care for. It’s so important to take time to evaluate what keeps you or your partner from authentically developing and maintaining intimacy with others. For many, that barrier is rooted in an unspoken vow to fulfill the emotional needs of a parent before anyone else, including their intimate partners, spouses, children and themselves.
You may be that person plagued by guilt because you've always been a momma’s or daddy’s girl/boy and struggle to connect to others. Or maybe you’re dating someone who has a bond with a parent that impedes on your ability to feel like you're their only partner.
Covert emotional incest has lasting generational negative effects that echo into marriages and child-parent relationships to come. It's torture to the child who feels like they're betraying a parent and torture to the spouse of the person committed to loving the broken child in their partner.
It's time to break up with your parent. It's time to tell your significant other to break up with theirs.
Children are not meant to be partners for adults. Not physically, not emotionally.
Part of breaking generation curses includes being honest about the ways your parents may have relied on you for love, joy, and happiness when it wasn't your job to offer that. It's okay to forge your own path and put down the heavy mantle of being an emotional caretaker for your parent.