Sunday, July 6, 2008

Case Study of a Daughter, Sexualized by Her Father

From The Emotional Incest Syndrome” by Patricia Love with Jo Robinson.

More about Marla:

Case History of the Sexualizing Parent

(Continuation of material presented in previous post.)

Excerpts from

pages 21 – 25

of Dr. Patricia Love's “The Emotional Incest Syndrome”:

...Marla, like many Chosen Children, makes a favorable first impression...The only visible sign of Marla's struggle is twenty pounds of excess weight that she alternately loses and regains... By most people's standards, Marla has been very successful in life... She is bright, competent, and vivacious. Yet I have seen her in anguish time and time again. I remember once in my office when she was overcome with self-loathing. Her lovely face became contorted, and she leaned forward with her head down, as if the internal struggle were cutting her in two. “Each day I try so hard to love myself, to care for myself, because at the core there is such self-hatred,” she sobbed. “I find it so hard to believe that I'm okay. I find it so hard to believe that I'm lovable.”

In Marla's family, the conditions that foster emotional incest were evident in the first year of her parents' marriage. As soon as the glow of the honeymoon wore off, her mother and father lost interest in each other, and their relationship was limited to an occasional sexual encounter and whatever mundane interactions were required to run the household.

Unwittingly, each parent tried to find comfort and companionship by bonding with a child. Marla's mother turned to her first child, Derek. When Marla was born, her mother was too wrapped up with Derek to have much energy for a new baby, so Marla and her father had mutual needs: they both needed someone to belong to, to to bod with to be loved and to be loved by. By the time Marla was 2 years old, she was clearly “daddy's little girl.” Now Mother was allied with Son, and Father was allied with Daughter. Families that split up in this manner are quite common. As Lynn Hoffman writes in her book “Foundations of Family Therapy,” "A boy for you and a girl for me is not just some songwriter's fantasy."

The bond between Marla and her father strengthened with each passing year. “My father absolutely adored me,” she said, “and took me everywhere he went.” ...When she was old enough to go to school, he picked her up at school every afternoon and took her to the [tennis] club where where he tutored her... Her father was totally devoted to her, and her mother was physically and verbally abusive. “When I was with my father,” Marla told me, “I felt like Cinderella at the ball. When I was with my mother, I felt like an orphan in rags.” ...Marla saw nothing wrong with this arrangement. In fact, she said, “I loved it! My father called me his 'pretty baby.' He let me sit in his lap and he would hug and kiss me. I thought he was wonderful!”

In many families, emotional incest becomes a vicious cycle. This was true in Marla's case. The more attention she received from her father, the more her mother resented her. The more violently her mother expressed resentment, the more Marla was drawn to her father. Soon she and her father were so entwined that Marla had little time, opportunity, or desire to play with friends. After all, what playmate can compare with a doting, sophisticated, powerful adult? Her father took her out to expensive meals and bought her beautiful clothes; he even had a tennis court installed in the backyard so she could improve her game! What girlfriend could compete with that?

...While they were on the road [tennis tournaments], the went to a lot of parties. “I would be my father's 'date,'” she told me. “I would get all dressed up, and we would dance together. He would show me off to his friend and brag about how beautiful I was. It was all very romantic.”

When Marla and her father returned to their motel room, they would sleep in the same bed. “My father never sexually abused me,” she told me, “he just held me close. I would fall asleep with his arms wrapped around me.”

Like many over involved parents, Marla's father did not set appropriate limits for her. More a friend than a parent, he made no attempts to discipline her. Further, he exposed her to experiences far beyond her years... “I thought I was hot stuff,” she said. “I thought I could handle everything. I pitied children my age because they seemed so young and silly.”

Marla's blithe acceptance of her father's behavior deserves a closer look. While her mother was undoubtedly outraged by his drinking and his irresponsible nature, Marla took it all in stride. She accepted her father for who he was; she made no demands. This is a key difference between a child and an adult: a child is often blind to a parent's faults. With little outside reference, the child simply accepts what is given. A spouse, on the other hand, is likely to have a long list of demands and expectations... A child, on the other hand, will settle for an indulgent, adoring companion.

At 17, Marla had grown into a beautiful young woman and began attracting the attention of boys her own age. Her father, acting more like a jealous lover than a father, did not allow her to date. No boy was good enough for his daughter... “From my senior year in high school until I got involved in therapy,” she said” my drug of choice was a man. Nothing ever made me feel as good as Daddy, so I kept looking for more of the same. But the trouble was that no one could ever measure up to him. I kept going from one man to another, searching for the same high I felt as a little girl when my father seemed so powerful and so much larger than life.” Not surprisingly, many of her alliances were with older men. When she was 21, for example, she dated a man who was 45. It seemed perfectly natural to her. “Older men had more money and power, just like Daddy.”

As a child, Marla saw her father as a hero. As an adult, and after many years of therapy, her childhood myopia was shattered... “He could be so cruel to people, and he was incredibly self-centered. He acted as if the whole world revolved around him. Anything that got in his way, he destroyed. Although he said wonderful things to me and held me and kissed me and was utterly devoted to me, he didn't protect me. And he didn't allow me to be me – whoever that was. I may never find out. I had to be who he wanted me to be. His champion tennis player. His “pretty baby.”

Excerpt from
Dr. Patricia Love's

The Emotional Incest Syndrome:
What to Do When a Parent's Love Rule's Your Life
Bantam Books, 1990