Monday, July 7, 2008

Characteristics of Covert (Emotional) Incest

From “Silently Seducedby Kenneth Adams. Exploring the dynamics of covert (emotional or non-sexual but gender-related) incest.

In his book “Silently Seduced,” Kenneth Adams continues to describe covert incest, the process by which a parent or major caregiver uses a child to meet and satisfy their (non-sexual) unmet adult needs. Dr. Patricia Love in her work, “The Emotional Incest Syndrome” describes her own experience with her adult clients who have also become enmeshed emotionally and psychologically with their parents as a result of the process of covert incest. She terms the child within these relationships the “chosen child,” but the dynamics are all the same. Pia Melody builds upon this premise to describe the interaction and dynamics of adult children who follow the same dysfunctional patterns that they did in their child-parent relationships because we are all drawn to what we find familiar. In any case, the basic rules are quite the same. Adults will recreate the unresolved conflicts of their childhood in their adult lives, using the only relationship skills they have and know, however dysfunctional.

Please read Adams' description of the basic characteristics of covert incest in both parent-child and adult child (grown adults who experienced covert incest as children), considering the profound effects of this type of parenting on children. [Blog host notes are italicized and noted in blue text.]

From pages 2 -4:

There is nothing loving or caring about a close parent-child relationship when it services the needs and feelings of the parent rather than the child. “Feeling close” with your parents, particularly the opposite-sex parent, is not the source of comfort the image suggests. It is a relationship in which the individual, both as a child and later as an adult, feels silently seduced by the parent. Feelings of appreciation and gratitude do not prevail in these “close relationships.” Instead they are a source of confusing, progressive rage.

During the feedback section of my lectures on the subject, some participants are quite vocal with their rage and express relief that they now understand why at times they hate with vengeance the same parent who has always loved them “so much.” Some are frozen in their seats and can't speak, while others can't wait to leave. A few courageous parents speak up, expressing that they are now beginning to understand why their son or daughters struggle in relationships.

Others listen to the lectures and insist there is no harm in their close relationship to their opposite-sex parent. Actually they claim to feel special and privileged. These children were given a special position by being idealized by the parent. But there is no privilege in being cheated out of a childhood by being a parent's surrogate partner. As adults these individuals in turn idealize their parents to cover the pain of the abandoned and victimized child within. To be a parent's surrogate partner is to be a victim of covert incest. This book is about the silent seduction covert incest victims experience and its effect on their sexuality, intimacy and relationships...

Characteristics of Covert Incest:

  • Love/Hate Relationship. One often has intense feelings of both love and hate for the opposite-sex parent. On one hand, you feel special and privileged because of the relationship; on the other you frequently feel you aren't doing enough for that parent. This results in feelings of guilt which result in rage that is seldom directly expressed. [According to Pia Mellody, this is more common in the Love Avoidant counterpart in a relationship.]

  • Emotional Distance from Same Sex Parent. In contrast to the love/hate relationship with the opposite-sex parent, you feel abandoned by the same-sex parent. This relationship often is competitive and the parent feels like an adversary. Feeling contempt for this parent is common. [Adams focuses on the opposite-sex enmeshment relationship, but a same-sex enmeshment is also possible and common.]

  • Guilt and Confusion over Personal Needs. You feel guilty about your needs and probably never have a difficult time identifying what they are. You generally try to “be strong,” caretake or always “be there” for others as a way of meeting your own needs. [Pia Mellody terms this the“shame-existence bind” in other texts.]

  • Feelings of Inadequacy. You are likely to have chronic feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. You believe your worth as a man or a woman is determined by what you can do rather than who you are.

  • Multiple Relationships. You are likely to have been in and out of many relationships and never felt satisfied. You are always on the lookout for the perfect partner or relationship. [Blog host note: Or the perfect JOB if you tend towards workaholism and are a Love Avoidant type.] Establishing intimacy is difficult for you.

  • Difficulty with Contentment. You generally experience ambivalence regarding commitment in relationships. You always seem to have one foot in and one foot out of the door just in case.

  • Hasty Commitments. You make a quick commitment to a relationship, then realize later it was not a good choice. You feel too guilty to leave. Instead, you try to make it right.

  • Regret over Past Relationships. You find yourself looking back at a previous relationship and wondering if it could have worked if you had stuck it out.

  • Sexual Dysfunction. You find yourself feeling sexually shut down or driven and compulsive in the pursuit of sexual highs or conquests. Sex may become addictive.

  • Compulsions/Addictions. You have other compulsions or addictions. You are driven in the area of work, success and achievement. You find yourself addicted to food. Either you compulsively overeat, starve yourself or you binge and purge. [Blog host note: I would also add the growing problem of “cutting” and self-injury, as the same psychological processes underlie them. At the time this book was written/published (1991), there were not terribly large numbers of people who engaged in self-injury as seen clinically today.]

Excerpts from

Kenneth A. Adams
"Silently Seduced:
When Parents Make Their Children Partners
~ Understanding Covert Incest"

Health Communications, 1991.