From pages 50 – 52:
Rebecca had been her family's princess. On the outside, she seemed to have it all. She was indulged by her parents and seldom held accountable for any misbehavior. Rebecca frequently received special privileges and rarely wanted for anything. Her siblings hated her, and her friends were envious. It was difficult to imagine that a child treated as so special could have been so deeply injured. She was adored by her father. As she described the specialness her father felt toward her, the emotional damage she endured became clearer. Rebecca's father treated her more like his mistress than his daughter.
As Rebecca began to recount her father's relationship to her, the “ickiness” of this seduction became evident to her. Though she had never been sexually touched in an overt way by him, Rebecca squirmed in her seat as if to get her father off her. She grimaced and exclaimed,
My dad actually bought me sexy underwear. I can't believe it. I forgot all about that. I felt a little funny at the time, but he always said I was his “princess” and deserved the best. So I didn't think much more of it. Besides part of me liked being treated so special. When I started developing breasts, my dad would look at me with a big smile and proclaim, “You are becoming a woman.” At that point, he started taking me out shopping and buying whatever I wanted. I'd come out of the dressing room with my new clothes on to get his approval. That felt funny, too, but I didn't think much about it since I really loved being so special.
I've always been my dad's favorite. He paid lots of attention to me at home and wanted to know all about my day. I was adored by him and I knew it. I began to expect that from everyone in my life, especially men. He even talked about boys to me, telling me I should find a man who would love me like he did.
Even as an adult, he continues to adore me. I almost seem more special to him than my mother. Last week when I was at their house, my dad wanted to go into the family pool for a swim, just the two of us. It felt kind of icky, but he said that he just wanted some time alone with “his doll.” That night when I got back home, I binged on food. The next morning I starved myself and exercised until I pulled a muscle. Throughout my life, overeating has been an off-and-on pattern. Sometimes I used to vomit or take laxatives as a way not to become overweight. I've stopped that, but now I'm into compulsive exercising and dieting.
Rebecca's eating disorder was another consequence of the sexually charged relationship her father had with her. Although she suppressed the memory of her father's seduction, her body continued to carry the feelings and sensations of the trauma. Her eating disorder masked her body's attempt to bring to consciousness the awareness of the injury. The preoccupation withfood and weight helped keep the the reality hidden. Compulsive overeating, binging and purging oneself (vomiting, exercising or laxatives) or starving oneself are eating disorder patterns common to victims of covert incest as well as overt incest.
[Blog host note: Self-injury is also very common, but was not when this book was written. Excessive numbers of body piercings and tatoos also can also be considered an presumptive factor in the presence of the signs of other emotional and/or clinical issues associated with incest (covert or overt). I was also taught while studying hypnotherapy that obesity and sex issues correlate very closely. Anyone seeking help with weight control should consider investigating sexual cause in hypnotherapy. Van der Kolk, a psychiatrist with expertise in trauma, brain imaging and pharmacology, teaches that “the body keeps score” and felt sense is a strong component of trauma and is felt by the body as well as remembered by the mind. The two are strongly intertwined. In a sense, if the mind ignores the trauma, the body still tries to heal itself through ineffectively playing out the trauma. ]
The energy spent focused on food and weight leaves no room for the body to heal. As Rebecca began to validate her inner reality of being a covert incest victim, the compulsion to overeat slowly subsided. She also needed the support of Overeaters Anonymous to help her overcome her complusion.
It was crucial that Rebecca directly address both the compulsive eating pattern and the root cause of the compulsion. There is an unwritten rule expressed from time to time by members of Anonymous programs: Understanding the reason behind the addiction is not important. One is sometimes encouraged to use the support and philosophy of the Anonymous program and forget the “why.” Though there is some merit to this belief in the early part of recovery (stopping the compulsive behavior and making one's life more manageable), it actually is a hindrance to ongoing recovery (peace of mind, comfortableness with one's own body and self, and emotionally fulfilled and functional relationships with others). It has been my experience that those people who give in regularly to their addiction (be it food, sex or gambling) are the ones who remain in denial about the root injury that opened the way to the addiction in the first place.
The preoccupied relationship Rebecca's father bestowed upon her was motivated out of his needs, not hers. Rebecca was seduced into a sexualized, idealized relationship with her father, believing his special attention was all she needed. Simultaneously, she felt emotionally abandoned. Her legitimate needs for love, belonging and separateness were never met. Being adored and admired were her only clues to the mystery of what it would finally take to fill up the restless, empty space that lay in her soul.
Rebecca's narcissistic reality was her prison. By continuing to complain that Michael [Rebecca's husband] wasn't paying enough attention to her, Rebecca hoped to recapture the specialness she once felt as Daddy's princess. Yet it was this very focus that kept her from realizing the true emotional injury which resulted from being treated in such a special way. No one was ever going to be good enough for Rebecca. She was still in love with her daddy. As Rebecca faced the reality of her father's relationship to her, her emotional freedom began. Her experience of grieving the emotional losses she endured as a little girl finally allowed her to accept the fact of her father's seduction. The true reality of her childhood was the key for which she had been searching. Her heart finally started to heal.
The narcissistic reality present in Rebecca's story is a common, almost universal consequence of being a covert incest victim. This is of course true for both men and women. Since the covert incest victim is never really seen by the parent as uniquely separate, she in turn has difficulty acknowledging the fact that significant others in her life have needs of their own. Essentially, to varying degrees, covert incest victims see the world revolving around them. Correcting the distorted perceptions inherent in such a reality is a major issue for all covert incest victims.