Saturday, July 5, 2008

Ending the Enmeshment Cycle With Your Own Children

Series of posts about Covert Incest from “The Emotional Incest Syndrome” by Patricia Love with Jo Robinson.. Exploring the dynamics of covert (emotional or non-sexual but gender-related) incest.

From pages 237 -8:

At some point in their therapy, just about all of my clients who have children become sidetracked from their exploration of their childhoods to dwell on the mistakes they've made as parents. Many of them have come to the painful realization that they've unwittingly become over involved with a son or daughter. The guilt and anxiety can be overwhelming: “How coul dI have repeated the very same mistakes? Why couldn't I see what was happening? How could I, of all people, get tangled up with a child?”

Some of you may have had a similar reaction as you read this book. As you scrutinize your current family, you recognize two of the telltale signs of emotional incest:

  1. the lack of a supportive nurturing marriage relationships


  2. a tendency to turn to one or more of your children for emotional comfort or support.

You fear that to one degree or another, you're recreating the same twisted dynamics that were so harmful to you as a child.

It is a distressing but well-documented fact that people tend to pass on the destructive elements of their own upbringing. Like dominant genes, dysfunctional behaviors show up in generation after generation, replicating themselves seemingly at will. Children of alcoholics develop drinking or drug problems. Abused children grow up to abuse their own sons and daughters. Children from unstable families wind up with a distressingly high rate of divorce. The tendency is to either duplicate the behaviors we've observed in our families or to run blindly in the opposite direction, creating a whole new set of problems.

How can you keep from repeating the mistakes of the past? And – if you've already made some errors – how can you restore a healthy balance to your family?

The most important thing you can do is strengthen your support network. This recommendation is both cure and preventive medicine: a strong support network will help those of you who are just starting a family establish a healthy pattern of interaction, and it will help those of you with older children correct any ongoing enmeshment. A strong marriage relationship and/or caring friends will give you the support you need to be an objective and nurturing parent.

But no matter how strong and resilient your support system, you will still have a greater tendency than other parents to step over the hidden boundaries between parent and child. Especially in times of stress, you will be tempted to turn to your children for support – it's a familiar and comforting pattern. To guard against this tendency, you need to be especially clear about the differences between parenting and partnering.

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