from “The Emotional Incest Syndrome” by Patricia Love with Jo Robinson.. Exploring the dynamics of covert (emotional or non-sexual but gender-related) incest.
Up until this point in this series of posts concerning Patricia Love's book “The Emotional Incest Syndrome” concerning non-physical incest, I presented information from Chapters 1 – 5. There are an additional ten chapters that represent a very personal journey that those who want to find healing must take on their own. I cannot reproduce the entire book in this forum. I would, however, like to offer some glimmers of hope for those who read here. Toward that end of healing, let me write a summary of the journey that Dr. Love guides the reader through in order to find wholeness.
Dr. Love on Healing Self
Finding personal healing from the wounds of covert/emotional incest involves a major undertaking of revisiting one's own personal and family history. In earlier posts, I touched on some of this, but the remainder of the book delves into the specifics of the process. She does an expert job of explaining the process of healing and it's two components. The first involves an autobiography of personal history and the second component involves changing behaviors.
The first and essential step towards healing begins with the dispelling of the myths of one's childhood. (I recall Julie Andrews singing “Do, Re, Mi” from the “Sound of Music” with the “very fine place to start” – at the beginning.) She reviews those factors that we naturally employ and used as ways in which to cope and survive our childhoods which have worn out their usefulness for us. The first means of coping is that of denial. Telling ourselves that our childhoods were perfection or that our problems were never problems at all hinder our natural ability to heal. She also discusses the resistance that we experience through our natural inclinations to deny a true and realistic view of our own pasts in favor of the childhood perspective of fantasy. We tend to see the past through the rose-colored glasses that our memories and our child-like perspective gives us, yet this perspective inhibits realistic assessment necessary to change our current perspectives with the chief end of seeing things for what they really are. The other form of resistance is external, as our families and loved ones tend to resist a change in the status quo. Our loved ones built relationships around the ways that we always been, so there will be a natural resistance as you begin to stretch your borders as you grow in healthy new ways. This is often seen as “rocking the boat” which is generally something that is resisted in relationships characterized by the covert/emotional nature of the relationships with the “Chosen Child.” We can and often do find our loved ones working against this new area of growth in our lives which is already a challenge in and of itself.
Guilt also presents a major hurdle to overcome, as part of the process of covert incest and Botkin Syndrome requires that the child and the adult child absorb and bear the responsibilities for the adult's needs and for related hardships. In a related work, Pia Mellody defines this type of guilt as the “shame-existence bind.” Often, we were expected to deny our own needs, pretend that we did not have needs or forfeit the satisfaction of our own God-given needs for nurture in order to care for or avoid any “undue burdening” of our parents. For myself, I've found this to be my greatest hurdle in healing. Love states that a proper attributing of responsibilities of the parent-child relationship to the parent (as opposed to an unhealthy sharing of the responsibilities between both parent and child through denial and guilt) must be acknowledged and is key to healing. Addressing the faulty belief systems within the family also presents a critical element of healing. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the primary means of addressing this, and personally, I like Daniel Amen's concept of countering Automatic Negative Thoughts (killing the “ANT”s) as an example. Another Christian author on the subject that has been very helpful to me in the past is Chris Thurman who wrote “The Lies We Believe” and “The Truths We Must Believe.”
Love guides the reader through the process of writing one's autobiography as a first practical step means to healing one's own perception and wounds of the past. She also presents questions to present to family in the form of interviews that help to elucidate truths about other family members' perceptions of the past. The third step in the autobiography involves drawing a family “genogram” chart of one's ancestors, giving consideration to their own histories. (Did one's predecessors have coping or relationship problems, showing that one's parents may never have had opportunity to learn better relationship skills?) Finally, Love guides the reader through a summary of what was learned in the previous steps of the autobiography.
Dr. Love on Healing Relationships
The book also presents detailed information about how to approach the various relationships that the Chosen Child or the parent of the the Chosen Child must undertake on the road to healing and wholeness. She addresses confronting and reconciliation with parents, siblings, spouses and one's own children in subsequent chapters of the book. Establishing healthy boundaries, both boundaries that protect self as well as decreasing the boundaries that Chosen Children erect in order to protect themselves from harm that serve to inhibit appropriate intimacy later in life, are an essential part of this process. (In addition to the helpful information that Love presents in the book, I also recommend “Boundaries” by Townsend and Cloud.) “The Emotional Incest Syndrome” offers exercises to help correct some of these emotional boundaries that inhibit intimacy in marital relationships of the Chosen Child. There are also several chapters that address general good communication skills as well as those specific to healing each type of relationship effected by covert/emotional incest. There are also good ideas about developing a healthy and supportive network of loved ones as well as promoting healthy, happy, well-adjusted families.
Before I conclude these blog posts, I will also highlight the last chapter which offers two case studies and examples of hope for those who have begun to realize that they are Chosen Children.