From ”The Emotional Incest Syndrome” by
Patricia Love with Jo Robinson.
Dr. Love discussed the mixed messages that parents send to their children simultaneously, communicating love, abuse and neglect. Adults should never look to children to chronically satisfy needs that should only be met through intimate relationships (emotional or otherwise) with other adults. Children are not capable of the perspective that an adult should have, so they rely upon unrealistic fantasies, beliefs and expectations in order to survive childhood.
On page 13, the author says:
When a parent relies upon a child for emotional support, the results are not always sweetness and light... A parent who is overly attached to a child can also be critical or neglectful, which results in a confusing mixture of love and abuse. Instead of feeling privileged for being a Chosen Child, the boy or girl wonders, "Why me? Why not someone else?"
Varieties of Parenting Styles of Emotional Abuse:
From pages 13 - 25:
For me, as for most people, the blindfold of childhood was removed layer by layer. The first piece of information to lodge in my consciousness was the fact that although my mother and father cared for me, they both had abdicated their roles as parents – my father by disappearing, my mother by consistently placing her needs above mine. This simple fact, which is now so blatantly obvious to me, was revealed only through therapy. Before that, it had been too painful a reality to absorb...
The revelations continued. With a therapist's help, I realized that my mother's praise and high regard for me was partly an unconscious device to relieve her of the burden of parenting...Later I discovered that my mother's effusive praise had another purpose, which was to bolster her fragile ego.
“I got the feeling my mother was trying to live her life through me, only I wasn't doing a good enough job...She used love like a club.”
David, a successful architect in his mid-fifties, had a mercurial mother who doted on him one minute and attacked him the next. “She wanted me to be wither her all the time,” he told me, “but she was hypercritical. She made me feel like a failure. I was never good enough.”
Guilt is a potent weapon of the over involved parent. Any time the child's needs conflict with the parent's, the parent can lower the boom: “You only think of yourself.” “You're so selfish.” “Cant you think of anyone else?” The martyr role is equally effective. “Go ahead.Go out with your friends. I'll be all right. I'll be fine sitting here alone by myself. Don't worry about me!” Thus begins a lifelong association between love and guilt...
David's relationship with his mother can be broken down into tow separate roles: he was part surrogate spouse and part scapegoat. He was expected to satisfy his mother's need or romantic attachment and absorb her tension and disappointment as well.
The Sexualizing Parent
“He would show me off to his friends and brag about how beautiful I was. It was all very romantic.”
[Blog host summary of the case history of Marla (pages 21 – 25). Because this pattern is so strongly reflected in “Botkin Syndrome,” I will summarize the author and present sections of the case history in a separate and subsequent post.]
In the case history presented by the author, Marla was a “person of extremes” who was very successful professionally and is lovely but suffered great anguish as an adult due to an inability to establish stable and emotionally intimate relationship with men. Her self value spikes between very high and very low self-esteem which the author describes as a classic problem for those who are “chosen children.” The author describes the relationship between Marla's parents as good initially, but they then withdrew from one another. The mother turns to the son (“Derek”) for companionship while the father turns to Marla to fill the needs that should only have ever been sought from an adult.
Marla was never allowed to explore or investigate her own natural talents or inclinations because she was required to do only what the father desired for her. She admits now, as an adult who has begun to accept the realities of the relationship, although she was well-treated, she describes her father as completely self-centered. She describes that she had to be only what her father wanted. Even as a young person, the only sign of problems was the same twenty pounds she would repeatedly gain and lose. She was lovely and accomplished, wearing her insecurities and the effects of the performance-based relationship that revolved around her father's needs in places where no onlookers could notice (both as an adult and as a teen). The relationship was one of bitter-sweet extremes, just like her internal sense of value (and lack thereof).
As an example of these types of sexualizing relationships, the author presents the father who doted on the daughter and was permissive while the mother was strict and distant. She was the beautiful daughter that the father paraded around like a showpiece, training her in tennis (his profession) and took her alone to compete in local tournaments where they would share a bed together during hotel stays. The daughter denies any sexual violation but her father would hold her in his arms during the night. (The father thus taught her inappropriate sexual boundaries of affection and created other boundaries to shield their relationship from competition from other male suitors as she became older.) She was such an icon of worship in this relationship which was irresistible for her where she was completely cared for by a sophisticated person who was totally devoted to her. She literally could do no wrong while bearing no responsibilities in their relationship (save to please her father). Both the daughter and the father lived in fantasy of the ideal. He became the triangulating factor in all of her adult relationships in addition to the distant relationship she held with her mother. This actually stunted her ability to form meaningful, intimate healthy relationships apart with everyone and anyone else.
From page 23:
I had quite a few clients, both men and women, whose parents walked this fine line between emotional and sexual incest. Their parents didn't touch them inappropriately, but they displayed an unhealthy interest in their bodies. Some had parents who did not allow them privacy in the bedroom and bathroom. Others had parents who openly stared at their bodies, took seductive pictures of them, or made inappropriate sexual remarks. When parents are both sexually and emotionally fixated on their children, the enmeshment is usually more intense and more damaging (author footnotes “Favorite Fairy Tales” edited by Mulherin, Grosset and Dunlap, 1983).
When it came time to find a mate and bond appropriately, the author describes Marla's struggles of comparison to her father (something her relationship with her mother also suffered. Neither daughter nor father could find a suitable mate for her, and the restrictive relationship of fantasy did not prepare Marla with realistic standards for adult relationships. She also lacked the skills needed to function because she did not know how to the negotiate wants and needs of others in balance with her own. The ideal mate could only dote on her in an unhealthy way and required nothing from her, and no one but the father was capable of meeting her narcissistic relational needs in a romantic relationship. Everyone paled in comparison to her magnificent father of fantasy, and because of the magical perspective that a child tends to have for a parent (what the author calls “making a banquet of crumbs”), she never appreciated his faults in a realistic way. She'd “turned her heart to her father” in such a profound and an emotionally incestuous way, she could not give it to another as her own mate. To escape this fantasy, Marla went behind her father's back to date and to try to form meaningful relationships with men her own age, but she knew only how to function as an object. She became promiscuous as a result, a passive means of establishing independence apart from her father.
From page 24 -25:
Having a name for what happened to them and a conceptual framework for their childhood experiences makes a big difference in their lives. But for Marla and others like her who were deeply enmeshed with a parent, it can take years of therapy to repair the damage.
We will examine the quotes from Dr. Patricia Love's book that discuss Marla in a subsequent post as an example of the “Sexualizing Parent.”