From “Silently Seduced” by Kenneth Adams. Exploring the dynamics of covert (emotional or non-sexual but gender-related) incest.
From pages 82 – 84:
Ambivalence serves as a way to protect. By holding the ambivalence as a defense, covert incest victims stay guarded from the threat of being used and abused again. The original pain of being abused by the parent surfaces in relationships with spouses. As the need for further commitment in a relationship grows, the fear of being used again grows as well. Since the boundaries are often blurred between the incestuous wound of childhood and that of adulthood, being able to differentiate between one's spouse and the incestuous parent is difficult. Consequently the feelings of being violated become active. Ambivalence shields the covert incest victim from the threat of further abuse.
Although covert incest victims experience chronic ambivalence in relationships, the beginnings of the relationship are often quick and intense. Immediate and total commitment occurs, followed by the uncertainty of the ambivalence. The tremendous guilt the covert incest victims carry prohibits leaving if the relationship is not working. Instead, they try to make it right, only to be disillusioned after each attempt. Or if the relationship has potential, the guilt interferes with clearly identifying personal needs to make a legitimate attempt to make the relationship work. Commitment becomes an arena desperately longed for. However, it is an experience which generates fear and confusion.
These hasty and intense commitments are born out of the attachment to fantasy as well as the tremendous neediness experienced by the covert incest victim. Rather than bonding with the person, the bod is to the fantasy the person represents. Since the fantasy represents the ideal or perfect person, the commitment is immediate. The person may have some of the qualities of the fantasy spouse, but in reality is never seen as for who he or she really is. When the illusion dies, and they all do, the struggle regarding commitment surfaces. Now faced with who the person really is and realizing the vulnerable of committing so quickly, ambivalence sets in.
The other factor which contributes to the hasty commitment is the desperate hunger for attachment covert incest victims feel. Having been emotionally abandoned in the incestuous relationship leaves a tremendous neediness for love which consumes the search for a spouse. When this neediness is combined with the ongoing illusion or fantasy, the chances of making a relationship choice rooted in reality are minimal. When it becomes clear the relationship will not fill the longed for intimacy needs, the felling of abandonment resurfaces. Additionally, covert incest victims blame themselves for the sense of failure and relentlessly search themselves for fault. They hope if thy are scrupluous enough, then will find out what is wrong with them. Then they can change and make the relationship work. Guilt and confusion over their personal needs become pervasive. The pattern experienced with the covertly incestuous parent is repeated.
The guilt and confusion over personal needs lead covert incest victims to take cues from their spouses to the needs in the relationship. Attempting to fill the spouse's needs in hopes of getting one's own needs met becomes a desperate pattern. Resentment, anger and hopelessness pervade. This pattern has its roots in the covertly incestuous relationship where the sacrifice of personal needs became the means of survival and hope for love. The identity development of the child – so crucial in developing clear commitments regarding sexuality, needs, values, wants, choices and feelings – is blocked. The adult capacity for healthy intimacy is lost.