3 Signs You May Have Suffered Childhood Emotional Incest

Childhood Emotional Incest: Signs You May Have Suffered

Have you ever heard of the term “childhood emotional incest”? This article is going to explore in detail what is emotional incest in childhood, the signs of childhood emotional incest, and how it shows up in adulthood.


  • The dynamic sometimes called emotional incest can emerge when parents seek to get their emotional needs met by their children.
  • Parents who engage in this dynamic often live with mental illness, substance abuse, loneliness, or divorce.
  • Lingering effects in adulthood include fear of intimacy and a flight/fight response to closeness.

Parents are the first relationships in a child’s life. Everything they learn about relationships is modelled by their parents. Even before developing language, children absorb their parents’ feelings and behaviour, their moods, their way of communicating, or how they express affection or frustration.

Related: What Is Emotional Incest: Understanding The Hidden Dynamics and Its Impact On Relationships

Childhood Emotional Incest: How the Dynamic Develops

It is not a recognized clinical diagnosis and does not refer to inappropriate sexual contact, but the term “emotional incest” (also known as “covert incest”) is sometimes used to describe parents who are unable to maintain healthy boundaries with their children. Such parents may be living with mental illness, substance abuse, an unhappy marriage, or divorce.

In essence, such parents feel alone and unloved, and rather than seek support from other adults, they turn to their children for intimacy and care. They may burden children with their own needs, constantly seek their validation, become emotionally or psychically clingy, or try to control the child.

In seeking comfort from their child they are asking their child, in a way, to become their parent. While some children may find this exciting, the excitement quickly wears off. The parent’s emotional needs become overwhelming; few children caught in such a dynamic can meet all the needs of the parent.

Childhood emotional incest

How Children Try to Break Free

To break free of this unhealthy dynamic, children attempt to create distance; they pull away from their parents and try to establish healthier boundaries.

Unfortunately, parents may start to feel abandoned and shame or guilt their children, become physically or verbally abusive, slip into depression, or withdraw from their children completely.

They can attempt to make their children feel ashamed for wanting to be separate. In a sense, they demand that their children stay merged with them, an effort that runs counter to healthy emotional development.

Signs Of A Problem In Adulthood

Emotional incest leaves a deep scar on a child’s experience of closeness and intimacy; specifically, they struggle in intimate relationships as adults.

Signs of enduring this dynamic include:

1. Difficulty sustaining intimate relationships

Your romantic relationships start strong and may have great honeymoon periods. But they tend to decline quickly as emotional intimacy grows. You start to distrust your partner, feel insecure or trapped.

2. Disassociation, confusion, or taking distance from your romantic partner.

You start to pull away without explanation. Sex becomes unsatisfying, even revolting. You may grow inexplicably cold, critical, become quick to find fault with them, or blame your partner for your discomfort.

Related: Parentification: Healing From The Trauma Of Having To Grow Up Too Soon

3. Panicky responses to intimacy such as flight or fight.

As fear grows, you may invent a reason to stop seeing a partner or ghost them completely. Sometimes you initiate fights to get a partner to break up with you. Either way, you are in flight from the relationship.

Want to know more about childhood emotional incest? Check this video out below!

What is emotional incest?

Written By Sean Grover L.C.S.W.
Originally Appeared On Psychology Today
emotional incest

— About the Author —

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Up Next

The Emotionally Absent Mother: Overcoming Her Legacy And Healing From The Wounds

The Emotionally Absent Mother: Healing From The Wounds

Having an emotionally absent mother can take a heavy toll on your mental and emotional well-being, and that too from a very young age. This article is going to explore what it means to have an emotionally unavailable mother, how her emotional absence can affect you and how to heal from it and move on.

Growing up with a mother who wasn’t emotionally available may have complicated your relationship with your emotions. Our early experiences of emotional attunement play an important part in the subsequent regulation of our emotions.

An emotionally absent mother may fail to develop the kind of satisfying attachment bonds in her children that make sustaining ordinary relationships possible.

Up Next

Only Child Syndrome: A Closer Look At The World Of An Only Child

Only Child Syndrome: Exploring An Only Child's World

What is the only child syndrome and how does an only child feel growing up without siblings? This article is going to talk about how it feels being an only child, and what it entails. So, let’s get started, shall we?

There is a stereotype that only children, children without siblings, fail to develop the ordinary social bonds and attachments that children with siblings do. The reality is more nuanced.

It does not follow that children with siblings are automatically more adaptable, more able to share, more able to understand group dynamics, but it is the case that only children didn’t grow up having to deal with

Up Next

Child Parentification: The Cause, Signs, and Recovery

Clear Signs Of Child Parentification In Adults

Ever felt like you were the parent instead of the child? That might be child parentification. Let’s explore its causes, signs, and how to recover together.

The term child parentification was coined in 1967 by family systems theorist Salvador Minuchin, who said the phenomenon occurred when parents de facto delegated parenting roles to children.

It can happen when one parent is physically absent or when a dysfunctional family is under stress because a parent cannot perform their parental responsibilities.

Usually, this is due to a phy

Up Next

6 Signs You’re Ready To Start A Family

Signs You’re Ready To Start A Family With Your Partner

You want a baby, a little one to call your own, yet you’re not sure if you really are ready to start a family? Being a parent isn’t as easy as it seems. You can’t just wish for a child then boom, they’re born.

Before even starting the process of family planning, you need to first figure out whether or not this is truly something that you want.

While for some couples around the world, having a baby is their ultimate dream. That’s not always the case for everyone else.

Some can’t decide if they actually do want kids or not while others are already excited and some are straight up terrified. It’s also no secret that life changes forever when there’s a little one in tow. The question �

Up Next

Why Introvert Extrovert Couples Make Great Parents: 8 Compelling Reasons

Reasons Introvert Extrovert Couples Make Great Parents

You know why introvert extrovert couples make great parents? They’re the perfect combination of yin and yang. Introvert extrovert couples work really well because where one person lacks, the other makes up in spades. And this approach reflects in their parenting skills as well. They have different ways of looking at things, and they give the best of both worlds to their children.

In this article, we are going to explore some of the major reasons why introvert extrovert couples make a powerful team when it comes to the battle of parenting their children.

So, if you are someone who is in an introvert and extrov

Up Next

Zodiac Signs As Moms: Discover Your Celestial Parenting Style Here

Zodiac Signs As Moms: Powerful Parenting Styles Unveiled

Do you find motherhood as exhilarating as it is demanding? The zodiac signs as moms bring unique parenting styles to the mix!

Motherhood is a unique path where the 12 zodiac moms bring different cosmic energy. Our personality is shaped by stars and the 12 zodiac signs are therefore associated with certain motherhood traits that differ from one another.

Thus, fasten your seatbelts, and let’s venture on a whimsical journey through the world of astrology to find out who these celestial zodiac moms truly are.

Zodiac Signs As Moms

Up Next

Under The Narcissistic Veil: The Struggles Of Sons Of Narcissistic Mothers

Sons Of Narcissistic Mothers: Understanding Their Struggles

Having a narcissistic mother is, safe to say, one of the most traumatic things to go through. Sons of narcissistic mothers look at the world and relationships in an entirely skewed way, and this is due to the lessons they have learned growing up with a narcissistic mother.


The worldview of a young man whose mother has narcissistic personality disorder becomes skewed.

NPD is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance and a lack of empathy, among other traits.

Once one have been gaslit, they may always suspect the people they are close with may be ho