Emotional Incest


2014 started out wonderfully with flashbacks of my early teen years. The times when Dad would disappear for days or months at a time without a word. I never felt safe. Things could appear normal for long stretches and then seemingly out of nowhere, Mom would come home with puffy eyes, screaming about Dad and his whore again. Last night I heard some of the same phrases I used to hear, “I’d never in a million, no billion, years want you to marry a man like your father” or “If it weren’t for you and your brother, I’d have left years ago.” Images of slamming doors, yelling, and sliding to the kitchen floor in tears after Dad stormed out of the house, raced through my mind last night…memories I thought were in the past. The things he did to her, not just cheating, are unconscionable and inexcusable. I thought I quelled the anger, but since hearing my mom last night, it’s bubbled up inside me again.

Faith_hurt the showerFaith_hurt the shower

On one hand, I told my mom years ago she had my blessing if she wanted a divorce, even if that meant years later when things seemed “okay” because I knew what he had done to her. On the other hand, over the past few years, I let the anger and fear slip out of my grasp. I let my guard down. I thought things were healing between them. So, I am sad.

Worse still, I fear the revolving door…Every time he was emotionally manipulative and/or abusive or she caught him cheating, she would swear it was the last time, this time they would get divorced. Yet, a few weeks or months later, before the final divorce papers were signed, he would come back, apologizing and promising to do better. And around and around we go… I fear the cycle restarting more than I fear their divorce.

Maybe this is why my brother never talks to us. 😦

I also fear her pain. My mom and I are close. Doctors use the word “enmeshed”. Yet, just like instances of alleged physical or verbal abuse, things are never simple. In a house with 4 bathrooms, we’ve shared a bathroom since I was 11. The change happened when they realized I was purging. For a time, we shared a bed. That is not as disturbing as it sounds. She made me sleep in her bed for a few months because she was afraid I’d hurt myself at night. I only went back to my own bed when my dad came home. Coincidentally, my most recent suicide attempt was a few weeks after my dad returned from “business” and my brother returned from school for the holidays.

The definition of emotional incest:

“Other scholars have used the term ‘enmeshment,’ ‘co-dependency,’ and ’emotional abuse’ is another related concept as well. For the sake of this short series of posts, I will use the term ’emotional incest’ because I think that if you can get past the ‘ick’ factor of the word incest, this construction is actually very descriptive.

Emotional incest involves an unhealthy relationship between parent and child in which the child serves as a sort of emotional ‘spouse’ to the parent. This can be mother/daughter, father/daughter, mother/son, or father/son. Here are a couple definitions, some using the term ‘covert incest’ and others using the term ’emotional incest.’

Covert incest occurs when a child plays the role of a surrogate husband or wife to a lonely, needy parent. The parent’s need for companionship is met through the child.  The child is bound to the parent by excessive feelings of responsibility for the welfare of the parent. The demand for loyalty to the lonely, needy parent overwhelms the child and becomes the major organizing experience in the child’s development.

 

Covert emotional incest begins when a person perceives and responds to a family member as a replacement or substitute for a partner.

 

This form of incest is described as a relationship where a parent turns a child into a partner or confidante that is inappropriate to the child’s age and life experience. Or to put it another way, when a child is manipulated into the role of a surrogate wife or husband by a needy parent. While some refer to this as covert incest, others refer to it as emotional incest.

You get the idea. Emotional incest takes place when the (emotional, not sexual) relationship between a parent and a child becomes like that between two spouses, except that given the immaturity of the child the relationship is one-sided and the parent feeds off the child emotionally while the child ends up feeling responsible for the well-being of the parent.” via patheos.com

Yep. That was us. I still feel responsible for her well-being. In fact, thinking about it, I remember feeling jealous, even resentful, that my brother did not feel responsible for her.

Is it still emotional incest now? Back then I was 15 – 17 years old, now I’m 23. I am an adult.

 

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