Emotional incest, also known as covert incest or enmeshment, refers to a type of dysfunctional relationship in which a parent or caregiver relies on a child for emotional support and companionship that should be provided by another adult. Emotional incest is not a form of sexual abuse, but it can be just as damaging to the child’s emotional and psychological development.
In emotional incest, the parent may use the child to meet their own emotional needs, such as venting about their problems, seeking reassurance, or confiding in the child about adult issues like marital problems or financial struggles. The parent may also share inappropriate personal information with the child or expect the child to fulfill a spouse-like role, which can lead to confusion, boundary issues, and feelings of guilt and shame in the child.
Emotional incest can result in the child feeling responsible for the parent’s emotional well-being, causing them to sacrifice their own needs and desires to meet the parent’s demands. It can also cause the child to struggle with intimacy and trust issues in their adult relationships. Therapy can be helpful in processing the impact of emotional incest and developing healthier relationship patterns.