Can you imagine what it is like for a child who is trying to work out how the world works, being dragged into the adult world before they are ready? In this scenario, this is being done to them by the very people who should be teaching them healthily what it means to be a child.
Emotional Incest or Invasive Parenting is a term used when a parent looks to their child for emotional support or treats them more like a partner than a child. The result is a world view with no boundaries often resulting in self-abuse, relationship issues, intimacy issues and a lack of self-esteem. While it is often seen as less damaging than physical incest, the consequences can be long-term and extremely damaging.
Emotional incest can manifest itself in different ways:
Adult Issues: By being exposed to adult issues, children are given responsibility that is way beyond their comprehension and ability to cope with. It teaches them that there is no boundary between child and adult. Children should not have to help adults navigate social and romantic issues that they have.
Adulation: The child is conditioned to boost the parent’s self-esteem through being pushed to achieve or to constantly praise the parent. The child becomes the focus of how the parent feels about themselves and has a devastating effect on the child’s development.
Best Friend: Sometimes a parent makes the child the “best buddy”. This is often present in single-parent families but is also can exist in “normal” families. This alienates spouses and siblings and demotes them in the eyes of the parent to a secondary role. This causes resentment all round and stops the child developing boundaries and later in life will find it difficult to meet their own needs. Sometimes divorce and bereavement can trigger a familiarity in aspects of the child’s personality, leading to the child taking the place of the spouse.
Enmeshment with Anger and Rage: While most emotional incest articles deal with a parent treating the child as “chosen”, children can also be used as a “venting system” when parents feel rage and anger. The child then takes on responsibility for not only the parent but for “fixing” the issues by blaming themselves.
Children who were involved in emotional incest often cope by becoming overachievers to help them feel continually “special”. They often take on responsibility for others but suffer badly from a lack of self-esteem, assertiveness and boundaries. There is a real danger of relationship issues where power issues are usually fought.
Many people who have been subjected to emotional abuse do not seek therapy directly for that but it is usually recognised when other issues are being treated.