I had never heard this term before, not once. It’s also known as emotional incest, but because the name states the word, incest, I should clear up that it does not involve any sexual activity at all.
Often, a part of child abuse that is overlooked, is the emotional side. It’s hard to realise that the years following abuse, are usually far worse than the incidents themselves. However, the emotional side is much harder to understand. As a victim, it is more difficult to realise that this abuse is what had also occurred.
I learnt about this concept earlier this week. I read it with my mouth hung upon, my mind uttering, oh my god, several times, and the realisation that everything my parents did, was one form of abuse or another.
What is covert incest? Exactly that. A relationship between family members that shouldn’t happen. Be it mother and son, father and daughter, mother and daughter, father and son. It is when the child is not treated as a child, but an adult and is put upon by the actual adult and his or her emotional needs. Often, it’s a biased relationship on the adults side, with the child really having little understanding of what is happening or what is expected of them.
They play the role of the parent’s emotional support. It is the parent crossing boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. Roles are reversed and the child ends up being emotionally responsible for the needy parents well being.
I realise that this is something I endured with both my parents. Perhaps, this added to my feelings of being responsible, and the idea that I cannot shift, of making my parents the way they were. They gave me the responsibility by putting an adult world into my child mind.
My mother often sat me in the bathroom with her for hours at a time, using me as her sounding board. When we were out, it was my job to look after her and when she was afraid, I would get her home safe, and reassure her that everything was fine. I tried to hug her when she was upset. I complimented her and encouraged her. It was I who made her feel better about herself, and listened day after day, to her imaginary affair with one of our doctors.
Where was she, for me? She wasn’t, and I was only used if the family needed a scapegoat, if something was wrong, or if my mother was feeling bad.
Of course, by doing this, I learnt that if I said the wrong thing, I was beaten. I learnt the answers she wanted to hear. I learnt what made her feel good, what got her up in the morning.
Maybe this is why I feel responsible for my father’s wellbeing after I have told him to leave me alone, because they made everything my responsibility and my fault. How do I undo that?
The Long Term Effects (from CovertIncest.org):
Relationship problems are endemic amongst covert incest survivors. They often fall for the wrong type of partner—someone who is a replica of their invasive parent. Thus, their emotional needs remain unfulfilled which leads to unhappy relationships.
Because of the conflicting emotions that result from growing up with an invasive parent, survivors usually find themselves both attracted and repulsed by members of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending on their sexual orientation and gender of the invasive parent).
In addition, since the atmosphere in which they were raised was sexually charged, it is common for survivors of covert incest to use sex as a means to intimacy. This can result in sexual addiction or other types of dysfunctional behaviors as an adult.