Emotional incest or covert incest is when a parent relates to their child in manner in which the child feels the need to offer the parent emotional support that would normally be offered by an adult. It is also considered as child abuse because when this happens, the needs of the child are neglected.

It mostly happens when:

  • A parent is unable to or unwilling to maintain a relationship and the child is forced to take the role of the adult. This can be the case in marriage when parents triangulate the child or involve a child during a fight and vent to them.
  • Discussing with the child about any kind of struggle or experience that only an adult would understand and offer the right kind of support.
  • A parent invades the child’s privacy to an extent that they can’t have space of their own.
  • A parent feels jealous of their child’s relationship hence intrudes in their relationships.

As explained above, it is considered to be abuse because the child’s needs are ignored hence ends up feeling abandoned. The child grows up with a difficulty in taking care of themselves cause they are used to taking care of others, feeling inadequate and unworthy of love and care from others, compulsive habits like workaholism, substance addiction and difficulty forming lasting relationships because they feel unworthy of love.

A child who experiences this kind of treatment grows up to loose confidence in himself. This is because the child grows up feeling unimportant due to the sense of abandonment and neglect.  You know a child is not showing confidence if he has a posture of slouched shoulders or  can’t stand straight, he can’t look you in the eye when talking to you, is not audible when talking, keeps to self, avoids challenging activities due to self-doubt and avoids asking for help due to shame.

You can help build up the confidence by:

  • Talking to him and relating with him in a healthy way.
  • showing him love and caring for his needs.
  • Encouraging him to make choices of what to do.
  • Encouraging him to engage in activities he loves and is good.
  • Introducing him to other things that can build his skills.
  • Engaging in family time and meeting his needs.
  •  Helping the child build a relationship with the father or a male figure.
  • There is more on how to build up a child’s confidence in this article.

To avoid emotional incest and all the hurt it causes to the child, it is important to form healthy boundaries with your child, know when you are invading their space, when you are giving them the responsibility to take care of needs an adult would otherwise be helping you with and put their needs first so that they can feel worthy of love as they grow up.

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