Emotional Incest Syndrome: 3 Interesting Ways To Recover From It

Emotional incest syndrome 1(EIS) in the 21st century was brought into the limelight when it became one of the leading causes of depression and anxiety 2in young people worldwide. 

“When closeness becomes too much closeness!”

But what is emotional incest syndrome? How can you identify someone if he or she has been suffering from emotional incest syndrome? Can therapy be used to treat the syndrome?

Please continue reading the article as we share with you all the details you need to know about Emotional Incest Syndrome.

1. What Is Emotional Incest Syndrome?

Emotional Incest Syndrome
Photo by jano gepiga from Pexels

EIS is also known as covert incest. It refers to a type of abuse where a parent looks for emotional support from their child. They look for a romantic relationship with their child, which otherwise should have been provided by another adult.

Incest was first defined in the 1980s. It was described as an emotionally abusive relationship between a parental figure and their child. It does not include a sexual relationship between them. But it involves interpersonal dynamics 3between them as between two sexual partners.

However, the definition was revoked in later years. An incestuous emotional relationship was later defined as a faulty family dynamic. One adult forces the emotional role of a spouse or another adult onto their child. The needs of the child are often overlooked, and the relationship then solely exists to meet the needs of the parent.

This type of relationship reverses the norm of parenthood. It leads to the child prioritizing the needs of their parent. Emotional Incest syndrome can severely harm the well-being and growth of the child.

2. Potential Causes of Emotional Incest Syndrome

There has been only a little research on EIS. Therefore, the potential causes of the syndrome could not be well understood. Most of the observations are based on anecdotal evidence. It has been understood that relationships occur when the partner or spouse is not meeting a parent’s emotional needs.

2.1. The Possible Causes for the Same Can Be Due To:

  • Relationship dysfunction and breakdown
  • Divorce
  • Infidelity
  • Domestic abuse 
  • Bereavement
  • Mental health conditions
  • Substance abuse
  • Surrogate spouse

3. Some Examples of Emotional Incest Syndrome

  • Relying on their child for support. Confiding them with relationship problems and expecting comfort, reassurance, and advice from them. 
  • The caregiver’s needs are prioritized over that of the child. 
  • Invading the child’s privacy. Being nude around the child. Making the child uncomfortable when he/she is nude is a common example of emotional incest. 
  • Putting the child in a therapist’s role. Robbing the child of age-appropriate socialization. 
  • Treating the child as a romantic partner. Taking children on dates. Discussing their sexual encounters. Commenting inappropriately about a child’s body and appearance. Or sharing other adult issues with them. 
  • Feeling jealous of a child’s relationship. Competing, intruding, or sabotaging a child’s other relationships. 

4. What Effect Does Emotional Incest Syndrome Have Upon the Child?

Caregivers who engage in this type of relationship often do not realize the harm that they are inflicting upon the child. On the other hand, the children involved are too naive to understand. They feel the bond that they share with their caregivers is special.

There are also high chances of repetition of the same behaviour when they have a child. Some other effects that are observed in a child are mentioned below:

  • Feeling a love-hate relationship with the caregiver. 
  • Developing a feeling of abandonment towards other people. 
  • Difficult in identifying or prioritizing one’s personal needs. 
  • Experiencing an unrealistic sense of obligation to the parent or caregiver. 
  • Sexual dysfunction and difficulty in developing lasting intimate relationships
  • Developing eating disorders
  • Addiction or compulsive disorders
  • Anxiety and depression 

5. How to Recover From Emotional Incest Syndrome?

One of the initial stages of recovering from emotional incest syndrome is to acknowledge the fact. It usually takes a long time for someone to understand the full impact of the caregiver’s behaviour.

The struggle to accept the fact that the relationship they were or are in is not healthy is deadly. Some effective ways to help you to recover are:

5.1. Having a Therapy

You can talk to a qualified and experienced therapist about your experiences of childhood and your relationship with your caregiver. They will help you to understand and provide you with a judgment-free space where you can talk freely. They will also help you to understand what a healthy relationship looks like.

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Also, if you are not comfortable talking to a therapist, you can join a support group. It will be more beneficial to converse with other people who have had similar experiences.

It will help you to open up and also provide you with a sense of comfort. 

5.2. Establishing Healthy Boundaries

Parents or caregivers are the biggest sources of strength and support for a child. Most of the time, it has been observed that people indulging in incest relationships often cannot decipher the effect of their actions.

Therefore if an adult is still in contact with that parent or caregiver, try to establish healthy boundaries with them. Cutting them off completely should not be the solution but making them understand the consequences of their actions can be.

Also, set healthy boundaries with your romantic partners, friends, and even with your child. 

5.3. Take Medications

One of the greatest impacts of emotionally incest relationships4 is leading young people to depression and anxiety. Therefore, taking prescribed medications will help in ameliorating the symptoms. 

The bond that a child shares with his/her parent is precious. However, there is always a vague line between a healthy relationship and an emotional incest relationship.

If you notice anyone you are invested in an emotional incest relationship, broach the subject carefully. A person may feel extreme shame while expressing themself. Therefore handle the situation with extreme expertise.

It has been observed that the parents involved do not know the effect of their actions. They also dealt with several mental and emotional issues at that time.

Therefore, parents could be aware of the condition and taught about maintaining healthy boundaries with their children.

6. In The End

Now there you go. Hopefully, the article was able to describe emotional incest syndrome properly. The bond between a parent and child is extremely special. However, by maintaining some simple healthy boundaries, the relationship can always be protected with love.

If you ever witness anyone or you being affected by such circumstances, contact us for professional help immediately.

Read more from us here.

7. FAQs

Q1. What Is the Surrogate Spouse Syndrome?

Making your teenager a partner, friend, or equal is called “parenting” your child; This is also called emotional sex or marital syndrome.

Q2. What Is the Mini Wife Syndrome?

Mini-wife syndrome is when a stepchild acts like the mother of the family. This behaviour is often attributed to guilty parenting (sometimes Disneyland parents) and abusive parenting.

Q3. What Is the Mini Husband Syndrome?

The definition of mini-wife syndrome (or mini-husband syndrome) is thinking that your partner’s child sees it… and your partner doesn’t correct them about it! The little wife/little husband syndrome is neither complete cohabitation nor codependency – it contains elements of both.

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  1. Faccini, Lino. “EMOTIONAL INCEST SYNDROME.” (2013). ↩︎
  2. Max, Mitchell B., et al. “A clinical genetic method to identify mechanisms by which pain causes depression and anxiety.” Molecular Pain 2 (2006): 1744-8069. ↩︎
  3. Van Kleef, Gerben A. The interpersonal dynamics of emotion. Cambridge University Press, 2016. ↩︎
  4. Price, Michelle. “The impact of incest on identity formation in women.” Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis 21.2 (1993): 213-228. ↩︎

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