Emotional Incest: When Parents Make Their Kids Partners

View from front door shows living room with child's toy and robe on the doorknobEmotional incest, also known as covert incest, is a dynamic that occurs in parenting where the parent seeks emotional support through their child that should be sought through an adult relationship. Although the effects of emotional incest can be similar to those resulting from physical incest, the term does not encompass sexual abuse.

Many times when I am working with people in therapy who are developmentally stuck, they end up sharing that, as children, they were the person their parent turned to as a confidant or for emotional support. Children put in this position may feel special or privileged because the parent is sharing adult information with them and/or is looking to them for support, creating a sense of closeness. However, given that the child’s needs are ignored in favor of the parent’s, there can be devastating long-term developmental consequences.

Clearly, it is desirable for parents and their children to be close. However, in healthy parent-child relationships, parents prioritize their children’s emotional needs as opposed to children taking care of the parent’s emotional needs. When children are put in the position of meeting the emotional needs of a parent, it creates an unhealthy dynamic in which children essentially become the parents. The children are emotionally abandoned, in effect robbing them of their childhood.

It is important to note that, in most cases, parents who foster a dynamic of emotional incest do not realize the impact of their behavior and do not intend to hurt their children. But the impact and the hurt are there all the same.

Most often, emotional incest occurs when an adult marriage or relationship is fragile, a parent is lonely, or there is a broken family dynamic such as infidelity, mental health conditions, or addiction. One or both parents may seek to get their emotional needs met through the child instead of seeking support from adults. Sometimes a parent will undermine the other parent during an argument or separation/divorce proceedings by putting children in the middle or colluding with a child, which increases the level of the parent’s dependency on the child. The child, in turn, may become concerned about having to take sides or protect a parent.

It is important to note that, in most cases, parents who foster a dynamic of emotional incest do not realize the impact of their behavior and do not intend to hurt their children. But the impact and the hurt are there all the same.

The Impact of Emotional Incest

Children who have experienced emotional incest may have great difficulty setting boundaries and getting their needs met as adults without feelings of excessive guilt. In addition, their relationship with their gender and sexuality can greatly inhibit their ability to maintain intimacy in adult partnerships.

Emotional incest can create an unhealthy sense of loyalty or obligation to a parent, which can result in a love/hate relationship between children and parents. Additionally, substance abuse, feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and compulsivity around work, sex, and food are all potential outcomes.

Emotional incest also can impact the family dynamic as a whole. One partner typically experiences being shut out and may be denied opportunities for parent-child bonding. Additionally, other children may be neglected as the parent leans heavily on the “chosen child.”

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Healing from Emotional Incest

For those who experienced emotional incest as a child, there are several ways to promote healing. They include the following:


  1. Adams, K. M. (2011). Silently Seduced: When Parents Make Their Children Partners. Deerfield Beach, FL: HCI Books.
  2. Adams, K. M. (2007). When He’s Married to Mom: How to Help Mother-Enmeshed Men Open Their Hearts to True Love and Commitment. New York, NY: Touchstone Books.

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  • Cher

    September 14th, 2016 at 8:26 AM

    It was hard for me growing up because my mom made me her confidant after my dad left. That is an awful lot of pressure to place on a young girl, and I heard stuff that I should not have had to hear. I think that this is why even now I have a hard time being around my mom because she needs so much and I feel like I have so little left to give to my own family after I am with her.

  • Jacqueline

    September 23rd, 2016 at 7:05 PM

    My appreciation to the author Ms Adams for this resource. It severely comprimises and complicated the intra and interpersonal world of relationships for the unknowing child .

  • Anon

    June 8th, 2019 at 5:16 AM

    Do you feel guilty? I do. You want to get away from your mother then you feel a sudden pang of guilt as though you are the one not thinking straight and are just being paranoid.

  • thomas

    September 14th, 2016 at 2:16 PM

    This makes me believe that this is something that is pretty common and yet not talked about a whole lot

  • Sharon

    September 14th, 2016 at 6:05 PM

    I did not realize that this was what I was doing.
    I thought that it was normal for me to lean on my kids when I needed them like they have always been able to lean on me.
    Don’t I deserve that in return for all of the sacrifices that I have made over the years for them?
    And I think that they would have told me if it was a burden.

  • Lyn

    September 16th, 2016 at 5:37 AM

    Sharon- I don’t think most parents who do this actually realise, especially as they still often carry the bulk of the adult role & responsibilities. But it’s really about what is appropriate and a child can reasonable be expected to handle. Kids shouldn’t be their parents confidante, or have the parents act or speak in a way that conveys the child in being given responsibility for adult/family matters.
    As for deserving to depend on them, not necessarily, they don’t owe you, but hopefully they respond out of love and gratitude- and I presume you are speaking about your now adult children.
    People rarely tell those they feel emotionally responsible for that they feel burdened- at least not in healthy and direct ways- it’s a dysfunctional relationship, and more than likely any ways that they communicate their concerns will be negatively received.

  • Paula D.

    February 18th, 2018 at 12:48 PM

    This is so true. my mother adopted me in order to USE me as her emotional support. The last time I saw her was about 10 years ago. I was 43 at that time. I told her next time to buy a dog! She still will never admit that she purchased me in order to use me as her emotional support. Most of us never, ever, get the chance to say that.

  • Leigh Anne

    March 31st, 2020 at 2:21 PM

    I feel all your pain, been feeling it for awhile. Just did not know the actual root cause of it all. Both my husband and I have mothers who do this to their “favorite” sons. My mother had no use for me because I never bought into her games. So, I had to move on from my childhood family. However, when I got married to my husband of 25 years, I did not realize that his mother was so similar to mine. She lived her life differently, so I did not recognize the signs. But after 25 years of feeling isolated and alone in my marriage, I started looking at the root cause. Where was this coming from? Why was my husband so distant, working all the time, and only talking to his parents and not me about things??? Why did he turn to gambling, smoking pot, eating junk food, and drinking beer (none became serious addictions, but addictions all the same) instead of me? I could never really come up with the answer because he would always say how much he loved me and wanted to be married to me…yet I never felt anything from him, really. Just the words. I saw today how many text messages with love emogi’s his mother sent him the past few weeks. There were so many text messages, I could not even count the #. They were almost every 30 minutes and with love in your eyes emogi’s. I completely lost it. I told him to get out. My husband does not even talk to me that much in text, in fact, I do not hear from him all day long when he is out. I was very hurt and feel like my husband’s mother is his relationship and not me. I think my feelings are valid. I am going to find a good therapist and read the books. Thank you ANGELS for pointing me in the right direction. I can feel more at peace now with my feelings.

  • Fiona

    September 19th, 2016 at 9:55 AM

    Sharon, I am happy to read that your speak in the past tense “I did not realize…” etc. and I believe this means that you are now re-thinking the situation. Yes, we definitely do deserve to have our emotional needs met and no, we don’t have the right to expect our children to meet them. In an ideal world those needs are met by a peer or peers. The Transactional Analysis model can be helpful in getting an overview of emotional development within the family and can help, not only demonstrate the value of, but clarify how to promote, develop and maintain emotional boundaries

  • Ana

    October 18th, 2016 at 12:53 PM

    THANK YOU for recognizing the behavior. Most parents like this do not think what they are doing is wrong and get offended when a child grows up, moves out, gets married, etc and leaves the parent finally by themselves. It is nice to know that this article can help parents change as well as children accept and find ways to heal.

  • Paula D.

    February 18th, 2018 at 1:00 PM

    So true. Yes, it’s much better that you rethink it. It signifies that you are growing as a person. Congratulations, Sharon. I suggest you read a couple of books dealing with emotional incest and parentification. Some of the older books I have read call this “Daddy’s Little Princes, Mommy’s Little Prince” because the bond is usually of the opposite sex. But not always, obviously. Your children will appreciate your apology, if you find that this is your parenting pattern. People learn behavior by example. Most likely you didn’t realize that this is a negative pattern because it’s what you were shown. I think it’s courageous of you to consider that you aren’t perfect and are open. Namaste.

  • Rob

    October 8th, 2018 at 3:10 PM

    In my personal case, my mother actually hindered me from moving out, with guilt trips, temper tantrums, and other psychological abuse. I just gave up. This, in turn was one of the causes of my attempt at a relationship, to fail. I know this sounds bad to say, but I don’t want to even attempt to pursue other relationship, until she dies. I’m 46, work full time, no real friends to hang out with, on a regular basis, and still live at home. On the upside, I’m not a drug addict, or an alcoholic. Go ahead, criticize away.

  • Sark M.

    October 12th, 2018 at 8:31 AM

    Hey ROB. . . I get it too. . . have had similar life circumstances, and have had good therapy to help me make clear and distinctive boundaries with mom as not to become swallowed by her emotional vortex. I’ve made intentional choices to make friends, spend time with people who are emotionally healthy, engage in activities and interests that are solely mine and not part of her life, and still maintain a level of relationship that has it’s beginnings and endings. I used to be very hostile as I felt held captive by her emotional neediness and seeming manipulative ways of keeping me close to her. I still feel a little misplaced guilt when I choose independence and self care. Mom has had to learn to live with my adult choices. Good luck on your journey my friend!

  • Stuart

    June 15th, 2017 at 11:21 PM

    Amazing to think that there is someone out there getting paid for developing such theory. The idea that “emotional incest” exists in isolation from all other external variables to create negative lifechance outcomes for people is fundamentally flawed. The article is nothing but subjective psychobabble developed by somebody who has counselled people who at some level need to blame their parents for their situation. Total rubbish and I don’t see what value to society such theory has. “They mess you up your mum and dad ………..”

  • Petra

    July 8th, 2017 at 4:57 PM

    You just don’t get it Stuart. With attitudes like that I’d had to be your child. Wouldn’t feel safe sharing my inner world and what’s going on in my life. What has been described relates in many aspects to me. The patterns that were set up from an early age seemed the natural and only way to be because that’s how they were. It’s it’s taken a long time to realise and unravel the unhealthy patterns and their consequences in my life. I understand where it comes from. My grandma did the same with my mum. She was only a child when her dad died and grandma relied on her to get her emotional needs met and was clingy and clutching to my mum. My mum had both a loving and controlling upbringing that kept her from having any kind of normal childhood. Grandma expected my mum to never leave home and to be there always for her. It was traumatic to move away and have a life of her own when nearly 30. While my mum tried not to be like her mum and was not as intense, she carried with her so much programming and habits from her growing up. There is no blame but lots of understanding. As well, the consequences played into each of my family’s patterns of life and programming. I know it’s not easy to change, and the resources weren’t there for my mum and grandma. They just touched it out the best they knew how.

  • Nicola

    July 25th, 2017 at 9:06 AM

    My sons girlfriend has told my son that this what he has! The mess his head is in now is shocking. After meeting him he became a drug addict and heavy drinker. I was a single parent worked my arse off, never had a holiday_he had at least 2 a year, he did very very well at college, but he thinks he’s owed something! He does not want to work so they came up with a plan that she would be his career! He would either get a home because he would be under mental health or move into her house then she would give up work and claim rent from the council and money for being his career. She has told everyone that I abused his with this Emotional Incest. Off cause he had chores to do, that would of been the same even if he had a dad. After 2 years with her he has become a total mess and she is 50 and he is 30.! I’m 54. He has had lot of girlfriends, interests but now has no friends She also beats him up. I am now treated like a nasty woman by all. That’s what this rubbish Emotional Incest can and has done to me and him. Family life has ups and downs it’s called life We are not Robots.

  • Elizabeth L

    January 5th, 2018 at 8:46 AM

    Stuarts June 2017 comment merits my input. The mistakes my mother made took place in the 1950s. My sister was chosen at the age of 10 to fill in as co-parent while Dad worked in sales where he was away 3-4 days out of the week. Mom was alone in a house in rural Pennsylvania, with six children under the age of 13. She had no car or a license to drive. In addition, the admission of feeling overwhelmed, alone, or burdened with her role as mother, was considered by most to be a character flaw. Professional intervention nearly always resulted in a trip to a sanatarium for electroshock therapy. Get it?

  • Elizabeth L

    January 6th, 2018 at 1:23 PM

    Stuarts June 2017 comment merits my input. The mistakes my mother made took place in the 1950s. My sister was chosen at the age of 10 to fill in as co-parent while Dad worked in sales where he was away 3-4 days out of the week. Mom was alone in a house in rural Pennsylvania, with six children under the age of 13. She had no car or a license to drive. In addition, the admission of feeling overwhelmed, alone, or burdened with her role as mother, was considered by most to be a character flaw. Professional intervention nearly always resulted in a trip to a sanatarium for electroshock therapy. Get it?

  • Paula D.

    February 18th, 2018 at 1:03 PM

    Me: You sound defensive.
    Yoda: Described you, it did.

  • Jack

    March 9th, 2018 at 2:30 AM

    severely ignorant comment.

  • Elizabeth

    March 26th, 2018 at 7:34 PM

    By sharing what happened in my family, perhaps it will help someone to take action and rescue yourself and everyone you love before its too late. Looking over my shoulder at the past 58 years, I would not trade places with my sister who mom mistakenly abused, for anything. But to a child watching a sibling get privilege, authority, and access, it is the holy grail. My sisters fell for it. They tried to get moms attention away from the chosen child any way they could for the next fifty years. They were seeking a mirage. They are deeply insecure, cannot endure the hint of criticism, at work, in school, from spouse. There is a trail of dead bodies left behind all three of them. As for me, as the smallest, youngest, most vulnerable, I was objectified; used like a pro pby my sisters, in many schemes, designed to gain what the chosen one had. At 18, I got out. There’s some brokenness but nothing like them. I will tell you I had clarity and discernment at a very young age I can not account for, outside of divine protection. The chosen child hurt me physically . as my babysitter, prior to my being able to talk. My dad questioned her after observing me clinging to him for dear life when he and mom were going out. Mom had already let me down. He was my last chance. My sister convincingly charictorized me as an attention seeking little liar. He turned to mom, who affirmed the lie, and the dye was cast. For the next sixty or so years I have been labeled as such regardless of no evidence to support the label, and volumes of evidence that my sister lied compulsively. This exemplifies a pattern all three sisters have. Unable to endure correction if a mistake is made, all three of them will go to any length to cover it up. An untrained babysitter can be trained if she owns what happened. Not huge or life altering. However, the coverup has been on going for 58 years. I had to give up a family to survive it, then live an entire life in the absence of celebrating successes, comforting losses, companionship, fun, laughter , and tears to share with them because I will not permit the objectifying to continue. If there is any one in your life , labeled as a child like that, please seek the truth. As an expert, I can tell you if there is one thing a child labeled a liar, absolutely cannot do with any success, it’s lie. I survived it because early on I noticed
    terrible names are far less painful to endure if I absolutely know it is not true. Today I am bulletproof because of genuine self respect forged by dignity in adversity. But that wisdom couldn’t come from a six year old. What was meant to harm me, was transformed to benefit me, thanks to Our Lord. Funny, I left home at 18 and became a ships cook on big yachts for nearly 12 years. It was like living in a Harold Robbins novel. I retired at 50 and live the good life in Hawaii . Living well is the best revenge. The chosen one married well and uses her hubby’s money to sabbotage the lives of others behind their backs. Boundry issues of a very unhappy rich lady. The other two sisters looted all of moms wealth and left her to die alone at the age of 94. They took the rings off her fingers as she begged them to stop. Suppressed rage finally reared its ugly head when mom became the vulnerable one. Dysfunction and abuse require a culture of silence to continue. Talk openly and with prayerful honesty. The truth will set everyone free. Best wishes to all in your journeys………………we are one.

  • Bev

    June 15th, 2019 at 8:26 PM

    Glad you had a good life. There is definitely this type of emotional incest. You only have to live with a survivor and a controlling mother in law to get it.

  • Brighton

    June 26th, 2019 at 3:45 PM

    Oh, you’re one of those “It never happened to me, therefore it isn’t possible” folk. I think you may be on the wrong page…there is a syndrome/name for that, but it’s not here.

  • Win

    November 25th, 2017 at 7:27 PM

    I’m wondering if your children were adults already when you lent on them for emotional support? Maybe that is a natural expectation, but that wen done for a long time, and in childhood, its more devastating.

  • leticia

    June 26th, 2019 at 7:35 PM

    Thank you for sharing your story. As I read it, I thought about my experience which was very similar, instead of lire, I have been labled mean and hateful and I was blamed for everything all of my life. I too had the understanding and awareness and left home as a teenager. I think that saved my life. Even when I wasn’t around my family for many years. I still got blames for everything. I came to know Christ as a teenager and he has been by strong tower. I look at my family and they are all a mess. There is no love or compassion, no kindness, no support. My parents are now elderly and my family has already started taking what they can . I just recently these past 6 years have been dealing with the abuse. Thank you again for sharing, I know exacly what you have been through. I wish you the best. God has used you to touch other peoples lives.

  • Paula D.

    February 18th, 2018 at 12:36 PM

    As with most children, I didn’t realize this was happening to me. As a child, my parents fought constantly. My absent father would drive off and mom would cry. What am I supposed to do at age five, six, or seven years old? I was holding mom, hugging her and telling her everything is OK. They first filed for divorce when I was just eight, a process that continued on and off until he died when I was only 15. They never did finalize any of their divorce filings. We spent a fortune on apartments and furnishings. We owned several sets of silverware and a few TV’s. I heard every problem that my parents had, from their finances to their sex life.
    These are things that they should be discussing in counseling, or with close friends. I will say that while dad was drunk and staring at the walls, he never included me in the family issues. My heart was in shreds and I’m having to take care of my parents.
    If this is you…yes, you are absolutely screwing up your kids.

  • Rebecca

    May 14th, 2019 at 8:30 PM

    Yup…sounds about right…Very well put. Thank You, and Best <3

  • Wes

    March 31st, 2020 at 10:05 AM

    Well put Paula and Rob. This absolutely happens, just as domestics violence, sexual abuse and gaslighting all happen. No one wants the realization this is going on with their parent (though ultimately it sets one free in an unimaginably beautiful way). Please, anyone who is reading this: these things do happen, make no mistake. Take care of yourself, forgive yourself, this wasn’t your fault. Only when you’re ready should you attempt to explain this to someone (and it’s okay if that time is never). Only after making certain your needs are met will you be able to have compassion for your wounded parent. With loving kindness,

  • Paula D.

    February 18th, 2018 at 1:19 PM

    As with most children, I didn’t realize this was happening to me. As a child, my parents fought constantly. My absent father would drive off and mom would cry. What am I supposed to do at age five, six, or seven years old? I was holding mom, hugging her and telling her everything is OK. They first filed for divorce when I was just eight, a process that continued on and off until he died when I was only 15. I was the man of the house, and responsible for mom’s emotional support. Even as a toddler, staying up late and watching TV with mom and waiting for dad to come home. I went places with mom. We did things. They never did finalize any of their divorce filings. We spent a fortune on apartments and furnishings. We owned several sets of silverware and a few TV’s. I heard every problem that my parents had, from their finances to their sex life. I came up with answers to the problems of a middle-aged couple by the time I was in elementary school. Does that sound healthy to you? Oh, I was compensated quite well. I had everything I wanted, except for healthy and happy parents.
    These are things that they should be discussing in counseling, or with close friends. I will say that while dad was drunk and staring at the walls, he never included me in the family issues. My heart was in shreds and I’m having to take care of my parents. In the mean time, I’m taking on household responsibilities, and that’s OK. But, in return, I’m not getting any help from my parents. Sure, I get food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, and what I feel and and perceive as love, but I am not helped with any of my problems, She screams when I don’t get homework immediately, until I almost wet my pants. Dad can’t help either. Better to not do homework than to deal with them. Just take the test and barely pass. And I can’t say anything to her that I don’t want on national TV. I am not a person as much as a possession.
    If any of this is you…yes, you are absolutely screwing up your kids.

  • Lincoln

    September 15th, 2016 at 7:53 AM

    I can see where it would be so easy to get caught in this trap of using your children as your partner but you have to understand that they are not going to have the capability to help you with these real life adult problems that are so much bigger and more complicated than what they are. It is unfair to use them for this because obviously this sets them up for a lifetime of future problems and issues in their own lives. It is a cycle that they will likely have a difficult time breaking free of.

  • Paula D.

    February 18th, 2018 at 12:38 PM


  • mason j

    September 15th, 2016 at 12:43 PM

    But parents are never charged with screwing up their kids lives when it is something like this, although it can be harmful to them

  • Paula D.

    February 18th, 2018 at 1:28 PM

    Yes, because they are empty inside. They have no sense of self. Because they are not allowed to be their authentic self. They must be what the parent wants so that they can fulfill the parent’s needs. The parents don’t help them become the person they are supposed to be. The child helps the parent(s) cope. The parents don’t teach the child what it needs to survive and cope. The child is handicapped as an adult because their needs go unmet. Often, this is also put on the child, that they are too stupid to just “get it”.

  • Diana

    September 15th, 2016 at 3:18 PM

    I think this occurred in my family, my Daddy always put me before my own mother….. And he trained me to always stay his helpless baby. Now my oldest son is way too dependent on me, yet he says he is my parent, or at the very least I’m his little sister.

  • Jo

    September 15th, 2016 at 5:53 PM

    I was used this way as a child and what I can now see is that it did rob me of my childhood, though I would have said thats just fine at the time – if there were “adults” around they would not have accepted that from me, instead they would have encouraged me into my life, my young life to do whatever. I spent my entire childhood worrying about what was happening at home and all my energy and focus went into their adult stuff…I got rewarded at times by being told how good a listener I was or how kind I was. So much development and focus for school and life went by the by and I went into life ill prepared (thats an understatement!) I tried to the best of my ability to emulate them, copy their morals and attitudes – I was lost before I began. It makes me so cross when I see it now, its very common and people don’t think there’s anything up but of course anyone who knows children, knows what up and there’s very little anyone can do about it while it happening and even after and the child will do anything to protect the parent so no one can get in to help. Yeah its a tough one

  • Shannon

    September 23rd, 2016 at 12:21 AM

    Sounds like my and my sister’s situation. It was only when we crossed 30 we realized how irritating waa as

  • Paula D

    March 22nd, 2018 at 11:13 AM

    My heart goes out to you, Jo. I am just like you. Our childhood experience were much alike. And I either have jobs that are way to high for my capabilities or way to low. I was a bookkeeper for a major grocery chain. I had no accounting classes or experience. Also, an Instructional Assistant for a Quickbooks workshop at the local J C without accounting classes. At least I had the computer experience! I was able to help out quite a bit just helping people with that. I was an electro-mechanical QC inspector with zero experience. And I worked in an assembly line, and was a cashier/clerk at various companies. Too high or too low for my limited college background.

  • Lissety

    September 15th, 2016 at 6:58 PM

    I think it’s important to note that there is a version of this occurring in immigrant families. There is pressure on children,often the oldest, to translate language as well as customs which quickly includes adult situations (bill paying, school info, etc).

  • seth Y

    September 16th, 2016 at 1:48 PM

    I am not sure why I think that but my first thought was that it has to be more moms who do this to their kids than dads.
    I don’t know, I just kind of still think that there are times when mothers will lean on their children more than dads will, like the moms will try to pull everything inward and closer while the dads might be more inclined to push them aawy.
    It’s probably stupid to generalize like that

  • ProblemChild

    June 21st, 2017 at 2:48 PM

    I disagree. My father leaned on me more than my mother did.

  • Paula D.

    February 18th, 2018 at 1:33 PM

    Remember the movie, The Breakfast Club. Claire, who’s father gave her those expensive earrings, is a perfect example of Daddy’s Little Girl. She is his surrogate wife. If you need a more current example, just look at Ivanka Trump.

  • Paula D.

    February 18th, 2018 at 1:43 PM

    The movie The Breakfast Club is a perfect example of daddy/daughter emotional incest. Claire received a pair of diamond earrings from her father. She’s Daddy’s Little Princess. She is always pitted in between her parents because she has taken the place of her mother in the family dynamics.

    If you need a more current example, just look at the First Family.

  • Rebecca

    May 14th, 2019 at 8:34 PM

    Great Point! And what a good allusion to that movie. so true…

  • Beverly

    September 17th, 2016 at 9:08 AM

    No Seth I think that there are just as many men complicit in this too

  • Fiona

    September 19th, 2016 at 10:03 AM

    Hi Beverley, I agree with you, it happens with the male parent as often as with the female parent. However, Seth, it is never “stupid” to offer your take on something and you may well be more aware of this trait in the mother figures since you are a son; a daughter will often see this trait more frequently in a male parent. Seeing it at all is really good because it’s only when it’s recognized that it can start to be dealt with :-)

  • Sally

    September 17th, 2016 at 10:21 AM

    They know what they are doing is wrong. That’s why they don’t do it in public/in front of the children’s teachers, etc. Even the simplest of parents knows that children do not have the maturity to handle adult problems. They know exactly what they are doing. They simply don’t care about their children’s emotional needs, nor do they care to behave like an adults and find appropriate emotional help elsewhere. Stop making excuses for these emotional monsters.

  • Andrea

    January 16th, 2017 at 8:32 AM

    I agree.

  • maisy

    September 19th, 2016 at 10:33 AM

    Can you only imagine how messed up these kids must be as they try to go into their own relationships later on? They have never been shown what the boundaries are and so they won’t know.

  • Paula D.

    February 18th, 2018 at 1:36 PM

    Which left me a victim of abuse in my very first relationship and marriage to my ex. I would rather die.

  • Rebecca

    May 14th, 2019 at 8:37 PM

    Yeah…11 years of therapy and I’m still struggling….Fighting the good fight though :)

  • Dean

    September 20th, 2016 at 2:04 PM

    So I am guessing that most of the time this would mean that the other parent is out of the picture and is not around to help stop this from happening?

  • Lyn

    September 21st, 2016 at 7:13 AM

    Dean- Sometimes the issue is a dysfunctional relationship between the parents. I know someone who was her Dad’s “companion” & the second parent as her Mum was severely depressed… the daughter developed suicidal depression & was told by a number of counsellors & psychs that she didn’t have any reason to be depressed as she had nice parents… she was lucky to find a counsellor who understood what he called “psycho-sexual abuse” … and she does now have a healthy relationship with both her parents. Her parents still don’t know why she was depressed!!

  • Fiona

    September 20th, 2016 at 4:14 PM

    Dean, it’s sometimes the case that the other parent is complicit, possibly by being emotionally unavailable or simply by disengaging from the marriage dialogue. So yes, in fact, the other parent is, as you say, effectively not around.

  • Paula D.

    February 18th, 2018 at 4:50 PM

    Fiona, it’s also possible that the parent (overly) involved with the child has been the one, and has made the choice of, disconnecting with their spouse and cutting them out of intimacy. Maybe they are also abusing their spouse by essentially replacing them and convincing the child that something is wrong with the other parent, essentially conning the child into colluding?

  • Dizzy

    September 24th, 2016 at 4:43 AM

    But where is the beginning, and where is the end? Is that even possible?
    No doubt this happened in my relationship with my daughter, although I tried not to “parentify” my daughter, she was the only one there in the household with me. So whether I spoke to her directly, or within her earshot, she heard a lot – as I went through a lot. And yes, I valued my daughter highly and put as much positive energy as I had into being interested in her activities, wishes, fun times and also spent much energy getting to family gatherings with my healthy surrogate family so that she could experience well-functioning family time, and good male role models.
    That said, I was raised through many problems, by a mom who herself (in my opinion) suffered from PTSD stemming first from WWII which involved terror, bombing, death and her being evacuated away from her family in London – where the area she lived in was devistated, and then, after finding happiness and moving to the USA with a man who adored her (my father) and having three small children, her husband, my father, died in a tragic accident – leaving my mother in the U.S. (she was from Europe) away from what was left of her family, with three small kids. I was no doubt also a parentified child.
    But my daughter has paid for much of this, and the effects are clear and listed in your article above. Her father though, I must add, was also an alcoholic from a deeply deeply alcoholic family. I divorced him early as he did not work consistently and would not take care of his child. Without someone to watch my daughter, I also could not work. There was less conflict in the home without him, and I was able to make ends meet by going back to school, working, getting more education again, and working etc.
    I feel terribly guilty, but this is a nasty cycle. As a parentified child, I always felt guilty and inadequate growing up, and as a parent. Now my daughter is happy, but has had and still has mental health issues that she does not address. She is married to someone who was also raised by a single mother who could not handle her marriage to his father, diagnosed as having schizophrenia . . . and so it goes.
    I am not sure that there is ANY solution. Personally, I do not encourage my daughter and her husband to have children but take no position at all – although I adore children and even teens! But I fear that it would push my own daughter over the edge emotionally, possibly lead to an end in her marriage and would lead to yet another generation with emotional challenges.
    Like so many advices, it is easier said, than done.

  • Kenneth

    September 24th, 2016 at 10:09 AM

    ……Going through emotional incest, I feel, guilty seeing the logic in this post. I feel like I’m trading on my mother, violating the trust we have.
    Growing up with mental illness along with physical illness and many life threatening situations, me and my mother got close. I felt like she was the only one that could see the good in me and she disclosed the world to me because she knew I could be trusted. How I felt, what I experienced she knew and understood, while I did the same with her regarding her relationships and daily stresses. We bonded and now I feel guilty for moving on with my life and her moving on as well. We seem to be juggling our old life, the life of dependency on each other while moving on with the moment, with recovery. She holds on to me because of my care for her and I the same.
    I don’t want to feel guilty anymore. I don’t want to look at a women and see my mother. I don’t want to feel overly attached to my partner. I don’t want to feel guilty for wanting a life for myself, independence.

  • Dawn

    October 17th, 2016 at 8:57 AM

    What an amazing conversation.
    I would personally like to share that there is no need to feel guilty about anything. Everyone does the very best they know how to do. From my experience as a Spiritual Consultant for over 40 years, I must change my inner before I can reap the benefit of outer reward of fulfillment. The emotion of guilt is not an real feeling. It is merely a result of not taking action on something I felt but then neglected to follow up on; thus guilt becomes the outcome. How many times, even in challenging situations, did you ignore the signs, the impressions, the feelings, or inner knowings that were being fed to you? When we can learn to be in command of our own energy, we are then in command of the situations we are involved. One of the biggest gifts we have and do not utilize is that of “detachment”. Detachment allows me to see things before they get so close I cannot identify what something is. For more information, feel free to contact me. I would love to be of service to help clarify some of the confusion that remains confusion until one takes a look at themself, as adults, and is able to release the past through the growth and learning your experiences have provided for you.

  • Chery

    July 6th, 2017 at 2:10 AM

    Thanks for your insight. Have been in several 12 step programs & want to talk about a situation that erupted recently around emotional incest. If you give me your email that helps as so many emails get buried or sent to spam…thanks

  • Jen

    November 23rd, 2016 at 1:07 PM

    This is so us!
    Me and my siblings. Dad cheated on mama twice and had another daughter. I know practically ALL their stories since I was 12yo. They are separated (living in two different countries) but NEVER divorced, and hilariously still trying to play happy couple whenever there’s a family gathering or celebrations. How I wish they were divorced and move on.
    Mom is immature (with OCD and very poor financial management skill), and dad is a pathological liar. They rely heavily on us the kids, not only to ‘feed’ their needs on getting love and attention, but also to manage their so-called ‘marriage’.
    I am now a 28 years old female. Went into dating world wayyyyy tooooo lateeeee. I was 26 when I had my first kiss and my first BF. Fortunately I have no problem maintaining relationship (actually thanks to my dysfunctional parents. So much lesson learned!). My two siblings, who are younger than me, have never dated (I hope soon!)
    Nevertheless, I have several personality issue and seeking therapies.
    Glad to know that I’m not alone! Stay strong people <3

  • Fiona

    November 24th, 2016 at 7:47 AM

    Well done you! Writing the story down, or telling it clearly to another is in itself a therapy. I suppose the one thing I’d be hung up on is that you say “lessons learned.” Frequently we find ourselves involved in or observing repeat patterns of behavior. And sometimes, out of fear of finding ourselves in that sort of situation we practice avoidance. Better to observe and comment to yourself on what you see and experience than overindulge in Avoidance. Don’t overparent yourself — allow space to stumble and start again.

  • Jessica

    January 9th, 2017 at 2:30 PM

    I really enjoyed this article, an interesting take on enmeshment.
    Could someone say a bit more about what the author means by:
    “In addition, their relationship with their gender and sexuality can greatly inhibit their ability to maintain intimacy in adult partnerships” .
    I’m curious to understand the connection between this type of relational trauma and sexual it and gender identity.

  • Rebecca

    May 14th, 2019 at 11:23 PM

    I walked in similar shoes. I feel for you <3 we are free.

  • Jessica

    January 9th, 2017 at 2:31 PM

    I really enjoyed this article, an interesting take on enmeshment.
    Could someone say a bit more about what the author means by:
    “In addition, their relationship with their gender and sexuality can greatly inhibit their ability to maintain intimacy in adult partnerships” .
    I’m curious to understand the connection between this type of relational trauma and sexuality and gender identity.

  • John

    January 30th, 2017 at 11:31 AM

    This article is right on. My mother did this to me while she was a single mom and continued after she got married again. I wrote a poem about this a few years ago which starts out “Mammas don’t raise up your sons to be substitute spouses, just because you’re divorced or your marriage is a mess” This messed up what little of a dating life that I had in high school which was non existent in college. I also think it had something to do with why I did not get married until I was 31.

  • Jay

    May 6th, 2017 at 6:49 PM

    It’s definitely not always the mothers as it was my dad who did this. He’s an alcoholic and would always complain about how my mom won’t sleep in the same bed as him or how she won’t have sex with him. I hated it. It always made me feel so uncomfortable but he’d be so sad that I felt sorry for him, so I’d sit there and listen.

  • Alison

    June 8th, 2017 at 2:05 PM

    My siblings and I are just realizing our mother did this to us our entire childhood. The dark secrets she told us about our dad (true or untrue) and her childhood, the inappropriate level of dependency, the sabotage of our lives and friendships. For a long time I thought it had been good to have a rough upbringing because it made me able to cope. But the lost childhood, anger, and subsequent drinking was a steep price to pay. Its due to our inherent smarts and resilient personalities that we’ve all come out the other side, but we still have her to deal with. And it appears with age we’re only going to see our detachment make her mean.

  • ProblemChild

    June 21st, 2017 at 2:39 PM

    Boy, do I relate to this. My father was an alcoholic when I was growing up, and my parents consequently got divorced when I was twelve years old. After their divorce, I had to see him on weekends. We would go see movies a lot. Whenever we did this I often felt like I was going out on a date with him, which creeped me out.

    He would also confide in me a lot. I often didn’t know what to say to him when he did this.

    He would also tell me that I cheered him up, and would act very needy and clingy with me. He would also tell me that I was “unique.” I often found all this sickening, and I never knew why. I felt that he expected me to be this weird woman that entertained him all the time, and that did not interest me because there is so much more to my own life than doing that. Then I would feel guilty for having all these negative feelings. I would feel that I was an ingrate and a killjoy and a crank for not appreciating his remarks or clinginess more. After all, they were supposed to be compliments. And he was only being needy and clingy because he “loooooved” me.

  • Rebecca

    May 14th, 2019 at 8:32 PM

    I know this feeling! It got worse as I got older and matured…I HATED IT…I hate him honestly.

  • Mark

    June 27th, 2017 at 8:58 PM

    YES, A TYPICAL STORY. . . it seemed COVERT. Dad was cut-off, alco-worka-holic, hostile and introverted; mom was an extrovert, needy, and needed more emotional connection than most, and needed intimacy dad couldn’t give. I was the sweet, good-boy son who became mom’s emotional confidant, but as love/hate goes, I defensively detached from angry dad, and resented the encroaching, overwhelming neediness of mom’s unhealthy femininity. EHHHHHHHH. . . Shake the bottle and let it BLOW. No wonder I started turning toward other guys for affection and affirmation, and felt creepy around girls my age that were dating potentials. I get it–was looking for affirmation from dad through other guys, and repulsed by women who symbolized a vortex of feminine need–GASSSSSSP. I don’t care what the culture says about same-sex attraction, I know that my story is like so many other SSA men. it’s taken some really good therapy, group work, and good men’s work to get through the chaos of my broken family system. To feel comfortable to love and become vulnerable with healthy woman, and to develop healthy same-sex relationships that are nurturing, but not sexual. And still there are days when I feel pulled back to my old identity and role. This is a great article and brings an awareness necessary for many to break free of the toxicity of emotional incest. Thanks for writing!!!

  • Sark M.

    October 12th, 2018 at 8:44 AM

    I can relate MARK. . . sounds like my story, and I too have refused to embrace the culture’s message to “embrace my true (homosexual) self”. If I were to do so, it would come at the expense of remaining in the emotional pain of what originally fueled my confusing feelings. The sexual confusion caused me to find good therapy and emotionally healthy relationships that have helped me center and allow my true self to emerge from the incestuous and confusing quagmire of broken childhood messages. Thanks for your story!

  • Olivia N.

    July 17th, 2017 at 10:06 AM

    Upon reading this, I didn’t realize how much it really applied to me. My mother did this to me from the time I was an early adolescent as a result of the problems she faced with my father, who later left her for another woman. I hated it when she revealed things about their relationship that I was far too young to know. In fact, I still resent and mistrust her because of this. I understand that she did not mean to hurt me but, she did hurt me and i was too young to be able to understand what was happening and speak up for myself.

  • June

    July 20th, 2017 at 9:27 AM

    Wow my daughters send this to me. I was crying in/out with emotions. This is exactly what happening with us. They no line of respect when we fighting it even go physical. We all love each other and hate each other for last 15 years. As a single parent everything is my fault and I don’t exist as human or have a voice as one. I lost control after finding safety living for us, I thought work, doing everything else for my children would bring love into our lives. Managing of My OCD / as a foundational depression
    person & seriously codependent on my children in given up state of mind. Wtf I did to my children:-0 :-l what do I do to fix this wrong? How can we be closed stil as a family? We all need help? I so can relate to everyone message in some way more or less. Each one of us want to take our lives at some point. I thought I was awesome person as a parent and now I don’t think so, know all this time I thought safety, security and best thing
    Only. I keep outside monsters out but I think my children saw me as the real controlling and dangerous monster on inside now. Smh@me I am to blame for everything it my actions to be great parent and good person just failed. I feeling over sad I just deeply hurting inside. I was to be better than my parents and awesome one to my children. Now I a questioning myself. I did my best and I think we will be okay now we all read about this topic we will get help and support each other after all we love each other secretly and we family. I have hope for us.I as grateful to experience to learn new living of life. Thanks to everyone who helped us through this process and learn about this topic. Thank you.

  • Rose

    July 21st, 2017 at 11:18 AM

    This article describes my life and my sister’s life to a T….. I’ve been living in emotional hell since I was 9 and im almost 25 now….my sister is almost 30 and turned herself into a shut-in after graduating college and is just NOW taking steps towards her own future. My mom does not think she has done anything wrong. We have been her emotional support since our father died. What made it worse was people telling me and my sister to “be strong for [our] mother” every time they would see us cry after his death. So I have been unable to share feelings with people and I feel guilt for everything. My entire life has been a guilt trip. I would not say my mother is a bad person, she is an amazing human being and I honestly do not believe she even knew what she has been doing. Ever since my father died my sister and I have been her therapists listening to all the issues she has suffered through as she grew up. It is like a record player on repeat. Even when she had adult friends she chose not to confide in them or share her feelings with them, only with me and my sister. I have had one dysfunctional relationship after another until I stopped trying to make friends. It almost feels like I am reliving my mom’s life and I hate it but I dont know how to change it or stop it. I even ended a relationship with someone I love because I know in my situation I wouldn’t be able to pursue such a relationship. He doesn’t seem to understand it, but oh well…. I can barely wrap my head around the ridiculousness of this myself. The guilt is overwhelming and so is the fear of making adult decisions. I do not even think my mom sees me as an adult, I’m still in need of being shielded and protected. It’s like she is projecting herself and all she went through as a child and adult on us. I am 24 and I feel like I have missed out on so much in life because of this. If you are a parent who is doing this to their child then you need to STOP. YOU are the ones who made us and wanted us, we don’t owe you ANYTHING. It’s like adopting a pet and then expecting the pet to do stuff for you because you adopted it….it’s absolutely ridiculous. You are the ones who owe us the dignity of our feelings and decisions.
    Needless to say I have tremendous anxiety and anger issues and lash out at my family all the time. I can’t wait for the day I can leave except I know it will be a day full of pain and I might have to live with the guilt of leaving for the rest of my life. I truly believe my mom gets insecure and jealous of any relationships I have had because of her reaction to my friends. So it’s fucked up. And there is truly nothing I can do. It feels like entrapment. But I am glad I got this off of my chest, and that I know I am not imagining this stuff, and that other people go through it as well.
    If there is anyone reading this who has gotten out of this situation, what can I do? How can I change things? Please…I really need the help, and so does my sister. I suggested counseling so many times to my mom and family and it never happened…and I need to know what I can do for myself now because I don’t want to lose any more time in life. I don’t want to live with guilt anymore for wanting normal things, like the person I love, or privacy, or making my own decisions.
    Thank you.

  • Paula D.

    February 18th, 2018 at 4:34 PM

    Rose, My experience has been that you need very strong, inflexible, boundaries with your parent and probably other family members. If you let your boundaries down, even just a little bit, you will become angry and you will be resentful. Unfortunately, when you stick up for yourself and don’t allow the abuse, they will get frustrated with you and push harder in an attempt to put you back in your place. But, you can’t have any of that. You will come to the realization that you must remove yourself entirely, unless they say goodbye first. It’s sad, but that’s reality. When that happens, you need to mourn the loss of family, the loss of the ILLUSION of the family you never had. I feel ya, sister!!!
    Stay strong! Work on yourself. There’s a beautiful person named Rose who’s wanting to meet you! She’s in there and she loves you. Namaste.

  • Heather

    July 25th, 2017 at 5:16 PM

    I have difficulty with my significant other because his mother expects him to be emotionally married to her. She has even voiced that he owes her his loyalty as a son. She will get needy and desperate and start making up lies that I assaulted her and left bruises on her and that I was there trying to break into her house. It’s awful and difficult!!

  • John

    July 25th, 2017 at 11:38 PM

    I am sorry to hear this. It is more common than you think. There is a book that may help you. When He’s Married to Mom: How to Help Mother-Enmeshed Men Open Their Hearts to True Love and Commitment by Kenneth Adams.

  • Gayle

    September 13th, 2017 at 1:01 AM

    Excellent name for this..
    i was in a relats like stated..? My x would talk to her daughter like they were married .. Right down to calling her pet names that u would say to ur partner etc baby cakes .. darling.. girlfriend but none of these towards me…Often I was the outcast .. wot ever daughter wanted was done.. this went on for 4 years .. I could not understand wot was happening .. often blaming myself when goaded into an argument .. I was walking on egg shells … It became very degrading to be sitting with friends & she would never shy from calling her daughter those lover names in front of them . They would Often look at me with eyes that said did I hear right..?
    Emotional incest she was capable of doing to with her friends too
    They never had sex but the talk was like they had or were about to
    Just glad I’m out of this now
    Good luck to any others that r experiencing this

  • Whoever

    March 22nd, 2018 at 2:46 AM

    I am sorry, but calling this incest is disgusting to me on so many levels, as I am a surivor of sexual abuse within my own family. I can not even start to imagine what hell people supposedly went through by their parents showing emotions in front of them and sharing whatever with them and holding them precious and close. My hell was a very different one, with no boundaries allowed for myself, no rights, no importance whatsoever. Being daddy’s precious princess in every way but sexual sounds like horrible abuse to me. I am sarcastic here. Having your mother cry and tell you what your precious little ears cannot handle, like things are going bad, when any idiot in the house anyway can tell even without being told… really, get a f—— grip on yourself, you weaklings! If that is all the abuse you ever suffered, and you are now acting like a helpless baby as adults because you were supposedly treated as adult as children, that makes no sense. I had to be an adult as a child, plus suffer from serious abuse from several adults including my own parents, and I function as an adult. Listening to someone or being the chosen child, calling this emotional incest, wow, you are all sick! Honestly, yes, if it is such a big deal to support your parent when they are a single parent, or see them as humans, you are not a good person to me. Whiny pieces of sh.

  • Sark M.

    October 12th, 2018 at 8:18 AM

    Wow WHOEVER you are. . . maybe you haven’t fully survived your own abuse, by the sounds of your aggressive and shaming responses, name calling, profanity, belittling another’s pain, lack of empathy for another’s pain, and harsh judgments–all indications that you would benefit from pressing the button at the top of the page that says FIND A THERAPIST. The Emotional Incest article obviously triggered your unhealed emotional pain. You should do yourself and your loved ones a favor, find a healthy way to relieve your toxic pain.


    October 12th, 2018 at 8:48 AM

    WHOEVER you are. . . seems like the article hit a NERVE.

  • Tara M.

    March 22nd, 2018 at 3:15 AM

    Paula, are you out there?!?!? I stumbled upon this page while googling about hating my Mother lol….years ago a friend told me that I had an incestuous relationship with my Mother, I didn’t really get it, I was in my 20’s at the time. Fast forward 20 years, I am a Mom now….and I think it is starting to make some sense, so I google it and OMG….I feel like everything suddenly makes sense! My Mom had me at 23, she was the “other” woman, so they never married, and she worked her tail off to keep us off welfare and state aide, I give her so much credit for that…but the drain of being her only child, her husband, her best friend, literally EVERYTHING to her was rough, her Mother was sick and lived with us, in a hospital bed for a while, at 10 I was cleaning her wounds and helping her….I knew about every financial trouble, every work issue, friend issue, EVERYTHING….sometimes I just wanted to go to my room but she wouldn’t let me, said I had to spend family time with her and her Mom…and I would be stuck watching murder she wrote lol! Any relationship I had with a friend’s family, or even co-workers as I got older, was viewed as a threat by her, she criticized everything…everything was always a battle, a struggle to make sure SHE felt loved! As an adult, and has her emotional caregiver/support system for 30+ years (not to mention financial, paying her rent at times, car payments), I am tired, and she is quite sick….and since she moved in with us 7 years ago (BIG mistake) her health has gone down hill….now we find ourselves in a place where she is in a rehab/nursing facility and I want them to transition her to long term care, she is young, 67, but she needs help that I just feel like I can’t give anymore! I am tired, she has drained me…is it bad that I don’t want to do it anymore? I feel like the description of covert incest above is me to a T….I have always had intimacy issues, just don’t like it…sex fine, snuggle, ehhh not so much lol…I have serious weight issues, I definitely sooth with food…and I just want to be left alone lol, not in a negative way, just that I feel so emotionally drained by her! When I met my hubby years ago, and she thought we were nearing engagement, she met a guy online, had 5 dates, got engaged ASAP, rushed to have a vegas wedding, then on the day we were going for MY wedding dress, she showed up and the first words out of her mouth were, “I can’t take it, I am leaving him”….so now, when I finally feel like she isn’t my problem anymore, I spend the entire time at the dress shop, wondering if my fiance will still marry me if my 57yr old Mother has to come with lol! You seem so well versed in this….tell me, is it ok to be DONE….I will visit, I will do all I can, from a far, I just can’t have her here anymore…she just keeps saying, “you’ll know how this feels some day….I thought I had family…..was your life really that bad….what did I do to deserve this…I must have been a horrible mother!”….she can’t just see it’s me needing to focus on ME!!! Thanks for listening!

  • Paula D

    March 22nd, 2018 at 10:16 AM

    Tara, yes, I am here, if that’s what you mean. I am glad you are finally coming to terms with your abusive relationship with your mother. This form of abuse is insidious and incredibly damaging. With bruises and scars, one can visibly see the abuse. But, in this form, a person, especially a child, doesn’t understand that they are being used. Instead, they feel that they are getting parental love. But, in this form, it’s given for what you do vs who you are. And that’s a very important factor here.
    From what you describe, you have been adultified and parentified. Adultification occured because you were forced to deal with very sophisticated subjects in order to provide your mother with emotional support. Parentification happens when you are forced to run the household at an early age, caregiving for a sick grandparent, and any other mature responsibility that you remove from a parent, such as working to pay their bills. Please understand that this is a form of codependency and you are, in fact, enabling your mother. I think you have come to the point of resentment in enabling and removing the consequences of her behavior, whatever her excuse may be. And at this point, maybe you understand that your mother is a sick individual in the sense that these are very unhealthy behaviors. Therefore, you have learned unhealthy coping mechanisms too. The whole thing sounds generational, as it may very well be that your grandmother behaved this way to her daughter too.
    This enmeshment is making you sick and tired too, as you struggle to support another person at the expense of self. I suggest you read up on toxic mothers and parental enmeshment (this can happen with a father too) to get an idea of the ways in which a child can be silently abused.
    Therapy is a great idea, provided you can afford it, but you must find a counselor that understands these behaviors. Otherwise, you will come off whiny because your parent did the best they could under circumstances. Which, in a sense, is true. Your mother had no spouse, which isn’t your fault, forcing you to deal with the consequences. To a certain extent, this is what happens in this situation, or when forced to be a caregiver; you are codependent, meaning who you are is tied up in someone else. However, healthier people have better coping mechanisms, and this is a spectrum (sliding scale). Since your mother had no husband, no parental support, and no healthy friends, you became her everything. The childhood is gone once you are thrust into all these support roles.
    If you have friends that are capable of understanding, and also willing, that you can bounce this stuff off of, then great. Most of us don’t have this (cherished) type of friend. Most relationships are fair weather. And many are driven off by the family sickness, leaving you alone, like your mother was. Now, I avoid these sick situations like the plague! It’s often easy for people like us to get sucked into the vortex and have all of our healthy goodness extracted until there’s nothing left. So, I help people online and avoid the entanglements.
    Therapy is paramount. If you can’t afford it, then I suggest Codependent’s Anonymous, aka CoDA. It’s a 12 step program designed to help people understand unhealthy behavior and learn how to create boundaries. It’s an organization of volunteers who have been through it and stick with it. This way, they keep themselves in check while helping you. No money is required to join, however, they always have a can for contributions of a buck or two in order to keep functioning. If you stay in, you are expected to do the 12 step program and continue to work on yourself. And buy a book or two. At their website, you can see if there are any meetings near you. I think they have an online community for people who aren’t near a meeting or can’t attend. But, I do recommend that you attend. You will meet people who are going through similar issues that can provide validation and empathy. I suggest doing this in conjunction with therapy if possible. coda.org/
    It’s a sad moment when you wake up and realize that reality isn’t what you thought. I speak from personal experience but I think many here will agree. It will be much harder to separate from your mother since she lives with you. Normally, I suggest no contact (which is what my therapist advised me) but it’s hard to make a clean break. There’s a plethora of feelings involved when you consider never speaking to a parent again. In which case, low contact is in order. Eventually, something will happen to dissolve the relationship.
    Let me tell you a secret. Once you set strong boundaries, once you refuse budge, and you don’t allow their behaviors, they will choose to leave on their own. Your mother is pretty entrenched in your life, so it will be much harder to do this. As long as you are footing the bill and enabling her without consequence, she isn’t going to budge!
    When you set strong and inflexible boundaries, the first thing that happens is that your resolve, your fortification is tested. They will use any and all means to get you to fold. That means that they will use guilt, anger, blackmail, and any other trick that they can pull out of their hat. You can’t let it phase you. Make simple rules, and stick to them. When they confront you, repeat the rule to them out-loud. Type up a simple statement and have them sign it. Give them a copy. Keep a copy and refer to it when necessary. That works best! The second you give in you have lost. Once they understand your sincerity and know your resolve they will leave. They can’t use you anymore. They fall away like fleas on a dead dog. Just a warning, this is a lonely time and many won’t understand. Actively seek support from those that do and ignore the rest. The concept of honoring parents is ingrained in our culture. No matter how you were abused, many feel that you should just shut up and take it because you came from sperm and egg. As soon as they argue for a parent, either shut up or cast them aside. They don’t understand and never will. Many may agree but express their sadness at the state of things. Just say thanks and ignore anything you don’t agree with. They just don’t now how to empathize. And, yes, it is sad. But I will tell you that after the mourning period (yes, you must grieve) you will feel better. You will be happier. Yes, you are sad that this must come to pass but it is your salvation on the line. For once in your life, you can just be you. Most likely, you don’t know who that is. I suggest you try anything and everything. The exploratory time is exhilarating! You will learn to love yourself for who you are.
    Best of luck to you.

  • Malin G

    October 11th, 2018 at 3:36 PM

    My mother in law got fullblown panic when the news reached her that I was pregnant. An hour after labour I found her in the room where I gave birth to my son at hospitel (dont ask me how she passed security and all nurses. She took her son under the arm and lead him out from the hospital back home and gave him dinner.

  • Evelyn

    January 25th, 2020 at 4:57 AM

    It’s been a while since this article was written but I hope the comment section is still alive.
    Excellent essay, and very helpful read.
    A big thanks to the author – also to Paula as well for your thoughtful comments and comprehensive input.
    In my view – sharing the standpoint many expressed here – this topic is highly relevant, exactly because it is less known and it is still a taboo. Not only those abused this way but also the well-meaning parents who don’t know what they are doing, could benefit from becoming aware that what they are doing “out of love” can – and in most cases will – harm their children for life.
    It has been decades long struggle until I had to come to the conclusion that my mother has been abusing me in this insidious way and at the end I had to realise that she did so intentionally. She made me, her oldest child, her special confidant, as ‘her special child with the highest intelligence’. So I was given the honour to secure mom’s emotional well-being, to fix her hopeless marriage, to make peace when my parents were fighting, to repair the relationship among the profoundly alienated siblings (while mom was dividing us behind the scenes!), etc. All in all I was responsible to fix the very family that she made dysfunctional. In addition, I was supposed to meet mom’s special romantic emotional needs as well. Although pshysical aspect was not included, my role was a romantic one. I found myself with the urge to write her romantic poems and bring her large bouquets of red roses. I had to comfort her when mom was sad or angry and when she shared her adult secrets with me including that she found the sex with my father disgusting.
    As a result I ended up without childhood, I spent my teen years and young age without dating anyone, and later on ended up without a husband and family. When I eventually fell in love, I was already 30, but my mother managed to destroy that relationship as well.
    For a long time I thought mom does not, and did not, know what she was doing, hence I kept begging for her love, but after she disowned me – when I was already 50 – I realised that she never loved me, that I was only used by her, and intentionally abused with the purpose to destroy my life.

  • Paula

    January 27th, 2020 at 8:23 PM

    Thank you for your kind words. I am glad that my posts have been of service to you. It is my hope that by reaching out I can help others. It sounds like we had a very similar childhood, as all that you mentioned is true for me, including the disinheritance. For my mother, people are merely a means to an end. I learned about narcissism and am tuned in. Now that I am not her willing medium, I am of no service, and have been devalued and discarded. Once you speak up and question perfection, it’s all over; it’s just a matter of time. Fair warning, this is not for the timid!!! The difference between your life and mine was in the matter of relationships and love. I found myself someone else to abuse me at the naive age of sixteen, who played all the head games, trauma bond included, that repeated the familiar on-off pattern of my mother that both my father and first step father shared. After nine years my ex (well, me too) had me so boxed in that I saw no way out alive. There he set me free. It was through therapy that I found life. No doubt this betrayal of leaving her for another was the start of an open wound for my mother. Both she and my ex fought for control of me. In the end, neither won. My mother was very rude, disrespectful, and condescending to my second husband from the start, although he did nothing to her. Once again, I chose another, and so did she. Husband #4 just passed a few months ago. Once the paperwork was done, she could not wait to tell me she had left all to St Jude’s Children’s Hospital. I held my tongue and did not say that “the sooner that happens, the more children could be saved”. I learned many things from mom, including how to shoot someone who outdrew you! No, I held fast while she spewed a two hour “momologue”. She told me that I shouldn’t count on other people’s money. Ha! How many promises has she broken over the course of my lifetime, let me count the ways??? The one thing I never counted on was inheritance, and so she hurt me a lot less than I let her think she did. Her knife twist did not stop with me, however, as she cut my brother and all my step siblings out of her will too. Both she and their father drove us all off and then very angry to be in their 90’s alone. I pity them both.

  • John

    January 28th, 2020 at 11:08 AM

    Your story brought tears to my eyes. I am so sorry that your mother destroyed your life.
    My mother abandoned my dad when I was four. She invited me to bed to keep her company. She constantly called me her “little man” and the “man of the house.” When I hit puberty at age 10, things became romantic. They became physical in the full sense of the word when I hit 13. Needless to say, but all of this killed any dating relationships with girls as a teenager, a college student or grad school student. Once I left home and my mom, I found myself going to massage parlors and strip clubs because the girls reminded me of my mother when she was younger. All of this totally sexualized my life.

    I was past 30 when I did meet a woman who I was comfortable around. We got married, but I still often thought of what my mom and I did. Years later I read a book about when a parent makes you their partner. That helped me understand part of why I went through but completely understand what my wife told me about her and her mother’s romantic relationship despite the fact she was married. When my wife met my mom she could tell there was a closeness between us, but I’ve never have told her how close. I have told her the names that my mom used to call me and how she would walk into my room with see through nighties on and panties. She hasn’t asked anymore questions and I have not volunteered any information. I’ve told my therapist, but for some reason have not been able to tell her.

  • Lorraine

    November 3rd, 2018 at 6:59 PM

    When my mum and dad got divorced when I was 18, my mum quite literally suffocated me with her neediness. She guilt tripped me every time I wanted to go out with friends. Cut a long story short, eventually I had no social life at all….no boyfriends…..all I did was went to work and came home and watched television with my mum. Even if I went to a friends house for a few drinks my mum would humiliate me by knocking at my friend’s door and demanding to know when I was coming home. This had the desired effect my mum intended it to have; I became too embarrassed to even go to my friend’s homes. I lost all my self esteem. Sure there were many times we screamed and argued but I was kind of trapped. She used to take most of my wages off of me and this meant that I could not afford to move out. This is a terrible thing for me to admit but here goes…..when she died when I was 34 I finally felt free. I felt like I had been let out of prison. I never even cried over her death…..as far as I was concerned she had ruined the best years of my life. Judge me if you want to…..but you didn’t walk in my shoes.

  • Steel

    June 24th, 2019 at 8:40 AM

    This article and some of the comments really strike a chord with me. I was brought up as an only child by a single mother from the age of 3. We were poor (she has lived off government benefits all of her life), we lived in government housing, we had abusive neighbours that caused us to move home once and almost a second time. She had few friends and no romantic relationships and no contact with my father. I remember being aware of how much (little) money we had since the age of 7, how we weren’t insured against theft. I was devising plans to save on energy bills so we could afford new furniture at 13. Except for going to school, I rarely left the house between 13-15 to play because my Mother couldn’t cope with the worry something happening to me. There was also racial abuse going on around this (I am a mixed race child) as we lived in a white neighbourhood in a parochial town. Still, despite what was probably a traumatic experience I managed to do well in school and get decent jobs and manage my emotions to stay out of any trouble and even use the negatives as a motivator. Relationships and intimacy have always been an issue. Fine at the very start of a relationship, but I lose interest in any intimacy quickly. It always seems there are bigger unresolved issues but these issues are hard to get at. In my 40s I have found some space to think and here I am. Emotional Incest seems an awful name for it, but this is the source of any issues I have. I have felt anger, guilt and ongoing responsibility towards my Mother. I have tried to give her a social life because her own undiagnosed emotional issues and lack of money make it hard for her to create one for herself. This has probably made my own issues around this worse though. I don’t blame her, she was in a terrible situation and the relationship with her own mother was emotionally cold. She hadn’t been prepared in any way for the situation she was in, and couldn’t really cope. She was always going to have to lean on me. It is frustrating that she has never seen that this upbringing was an issue, or felt the need to learn or be curious about the effects it might have on me, this is where the anger and then the guilt for feeling angry comes in. Anyway I am at the start of my journey in coming to terms with this and figuring how best to go forward. At least I feel I have an understanding of the base of the problem. Good luck to us all!

  • Michelle

    July 29th, 2019 at 1:52 PM

    Dear Steel,
    I am sorry for your situation, and the stress it is causing you. There are scientific studies emerging about how this kind of stress affects the body, and how this kind of stress at a young age actually changes the way you deal with stress–research some of the ACES studies and heart disease. ACES are Adverse Childhood Effects. My husband was a parentified child and my former mother in law abused him emotionally. When I married into the family I said, wow, doesn’t your mother have any friends her own age? She had no interests or hobbies, and expected my husband to finance her. He had three jobs in high school to pay off their mortgage. He told me stories that let me know she used him as an adult confidante from the age of 8 onward. She is one creepy woman, who uses emotional guilt. I was really creeped out by her lack of boundaries. She uses my niece and nephew as adult confidantes, too–telling them adult things. When I said, whoa, that’s adult talk–she looked at me like I was insane. Even after he had his heart attack, she was texting him about her problems–WHilE HE WAS IN THE HOSPITAL. I’m sure there is something in her upbringing that makes her this way but frankly I don’t care what it is. I can’t stand her and I certainly don’t respect her. I always treated her with respect the minimal times I would see her, but my husband and I would get away quickly. She called and texted him at work constantly. For years. We would try to get her interested in activities, but she refused. When my husband was growing up, she overshared sexual and financial problems with him. 8 years old and worried about how they would get fed, or how they would pay rent. I am thinking about that book, I Remember Mama, where she would tell the kids, well, lets see if we have to take money out of the bank. Somehow they would make ends meet, (in the book) and at the end, when the child is an adult, she finds out there was no money in the bank, there was no bank, but the mother never let the kids know that. Please allow yourself to be angry–it is ok to be angry, she took your childhood from you. But please continue to educate yourself, and get counseling or whatever if that helps. My mother in law is a narcissist (they call it covert narcissism) and she tries to work me over the way she did my husband but it doesn’t work with me because I was raised with boundaries. I hope you continue to work toward a better understanding. Remember, you did nothing wrong–you were the child.

  • Julia

    October 24th, 2019 at 8:55 AM

    Both my husband and I grew up in homes like this where our moms, without intent to harm, nonetheless did, by using us as confidants and emotional support rather than appropriate adults. To the man above who commented that he’d given up, my husband nearly did as well. At 36 he lived at home with ah oppressive mother who had sucked the life out of him for so long, he never thought he’d get out from under it. But he did. Not even with therapy. He met me, I told him some hard truths, he mustered the strength to do battle, moved out, bought a house, married me, had his own baby son a year later, went halfway around the world to adopt a little girl a year after that. A finer man could not be found. We have been married 25 years now. The fight is worth it to extricate from those who would destroy our lives on the altar of their own well-being.

  • bob

    March 11th, 2020 at 7:44 PM

    Interesting read for sure, I think calling it covert incest is a bit too much, as I don’t believe it to near as damaging as true child abuse. with that said, my story is probably one of the minor ones. My Dad was gravely ill for a couple of months, and I was the older child (13) in the house. and when he recovered, he was only around briefly before we moved to a new location, and his work didn’t allow him to move with us for a few more months. My mom was flirtatious and touch feely. she would wear just nightgowns around and when she bought me new clothes, she expected me to try them on in front of her. including boxers. (I didn’t, I was like the kid they describe in thinking yuck) There were other issues too. my dad subscribed to Playboy, (for the articles) and there was adult(porn) reading in my parents bathroom, including the Playboy forum magazine they left lying around. so as a voracious reader, I was exposed to all this incestuous content. So, now, nearing 60, I see some similarities with those mentioned. I’ve struggled with incestuous fantasies about her. I was into pornography, (I abstain for many months then don’t) I feel like my wife just won’t stop complaining about everything. I’m not saying she does, it is how I feel about it. I’m tired of listening. While I wouldn’t just up and leave, I think about it (like if I won the lotto or something) . I also think it’s a minor case, as I don’t feel she resented my HS girlfriend. There were too many times where it seemed she would bend over at the waist when I was in the kitchen. All sorts of things I can think of that would be starters for incest erotica. she even flashed me once, (the cat was in a fight and had a bite mark) so I took it into her room, and nude her checked out the cat in front of me. And when my water bed heater would get unplugged, she would practically beg me to sleep in her bed. ( my dad worked graveyard while I was in HS) so she slept alone for my HS years. at the table, she would rub her feet on my legs, I would get called into her room to “come undo me” which sounded like come and do me , so I could undo her skirt or dress zipper. or help her with her boots.
    Sometimes when she was dressing up to go out somewhere, she’d call me in to look at her in different skirts to see which one was better. (and change in front of me) Apologies for the fractured content. but I hadn’t heard the term covert incest, so I was prowling around, found this site, and now am spilling the beans. She had a book on how to give blow jobs that was hidden under her bed, which when was exposed when we were flipping the mattress she offered it to me? (sorry, I don’t give BJs :-), so I don’t need that book) so these are some of the examples where it was a bit odd. Just a FYI, her mom died when she was young, and her new step mom was evil, so she moved out when she was 16. and married young. So that’s most of the mildly pervy stuff. from an emotional outlet perspective, I don’t think she had that issue with me, as the neighbor lady was practically over every day, so they shared that burden.

  • Random

    July 25th, 2020 at 2:27 AM

    After more than 20 years with MDD and cPTSD, I now have adult children (ranging from 21 to 34). During these years I have had to put my trust and found support in my wife. She is getting tired an worn out. To take a bit of load off her, I have started to “lean on” my children a bit – to let out my grief, and to talk about my flashbacks. Of course, after asking them if that is OK.
    With grown up children, like this case, would it still be emotional incest?

  • paula

    July 25th, 2020 at 1:39 PM

    No. They are adults. If you are not in any way critical of their mother, and are only expressing unrelated emotions and topics, that’s fine.
    We are talking about kids here. Like telling your eight year old about your marital problems and sex life. Things of that nature that are pitting a child against a parent and above their maturity level.
    What concerns me is your “wearing out” people. If you are going to therapy, “wearing out” family members is unnecessary. What you are describing is actually another form of abuse.

  • John

    July 25th, 2020 at 4:05 PM

    No, not with adult children, but it may be better to do that with a therapist. That is a lot to put on an adult child.

  • Random

    July 27th, 2020 at 9:44 AM

    I have a whole team of therapists that are not able to find a solution. I won’t go into details, as my problems are complicated and severe. What is wearing out my wife is seeing me sad and joyless continues in all these year. What I need my family members for is confirmation of self-value, and to share that which needs to be shared in the moment. The long and detailed issues I talk to my doctor and my psychiatrist about.

  • paula

    July 27th, 2020 at 12:25 PM

    I am sorry that therapy only goes so far.
    I’m sure that it helps you to be comforted by family.
    Even so, it sounds like you may be using them too much as a crutch. The over reliance on your family is having a negative effect on them.
    As a suggestion, maybe you need a better therapist or more targeted therapy. Long term therapy without improvement often means it’s a bad fit.
    One thing you can do is ask your therapist if there is a 12 step program nearby that can help address some of your issues. While some people are critical of 12 step programs, they can be very helpful. There are people there that are going through similar issues who will lend an empathetic ear and show sympathy for problems that most people can’t relate to. They only request a small donation, so you get a big return for a few bucks! Often, there is opportunity to meet and greet beforehand and get to aquainted after meetings.
    Barring that, group therapy can often help too.
    While I understand your dilemma, I encourage you to try to find other options to ease burdens on family.
    What you are seeing are the crushing effects of your depression upon your family. Your wife is Atlas.
    There is a truth in your post…
    A whole team of therapists cannot GIVE you self-value. You can spend your whole life and all your money and still they cannot do this thing.
    Untl you stand up for yourself, until you choose to define your own self worth, you will sacrefice the lives of your family too.

  • Random

    July 28th, 2020 at 1:35 AM

    Thankfully money isn’t an issue. These things are free in my country. The availability of therapists however, are dire.
    My wife is getting help to support me by her own therapist. The idea of offloading her unto my children is something that came up as a possibility during this summer, so that plan hasn’t been applied yet. My oldest son insists on being involved. I will certainly take you’re advice and reconsider.
    I have been through every available treatment and regular medication, and even ECT. The next, and only, available action left is treatment with esketamin. This will probably start during this autumn.
    I feel that my “use” of my wife as a support has come through as too severe. It’s not that I lean so heavy on her, it’s more the amount of time that has made her tire. But, I am considering divorce, to “set her free”.
    We are in a sort of quagmire, but are aware of it, and are getting help so that we don’t sink too deep. But sometimes things come up in my grief and my flashbacks that has to be told. I have yesterday applied for entry into a ptsd forum, so that I can use that to offload.
    Rest assured that we are working actively to relieve my wife from her burdens, but several paths need to be considered.

  • Random

    July 28th, 2020 at 4:31 AM

    I experience the advice I get in this forum as counter productive. So, I will not participate in this thread, and there is no need to answer my last entries.

  • Paula

    July 28th, 2020 at 9:37 AM

    I feel your pain and conflict. I am truly sorry that you and your family are going through this and I wish you all hope, health, and happiness.
    I agree that this forum may not be relevant to your issues. What we are discussing here is the damage done by a particular form of childhood abuse.
    Best wishes

  • Bonnie

    August 7th, 2020 at 8:15 PM

    I’m thinking of sending this article to my ex. He did this as well as parental alienation. When I was driving my then 12 year old to school she suddenly said” I don’t blame Dad for wanting to divorce you, you really are a bitch.” And that is only one incident that I know of, I’m sure it was ongoing with our oldest during her youth. As we were divorcing, he stated” Before I’m done with you , I guarantee you will have no relationship with either of your daughters”. It is to my credit that I didn’t forward his missive to said daughters. While our 40 year marriage was ending, he called our oldest daughter nightly and told her he was going to kill himself. He had no friends to confide in so used her. She was diagnosed with sociopathy as a teen. True to his word, he did succeed in destroying my relationship to one daughter, as well as severely damaging my relationship with the other. My estranged daughter told me to never fucking call her again five years ago and then hung up on me. Through good therapy, I have realized that he was an abuser and all my psychiatrists have said that he is a narcissist. Both of his parents were mentally ill with personality disorders. His paternal grandfather was considered to be a psychopath. And, cluster b’s have a genetic component. I shudder to think of the damage to our daughters. Sorry for my long vent.
    Glad I stumbled upon this site.

  • Helene

    August 9th, 2020 at 2:24 PM

    I cannot thank you enough for your insightful comments. I signed up for Coda zoom meetings and I am so excited to attend. I cannot wait and I did not even know such meetings existed. Thank you, thank you, thank you. :)
    As for my family, by the looks of it, it was not a bad family. I am the only child and I seemed to have everything I wanted (materially). One thing that haunted me all of my life and I did not know there was a name for it was that my mom shared with me the details of her relationship with my dad since as early as I can remember. She shared (and still tries) everything: how she lack attention, what he said, how he flirted with other women, how bd their sex was, that he cheated, the details of sex with another woman. I just remember feeling sick every time she told me these things. In my late 20s, I went to see a therapist and she said to tell my mom to stop sharing it as it was not my business. And next time, my mom shared some details about their relationship, I said “please stop. I do not want or need to hear this.” My mom started crying saying no one wanted to listen to her when she was a kid and how miserable of a life she had and how much she sacrificed for me and now I was turning away from her. That broke my heart but I saw this as kind of manipulative behavior. I have lived with some strange guilt all of my life. I am afraid to be happy. I am afraid to have a carefree day. And lately, seeing my parents have felt like a chore and I began googling why I was feeling the way I was feeling and came across the term “parentification”. I am starting to understand my strange feeling of guilt, relationships where I was always a rescuer and caregiver, my affinity to working hard and feeling guilty around having fun, my non very low self worth, etc. You are not alone, if you are going through this. Part of resolving a problem is shedding the light of awareness of it. I have a glimmer of hope that I would be able to have a guilt free life with ability to feel joy without feeling bad about it.

  • Paula

    August 9th, 2020 at 6:32 PM

    Helen, I too am an pretty much an only child whose mother shared inappropriately. There are many of us with problems related to this and my purpose here is to inform and help others.
    I am glad that you were able to find the information that you need for a healthier and happier, guilt-free life. You are most welcome.
    God Bless.

  • Tasha

    December 28th, 2020 at 1:24 PM

    Hi Paula, I am an outsider who is seeing this dynamic with my new partner and his eldest daughter. There are 3 children & their mother died when they were small. The relationship between the eldest daughter & my partner makes me uneasy. It feels like they are a couple sometimes as the child now 13, tells the other children off and my partner speaks to her as if she is an adult. Allowing her to participate in adult conversations and leaving her little notes to get hot things out of the oven when he ducks out, instead of asking me, his partner.
    his other children have accepted me but the eldest girl refuses to, she has done all sorts of nasty things to me and he allows it to go unpunished. its as if I am only needed for the sexual aspect of an adult relationship.

    I have tried to talk to him about boundaries, dynamics and roles, as unless there is change I will have to end the relationship. He just gets very angry & shuts down, then spends the evening sat stroking each other and giggling with her whilst I am excluded until she goes to bed. He even once said after shed gone to bed…..as he patted the space shed vacated next to him “your turn” I just felt a bit sick.
    Im so glad I found this article as I have been blaming myself for being in some way envious. But because I never feel this with the other daughter and they don’t have this , almost flirtatious and constantly enmeshed relationship, I have begun to research what else could be at play.
    I think, reading the above, I had better just leave the situation if he wont deal with the issue. I understand how grief and trauma bonds people & ill always just feel like I’m trying to, even with the best intentions “coming between” their “special” relationship.

    All the best to everyone dealing with this, Its not always intentional & I think it should be renamed as the word “incest” means any helpful material
    on the subject would be very difficult to present to anyone involved.

  • Paula

    December 29th, 2020 at 7:39 AM

    Tasha, sorry to hear that you wound up in this unhealthy dynamic. I think that you are absolutely correct to listen to your instinct and internal dialogue on this one. I am no expert, but I agree that there seems to be an almost sexual dynamic aspect to the relationship between your partner and his one daughter. You hardly mention the other children but the implication is that they don’t really have a relationship with the father and are ignored or neglected. Even without the sexual tension and the grooming, the “Golden Child” dynamic is an unhealthy one. Basically, any parent/child dynamic where the child is used by the parent to fulfill a parental “need” is detrimental. Yes, the word incest turns some people off. Other keywords to look for are “parentification” and also, (particularly in this context) “adultification’. I have to agree with you that, while you may bring a healthier role model for the other two children, the established family dynamic is dysfunctional and not healthy for you. Never assume that the other partner or parties are going to change, even when the thirteen year old girl becomes an adult with a family of her own. Not gonna happen. You are wise to think of yourself and courageous enough to envision a better future as an individual than to continue assuming the role of mistress in this situation. There’s a better life waiting for you out there somewhere! Wishing you the very best.

  • Shelly

    March 7th, 2021 at 1:04 PM

    I believe that the majority of you, including the author of this article, are missing the most important aspects of any relationship which are communication, compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation. Although the degree that emotional dependence occurred in each situation can vary greatly, the parent/child bond is sacred. Every attempt should be made to try to salvage that relationship. Therapists can make this situation much, much worse by telling the young adult child to set up boundaries so tight that they forgo the potential for healing and the creation of a mutually heathy future relationship for both parties. To every child that has experienced this, wouldn’t you be much better off if your parent apologized for unintentionally hurting you and you truly forgave them in your heart?

  • John

    March 8th, 2021 at 8:32 AM

    Your comments are great but idealistic for they don’t fit the reality that most of us live with. The boundaries are for the adult child’s protection from a parent lacking self-awareness because emotionally they are gaining so much from the
    enmeshment that it angers them when you stop being part of their emotional dance.
    When a parent makes a child, son or daughter, their emotional partner, it is often out of needs created by a messed
    up marriage or sometimes being a single mom sometimes caused by divorce as in my case. They think they are loving and will tell you so, but they are using you to meet their unmet needs. Thus, they feel hurt, angry and that you don’t love them when you don’t fit what they want and need. Sorry, to say, but there are cases when such covert emotional incest moves into overt incest which is horrible.
    There is a very good book on this subject of covert incest that has been updated.
    Silently Seduced: When Parents Make Their Children Partners by Kenneth M. Adams PhD
    One thing that he does not cover is when a mother makes her daughter an emotional partner which happened to my wife and she spent years in therapy dealing with which I am very proud of her doing. As you said, the parent child bond is sacred, but when the parent breaks that bond, the parent is the one who healed it which means they need to get well first. Please don’t make the victim, the adult child, responsible for healing what their parent broke. That’s called blaming the victim.

  • Paula

    March 8th, 2021 at 9:39 AM

    Shelly, what many people don’t understand is that children don’t want to let go of their parent. No contact is a nuclear option that is the last resort. The majority of us are blamed for being “bad children” when really, we have to let go for our own survival.
    You don’t seem to get that there is no apology forthcoming and there never will be. There is a sense of entitlement on the part of the parent(s) and a delusional belief that they are not at fault. If you have no issue with using your children for self regulation: to have the child serve you as their buddy, their confidant, therapist, talking about intimate details of personal life with a small child because you have no friends and your spouse is invisible; and so entitled and oblivious as to plow right over your child(ren)s needs, why would you apologize? They use their entitlement as justification for the power and control they have over their family. You won’t ever get an acknowledgement of any wrong doing as this would lower their self esteem. NO ONE, AND I DO MEAN NO ONE, decides to go no contact with their family of origin on a whim. This is a fallacy, a myth, probably started by a narcissist themselves and propagated by flying monkeys. This is a process which can take years, decades even, from deciding to reduce contact to eventually no contact due to continued boundary infractions. In the long run, my asking my mom not to start conversations like, “I’ve never had good sex” in a car full of people including my step father and myself. Maybe you were lucky enough not to be raised by a narcissist, or maybe you are one yourself??? Either way, it’s of no consequence. These people are heroes for sticking up for themselves after being brow-beaten their whole lives. Unless you’ve been there, it’s not for you to judge.

  • John

    March 8th, 2021 at 2:59 PM

    Thank you, Paula, Very well said.

  • Randy

    July 24th, 2021 at 8:24 AM

    Mothers who psycologicaly overwhelm their children-especially their sons probably need some help. But not all emotional incest is negative. I reconnected with my mother at 39, 5 years after the death of her second husband, my father was neither of them. We started supporting each other and ended up in an intimate relationship. She is a wonderful partner, but being my own mom makes everything better! And now that she needs my physical help, I couldn’t be more connected to her.

  • Suzanne

    July 29th, 2021 at 9:19 PM

    Thank you so much for bringing this topic to light. I am also in this unhealthy dynamic with my new husband who has a adult daughter who makes me feel like the child and she is the wife. My husband and I fight constantly over this issue that she has to put her 2 cents in our business on every aspect, There are clearly no boundaries. He still confides in her and tells her everything from our finances to his whatever we are doing in our everyday life. She texts and calls him constantly. She actually called my ex husband to find out what kind of person I am. She gaslight him and myself and told her father I am a “gold-digger” Keep in mind I am a social worker which does not equate to exactly a person who would be a gold-digger. This lies and manipulates him to get what she wants and he gives it to her in exchange for her love as he did all his life especially when his former wife had enough and the daughter decided to go with him because he was filfuiing her needs and visa versa. They talk about me and he totally sides with her. I cannot change that dynamic and thinks I truly had enough of this sick dysfunctional bizarre behavior.

  • Janice

    October 26th, 2021 at 2:33 PM

    What can you do for a 7 year old child being put through this now?

  • Ali

    February 10th, 2022 at 5:40 PM

    Do most of these adulfidied relationships become sexual eventually? Would that be considered a severe case or pretty common?

  • randyolfart

    February 10th, 2022 at 8:17 PM

    Suzanne- my mother and I became a wonderful intimate couple. But we never did anything to degrade my brothers and sister. Letr him go, he’s not respectable as a consag.

  • randyolfart

    February 10th, 2022 at 8:39 PM

    NEVER WITH A MINOR CHILD! We lived as adult consags, but children are not able to process our lifestyle and should never be used in it.

  • Colleen

    March 4th, 2022 at 11:04 PM

    As a single mom with bi-polar disorder I didn’t realize until recently that this was my behavior. I made my children my emotional “partners”. Rather than nurturing their childhoods I was robbing them of it. It was not intentional. This is not an excuse. The guilt and shame I feel now as I watch them struggle with life as adults is heartbreaking. There is no going back. All I can do now is engage in conversations that support them. Not make them my emotional sounding board. I am looking for books/material on how to help/change MY behavior as the parent who has created this life for my children. Does anyone have any suggestions?

  • Maria

    June 13th, 2022 at 4:03 AM

    My mom died when I was 14 and, I realized at 18-19, my dad had mistaken me for his 2nd wife. At that point, it was too late for me to move out; at 17, I had already enrolled at a local university. Back then, in my country, you started dating after enrolling, so up until that point my father’s jealousy and control hadt expressed itself. But as soon as it was time for me to develop in that matter, he turned into an abusive tyrant. He was insanely jealous because I was an attractive woman in a uni full of guys (mech. eng.) and thus he became insanely abusive. My gut was telling me it wasnt just a dad trying to deal with his daughter having sex but something waaaay more sinister. I tried to remain in denial because I had nowhere to go. The situation was SO BAD, complete no contact was necessary, AND him not knowing my whereabouts. Where tf do you go when your other parent is dead and there are no relatives you can trust?

    Someone in the comments spoke about “if I cant have you, no one can” and I felt that. I believe my dad was sexually attracted to me and, being unable to deal with it and feeling sick, he took out his anger on me for making him feel this way towards me. Even though I was in denial, I would often tell him “I am your daughter, not your wife. YOUR DAUGHTER!”.

    We lived in an old house and the bathroom key had been lost for years. So, he would often barge in the bathroom while I would shower, and I felt so relieved when we renovated the bathroom and installed a new door with a key. A few months later, the key was lost and he started barging in again. It was only recently I realized HE took it.

    Besides all that, he would ON A WEEKLY BASIS hit me. Nothing serious, but enough to humiliate me. I felt completely lost and, at 19, I didnt wanna believe I was left with zero parents. He took full advantage of his monopoly.

    The whole incestuous thing was horrible enough, but on top of that, the abuse rendered me MUTE. I was TOO STUNNED to communicate properly with anyone. I was a literal trophy kid, so what was his problem? He should be proud of me, not scream at me on a daily basis I am an “ass-kid” (with never giving any explanation as to why he would call me that). In the end, I got my degree without ever going on a single date because the shame totally sinked my (already very poor) social skills.

    My 3 sisters are all older than me, but even though 2 of them were living with us, neither bothered to help. They didnt understand what was going on because they were both obese and dad never viewed them in that way. My eldest sister still denies it, as if an obese 28yo woman is of the same “value” to a misogynist, as an attractive 20yo. I suppose her denial is strong too because it is not easy to accept your only left parent is a pervert.

    On top of all of that, I recently also realized my father was PURPOSEFULLY sabotaging my studies by screaming even during exam periods. He would barge in my room and scream for whatever stupid matter while I would study and, even when I would tell him, “I have an exam tonorrow. Can you, please, be quiet?”, he wouldn’t stop. I seriously struggled with uni and he knew I was (metaphorically) drowning. I would never imagine that a parent would try to sabotage their own kid. The result of all of his entitlement and attention-seeking was that I recently realized that I dont want to have kids because I already had to manage a 5yo with the attitude of a horny teenaged boy (in the body of a 60yo) for too many years, and I cant go through that again.

    After FOUR YEARS of this paranoia (at the point I was alrrady 21 and hadnt ever been on a single date), he got a gf! He managed to loosen up towards me enough for me to be able to focus on my studies (but still not enough for me to socialize! Besides, at that point, my social skills were still those of a socially awkward 17yo). Amongst depression, I managed to take my degree at the age of 27! I will always have this show on my resume. :/

    It took me another 2 years to find the strangth to move out because I knew moving out would ultimately mean cutting off MY WHOLE FAMILY. My father and enabling sisters included. I knew I would be all alone sooner or later. At 29, before moving out, I started with cutting out a sister, at 33, I cut out my dad, and finally recently, at 34, I felt financially secure enouh to cut out the last ones. I can finally breathe. :/

    I am 34 and I still have never been in a relationship. My own father ruined my life. There.

  • Nicole

    September 12th, 2022 at 12:20 PM

    Sharon- It’s sad to see years later you never even tried to stop. Your behaviour is now worse. You actually speak to your son like he is your partner and your obsessed with getting rid of his wife cause you see her as the only reason he wont return home and live his life with you. Cause you believe you don’t deserve to be all alone and since you can’t find a man that wants to be with you you’ve decided your son should fill that void because he owes that to you for the sacrifice you believe you made by raising him. What you have done and are still doing has caused so much damage in your sons life I can’t believe how you feel no remorse for causing it.

  • John

    January 28th, 2023 at 1:43 AM

    Anyone who thinks this is not real has their heads in the sand. Anyone who thinks this is not abuse and harmful might be denying their own childhood trauma. I experienced from my mom and my wife experienced this from her mom. We have each spent years in therapy to recover.

  • Mary

    May 5th, 2023 at 12:40 PM

    My mother did this to my sister. My sister enjoyed being her special, chosen, privileged child. They would spend hours everyday in my mother’s bedroom with the door locked while my other sister and I were left out and ignored. My mother called my sister her “best friend”. Even throughout adulthood, this continued. My sister is an entitled narcissist and extremely emotionally abusive. She exploits and uses people and has no empathy. She has no conscience. I believe this is a result of my mother treating her like she was special and superior to everyone else in the family. Our parents were divorced and my mother and sister would constantly badmouth my father (and neighbors, teachers, friends, classmates). They were a tag team, always hating everyone. The two of them would make prank calls to our neighbors and teachers, thinking it was hilarious. It was so immature and embarrassing. My mother severely emotionally stunted my sister by her doing this. They became so unhealthily enmeshed that my sister has never outgrown this. She will never be able to relate healthily to others.

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