Emotional Incest

In the autumn of 2013, Jesus and Mary came to Texas where they offered the first Assistance Group, which at the time was a new idea: an intensive experience (in this case a week) where they interact with participants on a much more personal level than during a lecture and generously offer personal feedback as well as information about Divine Truth. (See here for current Assistance Group opportunities). At this event, Jesus told me that I had emotions within me of what is called Emotional Incest. At the time, I only knew it had something to do with inappropriate special relationships with a parent. But anything with the word incest sounded pretty offensive, so, over the years, I kept the investigation of his unsavory observation on the back burner.

There was a book that was recommended that described this issue called The Emotional Incest Syndrome by Patricia Love. It was published in 1990 but has remained one of the few publications about the subject – I think I am not the only one in resistance to it. I kept putting off reading it, because I resisted the idea that it applied to me. But last month, I finally read the book.

The first clue that it actually might apply to me was in the subtitle: What to Do When a Parent’s Love Rules Your Life. This description had some possibilities; being a good girl and having the approval and love of my parents were of great importance in my childhood.

The Emotional Incest Syndrome—What to Do When a Perent's Love Rules Your Life

The second clue that there may be truth in what Jesus said was in the very first words of the book’s Introduction: “This book describes a syndrome known as emotional incest, a surprisingly common but rarely identified style of parenting in which parents turn to their children, not to their partners, for emotional support.” Bingo. My parents had serious emotional support issues between them.

In my family, my dad, among other issues, had a strong attitude of superiority, and that included superiority over my mother (all women actually), so my mom was (as later were as my sister and I) frequently put down for her perspectives and emotions. With such a condescending attitude from my dad towards my mom, there wasn’t room for truly healthy emotional support to be experienced between them. What Patricia Love explains, is that such a scenario naturally sets up children to fulfill roles that are not satisfied in a healthy manner between the two parents. Sometimes an emotionally unsupported parent turns to adult friends (which my mom did), but children are convenient. And they are already primed to want to please their parents. My dad had a few male friends, but very rarely spent quality time with them. When a parent doesn’t get emotions satisfied with their spouse or friends, the temptation is to seek connection with one of his or her children.

I remember in my younger years, before the put-downs started coming my way (ie, before I started to become a young woman with opinions of my own), the feeling that I was special to dad. I was many of the things that were important to him. I was smart, artistic, cute, physically strong and capable, loved horses, would have loved to live on a ranch way out in the country (a dream he always had but never realized), and curious about all the fix-it, gardening and creative things my dad did. My mom, though she had many good qualities that the right partner would have appreciated more, in general, was none of these things. I happily stepped into this role of offering my dad the validation he unknowingly sought.

My attitude towards my dad is typical of children in an emotionally incestual relationship. In those pre-teen years, I adored my dad. He was the smartest, most capable and respected person I knew. I wanted to be just like him; I certainly didn’t want to end up like my mom was in their relationship. Unfortunately, along with emulating my dad and enjoying the special attention he gave me, I absorbed his very unloving attitudes and ways he gained that “respect” I was so fond of. I learned the infernal methods of superiority, criticism of others, using anger to get my way, desire to control and have power over others. I didn’t use them quite so blatantly as he did, but they were there. It is only in recent years that these issues have started to be recognized and addressed. (For more on this, you can see my blog post, Truth I Haven’t Wanted To See.)

When a child is placed in the role of supplying emotional validation and support to a parent, the unique attention can actually feel very special and good. There is not always a tangible “yucky” feeling like there often is with sexual incest. Children end up taking responsibility for problems that they should never have to shoulder – emotional caretakers of the adults. They are ill-equipped for that role, and it brings with it a complex and damaging price tag.

As Patricia Love explains, victims of emotional incest “… are likely to be plagued by one or more of the following difficulties: depression, chronic low-level anxiety, problems with self-esteem and love relationships, overly loose or rigid personal boundaries, and some form of sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, and drug or alcohol addiction.” That is quite a list, and in my view, is not even complete. One thing that is not listed here is the confusion and pain of locked up emotions (like I am working through now) but not having an understanding of where they originated or how they got so deeply intrenched. I was not physically or sexually abused, so how could I have such an array of painful and harmful emotions within me? Now that I understand more about this issue, I understand another facet of how just about every childhood is actually full of pain from God’s perspective. And with emotional incest, the incidence of it is going to be just about, if not equally, as extensive as the number of parents with unhealthy emotional relationships.

As you can imagine, because the main issue with emotional incest is a parent turning to a child rather than a spouse for emotional support, single-parent households are very prone to this issue. In the book, Patricia states that one out of every four children in the USA (as of the 1988 US Census) were being raised by a single parent. And emotional incest occurs even more commonly between single parents and their opposite sex children, especially if that child is an only child.

Sadly, since both single-parent households and emotionally unhealthy two-parent households are so common, one can see that a huge number of children suffer from this issue. Yet the ramifications of this emotionally misplaced attention go unrecognized. It seems natural and normal for parents who are missing emotional support from a partner to turn to their children for emotional support, comfort and purpose. But the reality is, we need to start learning, recognizing and feeling how this is unhealthy, how it damages our children, and learn how to establish and maintain emotionally healthy relationships between adults and between adults and children.

And this pattern repeats itself. Adults who experienced emotional incest as children – as either the special child or the left-out child often find themselves in marriages that turn out to be poor matches where many emotional dynamics are unhealthy and the emotional needs are again unmet. Both my sister and I experienced this in our only marriages.

When a parent turns to a child for support, it automatically causes rifts in families. The left-out spouse and children will, whether they are aware of it or not, likely develop feelings of jealousy, rejection, anger, or depression and not understand why. From society’s perspective nothing is wrong, so the left-out spouse or sibling could find these emotions confusing. It is only when we allow ourselves to become emotionally sensitive that we feel the wrongness and pain involved in such scenarios.

Jealousy, “an envious resentment of someone or their achievements, possessions, or perceived advantages,” [Apple Dictionary, version 2.2.2] becomes a common undercurrent emotion that the child receives from the left-out parent. Parents generally believe that they love their children whole-heartedly, but this kind of undercurrent tarnishes whatever love may have been present.

Mixed messages created in these scenarios are very confusing to a child who is likely to be far more sensitive than the adult. And mixed messages are the norm from an enmeshed parent. Here are some examples from the book:

Hidden Messages:

  • “You are such a special child”

Translation: “Be like I want you to be. I have hidden needs I want you to satisfy.”

  • “Of all my children, I expect the most out of you.”

Translation: I’ve selected you to be the one to give my life meaning. All my unfulfilled desires rest on your shoulders. Give up your playfulness. Sacrifice your own view of the world. Cooperate with my unspoken agenda.”

Typically, when children are given mixed messages such as these, they hear and record the spoken words, but experience the underlying message. This leads to a great deal of confusion: “Why did I grow up feeling so neglected when my mother [or father] had such nice things to say about me?”

To add further confusion, the enmeshed parent can end the “special” relationship at any time which can cause emotions of abandonment in the child. This often happens as the child matures into adolescence and starts developing not only their body, but also their individual views and personality. For the enmeshed parent, who is already inappropriately involved or concerned with the emotional and physical attributes of the child, can feel the threat to their investment in the child and start to become critical and punitive. That was exactly my experience. It began when my body was starting to change. I stood in a bathing suit at the back door of the house, having just come out of the pool, and he started to criticized my thighs. Later, I was repeatedly criticized for my unshaven my legs, then my political views, calling me a “damn environmentalist,” then it was my life-style choices, career choices, and spiritual views. It all felt like a punishment for not being what he wanted me to be.

As I see it, Emotional Incest is tragically wide-spread for three primary reasons: One, because adults generally come together in partnerships motivated (unknowingly) by their own childhood injuries instead of healing their emotional injuries before partnering. The ideal situation would be for an adult to have released their soul damage to where they could recognize their soul-mates and come together with them with the kind of love and mutual desires that come only with healthy soul-mate relationships. This of course is a whole other subject, and here are some resources on the topic of soul-mates:

https://youtu.be/38-9LUA_0rc– The Human Soul – The Soul-Mate Relationship S1P1

https://youtu.be/n1eDIdXU8YQ– The Human Soul – The Soul-Mate Relationship S1P2

https://youtu.be/hDmj5ofhrS4– The Human Soul – The Soul-Mate Relationship S2P1

https://youtu.be/ZmigKz-xPBQ– The Human Soul – The Soul-Mate Relationship S2P2

The second reason emotional incest is, as I see it, so widespread is because, as human beings, we have become so desensitized to our emotional natures.  We are so adept at detuning ourselves from feeling that we cannot feel accurately when situations are unloving. We live within unhealthy, unloving situations for long periods of time, numbing ourselves in a wide assortment of ways (as all addictions offer) so we don’t have to face the truth or disrupt the status quo (and feel the emotions that would result). And in the case of a parent, they also end up teaching our children to engage and remain in unloving situations as well.

The third reason emotional incest is so common is because families so consistently crush in their children the one perfect God-given system for maintaining emotional health – allowing the emotions to be released. Patricia Love considers this the main cause for the damage experienced by children of Emotional Incest. She says:

What became clear to me… was that although human beings are born dependent and vulnerable, they are also born with a spontaneous mechanism for healing! For every psychological injury, there is an automatic regenerative response.

The reason I had been unaware of this self-healing potential is that it is so easily damaged. By the time most children are 2 or 3 years old, their well-intentioned parents have inadvertently interfered with the process. Without realizing it, they have made their children even more vulnerable to their imperfect parenting.

[She gives an example of a boy feeling abandoned by his father while playing in a sandbox] …if the father allows his son the full and natural expression of his emotions, the boy will quickly recover from his fear. He will go through an automatic, regenerative process. […] He may cry for what seems a long time and be afraid to go back to the sandbox unless the father is willing to play with him. To the father, the child’s reaction is likely to seem excessive. After all, his son was out of his sight for only a few minutes. But a wise father will permit the boy to go through the entire debriefing process. He will hold his son, listen to his expression of fear, acknowledge the reality of his terror, let him cry and talk for as long as he wants to… If the boy is permitted to cycle through this natural progression of emotions… he will eventually calm down and go back to the sandbox. The event will pass like a blip on a screen, leaving only a trace of its occurrence.

Now, as simple as it would be to allow the boy full expression of this emotions, few parents would do it. One way or another, they would not allow him to work through is terror of abandonment. He would be negated, blamed, coddled, belittled, or stopped in mid-stream.

Jesus and Mary have taught many sessions about the importance of releasing emotions and how to do it lovingly. If you go to youtube and search for “Divine Truth Emotional Processing” you will get a long list of their lectures. Here are a few:

https://youtu.be/zZ5D6Ls5tbg – How do I actually ‘process’ my emotions? (a brief 15 minute explanation)

https://youtu.be/TqSCd3n9Z0M – Emotional Processing Q&A P1

Almost all children today are strongly impressed upon to suppress the natural release of their emotions. Then you add the burden placed upon them to further deny their emotions as they focus on and help the parent to avoid its emotions as described here, and you have a recipe for all kinds of emotional damage as described in Patricia’s book.

Fortunately we can, at any time, learn to safely and privately start taking responsibility for the damage in our souls. For children this may not be so easy since they are under often strong influence of the family, but for adults there is no excuse. It is important to let ourselves feel the truth of what happened, then go through the process of forgiveness and repentance, which includes feeling the emotions. We can all do this. And when we do, we will untangle the mess of emotional pain that drives us toward unhealthy relationships and experiences in life.

I would like to encourage everyone to read The Emotional Incest Syndrome to gain an understanding of a dynamic that is far more prevalent than I certainly ever imagined. Patricia Love offers tools for both children and parents to recognize and heal damaging family relationships, create healthy parental relationships and establish essential boundaries between the adults and children in a family. If you read this book, I bet most of you will recognize at least some of the signs of Emotional Incest in yourselves and your families. Patricia has found Emotional Incest to be the key to many of her client’s issues. I don’t agree with all of her remedial suggestions, because she leaves out the primary source of all healing and truth – God – and instead, suggests clients turn to partners, families, friends and therapists for a main source of connection, relationship, and support us as we work through emotions. I agree that a healthy emotional relationship with one’s partner is essential, and that it is very important to establish healthy emotional relationships with our family members – which is likely to include establishing healthy boundaries. But when turning to family members and friends for such support, one would have to be sensitive to issues of emotional addictions coming into play. I do, however, think a good therapist who is informed about Emotional Incest and the importance of releasing childhood emotions would benefit most of us, but to me, God – who is the most capable of all and loves to help us work through our emotional troubles – is the most important relationship we can develop for our emotional support.