What is Emotional Incest?

What is Emotional Incest?

Many of us grew up in households that were dysfunctional, where boundaries between parents and adults were blurred in unhealthy ways. Emotional incest is not of a sexual nature, but it does describe unhealthy emotional interactions between adults and children that are psychologically inappropriate.

What this looks like in a real-life is a parent treating their child as a partner, relying on them for emotional support and care. Here are some of the classic ways parents cross this line:

Asking a Child for Advice

When a parent turns to their child for advice about marital issues, sexual problems, financial worries, etc. this blurs the boundaries and causes the child to feel anxiety they should not be privy to.

Ego Booster

Narcissistic parents often look to their children to give them a much-needed ego boost. With the parent’s ego being a priority, the child’s emotional needs take a backseat.

BFF Syndrome

A parent should never be best friends with their child as this results in many boundaries being blurred. And a child should never be a trusted confidante to their parent.


Parents that turn to their child for comfort during an emotional crisis rob the child of learning age-appropriate socialization. These children will, most likely, grow into codependent adults, seeking approval from others by taking care of THEIR emotional needs.

Emotional Incest Outcomes

Emotional incest is sometimes called “covert” incest because while it’s not sexual, the outcomes of this family dynamic are often similar.

  • Trouble setting healthy boundaries
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-harm
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sexual intimacy issues
  • Substance abuse/addiction
  • Obsessive/compulsive issues

Healing from Emotional Incest

When a child grows up and leaves the unhealthy environment and dynamic, that does not mean they won’t experience any lasting repercussions. Most adults will suffer from at least one of the outcomes I just listed.

The good news is, through counseling, victims of emotional incest can heal and live a healthy and satisfying life filled with strong emotional connections.

If you believe you are suffering from lingering effects of emotional incest and would like to speak to someone who specializes in this area, please reach out to me.


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