Covert incest happens when a parent uses a child to fill emotional addictions. These abusive relationships are often not viewed as inappropriate in our society – such as a father treating a daughter as “his little princess” or a mother asking her son to be “the man of the house.” This type of abuse includes seemingly minor dysfunctions in family relationships, ranging up to include physically acted-out sexual incest (overt incest).
There is nothing loving about a close parent-child relationship when it services the needs and feelings of the parent rather than the child. “Feeling close” with your parents, particularly the opposite-sex parent, is not the source of comfort the image suggests. It is a relationship in which the individual, both as a child and later as an adult, feels silently seduced by the parent. Feelings of appreciation and gratitude do not prevail in these “close” relationships. Instead, they are a source of confusing, progressive rage.
Silently Seduced describes the varieties of covert incest, involving both daughter and sons and their mothers and fathers; why these relationships create burdens for the child that interfere with the child’s development and later functioning; and how the adult child of covert incest can heal the wounds.
The child’s core needs are not served. The child feels like an object, not a person. The real needs for love, nurturing, security, and trust are never met. Worse yet, the child is made to believe those needs are met. This is the essence of the damage in a covertly incestuous relationship, along with the trauma of that relationship being bound by inappropriate sexual energy. The reality of covert incest is hard to see clearly, which is why covert incest is so insidious and pervasive in an adult victim’s life.
Adams validates the injuries and suffering of children who were abused emotionally but not necessarily physically. Many covert incest survivors suffer in silence, accepting shame that is not their own. For myself, this state was paralyzing, as I constantly tried to identify and repent for my own faults and failures, when the truth was I needed to acknowledge and feel what was done TO me. I spent my life trying to repent and “fix” what was “wrong” with me – and getting nowhere – when what I needed to do was face and feel the anger, fear, pain, and abandonment that were actually in my childhood experiences. This book was a huge help in seeing the reality of my relationships with my parents and with later romantic partners.
As long as the child within is not allowed to become aware of what happened to him or her, a part of his or her emotional life will remain frozen … all appeals to love, solidarity, and compassion will be useless.
– Alice Miller
Adams gives a list of common characteristics of silent seduction. It’s important to remember that the gender roles can be different, e.g., a father can commit covert incest with a son, and a mother can covertly incest her daughter – so “opposite sex” and “same sex” might be inaccurate here:
– a love-hate relationship with the opposite-sex parent
– emotional distance from the same-sex parent
– guilt and confusion over personal needs
– feelings of inadequacy
– multiple relationships
– difficulty with commitment, and hasty commitments
– regret over past relationships (“maybe it could have worked”)
– sexual dysfunction
– other compulsions and addictions
Adams describes in detail how the emotional injuries from covert incest can explain later patterns of:
– caretaking and pleasing
– living in romantic fantasies
– promiscuity, seductiveness, being a “ladies’ man,” sex addictions
– ambivalence about commitment
– chronic dissatisfaction in relationships but being unable to leave
– feeling trapped in relationships and running away
– longing for affairs
– addictions to food, comfort, being provided for, self-improvement, and others
Huge thanks to Lawrence Bakur for recommending this book on Facebook. Another, similar book is The Emotional Incest Syndrome: What to Do When a Parent’s Love Rules Your Life, by Dr. Patricia Love. I have read only little bits of the second book, as it didn’t draw me as much as Adams’. Mary has told me she found Dr. Love’s more helpful, and she is recommending both books.)