Book suggestion: Silently Seduced: When Parents Make Their Children Partners, by Kenneth M. Adams, PhD

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
– narcissism
– 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.)

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book suggestion: Facing Love Addiction by Pia Mellody

Five and a half years ago I married a lovely man named Peter and moved to his beautiful and magical farm/homestead in eastern Arizona. It felt like a miracle – all at the same time, I gained a doting husband, the home of my dreams, work where I felt useful and needed, and – I believed – security in all these things.

A year and a half later, I first encountered AJ and his teachings. As I have taken in more and more Divine Truth, I have begun to question and deconstruct the entire shape of my life – where I’m living, who I’m living with, and how I spend my time every day. With regard to my marriage, I have been confronting my own addictions and fears and asking what led me into and keeps me in this relationship. Is it love, or something else?

I have heard AJ tell some other women – who were, I thought, going through relationship issues similar to mine – that they needed to open their hearts to their husbands, and in fact that their husbands actually loved them. At the beginning of the Texas retreat, I asked AJ and Mary about my own marriage, and lo and behold they didn’t tell me anything like what I’d heard them say to these other women. Instead, they told me I need to focus on discovering and engaging my own desires, and to pray to know the truth about my relationship. They said, then I would know how I want to go forward. My inner response when they said this to me was something like, What, don’t I get to be told my husband loves me?

Actually, my guides had been even more blunt. A few months earlier, they’d said, “What are you willing to give up in your soul to have a roof over your head?” But I’d hoped that was just coming from the medium’s injuries!

Why didn’t AJ and Mary say something nicer about our relationship, which I was sure had a lot of love in it? Definitely I already knew that Peter and I do a lot of exchanging in practical ways in our daily lives – he chops the firewood and I do the cooking, he cobbles my shoes and I knit his sweaters. But I really felt that, along with that, I love my husband and he loves me!

During the Texas retreat I did pray to know the truth, and opened my heart a little bit to the possibility that there might be a lot more addiction than I was aware of in our marriage … that what feels to me, and to Peter, like love and affection … might not be love and affection. In other conversations, AJ told me that there’s actually a lot of attack and manipulation in Peter’s treatment of me – all of which is VERY hard for me to perceive.

It’s been a bit over a week now since the Texas retreat ended. During this time I’ve processed enough fear and addiction to realize that I really don’t feel like going home, and if and when I do, I want to re-ground my marriage … if it is to continue … in strict truth and love.

Reading this book, Facing Love Addiction, has helped me come to this place.

Love Addicts and Love Avoidants

Pia Mellody is a therapist in the area of addictions and childhood trauma. In this book she describes two modes of behavior in relationships (they don’t have to be romantic relationships – could be a workplace relationship or student-teacher, etc.). One, the “Love Addict,” “is someone who is dependent on, enmeshed with, and compulsively focused on taking care of another person.” The other, the “Love Avoidant,” fears and avoids closeness but takes care of needy people out of a belief that it is his or her “job.” Pia Mellody says that the same person can be both a Love Addict and a Love Avoidant, and I see myself, as well as my husband, in both modes. In both cases, the partners feel compelled to take care of the other. It seems that whether a particular person who has this compulsion is a “Love Addict” or a “Love Avoidant” can change depending on the situation and what emotions are being triggered.

Codependence = lack of self-love

What’s more interesting and helpful in this book, though, is where it aligns with Jesus and Mary’s teachings about relationships, codependence, and addictions. In the YouTube FAQ on “what would my love of myself move me to do for myself?” Mary says, “The key to not being codependent yourself is to love yourself,” and that few people recognize this. Facing Love Addiction does. Pia Mellody describes codependence completely in terms of “a bruised relationship with the self” in which the person has the following symptoms:

1. Difficulty experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem, that is to say, difficulty loving the self.
2. Difficulty setting functional boundaries with other people, that is to say, difficulty protecting oneself.
3. Difficulty owning one’s own reality appropriately, that is to say, difficulty identifying who one is and knowing how to share that appropriately with others.
4. Difficulty addressing interdependently one’s adult needs and wants, that is to say, difficulty with self-care [we would say self-responsibility].
5. Difficulty experiencing and expressing one’s reality in moderation, that is to say, difficulty being appropriate for one’s age and various circumstances. [Not quite sure what she means by this, but it might have to do with learning not to project emotion?]

Then there are five “secondary symptoms” of codependence, which are:

1. Negative control – telling others who they ought to be, or allowing others to tell the codependent who he/she should be
2. Resentment – where the codependent feels victimized and uses anger to protect her/himself and get a feeling of power and self-esteem.
3. Impaired spirituality – where the codependent makes another person their Higher Power (God) or tries to be another person’s Higher Power. Amazing to see AJ’s point that we often make another person our God, echoed here in a popular self-help book!
4. Addictions – see below
5. Difficulty with intimacy – Since codependents don’t have a clear idea who they are (personal truth), they cannot share that truth with others.

Addictions as symptoms of codependence

Pia Mellody’s description of how addictions are secondary symptoms of codependence is interesting, so I’ll quote the two paragraphs in full:

Our ability to face reality is directly related to our ability to have a healthy relationship with ourself, which means loving the self, protecting the self, identifying the self, caring for the self, and moderating the self. Living out of such a healthy, centered relationship with the self allows us to face the reality of who we are, who others are, who the Higher Power in our lives is, and the reality of our current situation. Developing these abilities and perceptions is the core of recovery from codependence. But when we do not acquire a functional internal relationship and sense of adequacy, the pain that results inside of us and in our relationships with others and with our Higher Power often leads us into an addictive process to alleviate the pain quickly.

I suggest, therefore, that a person with an addiction is probably also a codependent; and conversely, a codependent most likely has one or more addictive or obsessive/compulsive processes. This secondary symptom, then, is the primary link between codependence and any other addiction – particularly love addiction. While experiencing the often unrecognized internal pain for the failure of the relationship with the self, and blaming others for this failure, the Love Addict turns to a certain kind of close relationship, believing the other person can and should soothe the Love Addict’s internal pain through giving unconditional love and attention and taking care of the Love Addict.

Treating codependence first

Pia Mellody suggests that the codependence has to be treated before the love addiction is treated, because “a Love Addict with insufficiently treated codependence [i.e. lack of love of self] is virtually unable to recognize the dynamics of love addiction, or to abstain from the addictive parts of the relationship and endure the withdrawal process.” I can testify to that.

She goes on to write, “Love addiction, therefore, is an addiction that often becomes visible to the codependent only after some work has been done on the core symptoms of codependence. Addressing love addiction can be emotionally very destabilizing because the resistance to facing the denial and delusion around this condition is particularly strong.”

Where I’m at

Myself, I continue to feel that when I am at home, with my husband, I am under a spell, where it’s practically impossible for me to see that my marriage and our life together isn’t beautiful and loving. The moments when I can see through that feel extremely, tearing-guts-out painful (although more recently I’ve also begun to feel the hope and excitement of liberation).

More and more – from a safe distance here in Texas – I am able to remember and have Faith in the Truth about what Love is, and act from that Faith (through Will and Desire) by writing emails to Peter that tell him where I’m at, lovingly and directly. But when I speak to him on the phone, I drop right back into the spell – addiction and fear. I compulsively tell him I love him and want to hear those words back. In the moments when I’m interacting with Peter, the pain of not maintaining the illusion of love is so horrible, and my reaction to the pain feels automatic.

As I work through this it is helping to remind myself of how strong the grip of an addiction can be. I have had a lot of struggle just to disengage from coffee and from carbohydrates. I can’t expect the temptation to stay engaged in the illusions of my relationship to be any less powerful and hard to break. I feel like I’ll have to do something like what Odysseus did when he sailed near the Sirens – had his crew tie him to the mast so he wouldn’t try to swim to them (many men had drowned doing that!). Of course, this addiction will be very very hard to break until I’ve worked on the underlying lack of self-love, childhood beliefs that lead me to associate this addiction with love, and the core emotions that I’m using this addiction to avoid.

I’ll end by quoting two more good paragraphs from the book.

It is often said that we are either addicts or codependents; but I believe that most of us are addict-codependents, experiencing addictions to relieve the pain of our untreated codependence. When we enter relationships, some of us are likely to do so as Love Addicts seeking to calm the pain arising from the root problem: untreated symptoms of codependence. We wind up with relationships that are painful, but that are almost impossible to leave because they do relieve some of the pain of emptiness.

So, not all codependents are Love Addicts. Love Addicts turn to a person and to compulsive behavior within a relationship as a drug of choice for removing the pain of the difficulties in their relationship with themselves.