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Enmeshed Emotional Covert Incest: Boundaries Just Don’t Exist

“I bet you didn’t have any boundaries,” my friend said the other day.

“Boundaries? What are those?” I responded, sarcastically.

But it’s true. If you are The Beloved Child of an enmeshed, emotionally incestuous parent (EEIP for short….not to be confused with ROUSs), boundaries simply don’t exist. Ever. There isn’t even a millimeter thick membrane protecting any facet of your human existence from your EEIP(s) invading.

I don’t know how old you were when your parent stopped being involved in your bathtime, but I was in Junior High before I was allowed to step out of the bathtub without my mom hanging onto my arm lest I slip. I don’t know how old you were when your parent(s) stopped coming into the bathroom when you were bathing or using the facilities or coming into your bedroom while you were dressing, but I was … oh, wait. Right. Mom never stopped.

If you’re a child of an EEIP, the umbilical chord is never cut. Your body is their body. Your life is their life. Your friends are their friends. Your romantic interests are their romantic interests. Your finances are their finances. It’s closer than marriage. I’ve had more privacy and freedom in my marriage than I did with my EEIPs.

I remember once, in my twenties, I befriended a couple of nice guys on a message board and began exchanging direct messages with them. Suddenly, my mom became friends with those same two guys. She began exchanging DMs with them. Everything platonic and above board. But it was really weird because it was against her own principles, as a married woman, to correspond with men. That was just the first time she became way too chummy with my male friends.

As I pondered on this article, the word “soul” came to mind. Do EEIPs even acknowledge that their children have their own, independent souls?

Mmmm, no. Well into my twenties, my EEIPs would say, “We have to answer to God for you.” That has led me to half-seriously, half-bemusedly moan, “Oh, for a bat mitzvah!” At least Jewish children know from the age of thirteen that they own their own souls, good, bad or indifferent. They have to answer to G-d for their own actions. Children of EEIPs have no such freedom.

Boundaries, you say? “Set boundaries.” {Insert snort of derision here.}

Children of EEIPs learn early that boundary setting is something you attempt at your peril. It never goes well and your suffering will be acute if, with trepidation and the knocking of knees, you gingerly attempt to set a boundary. Your EEIP will make sure of it.

EEIPs react to your attempted boundary in one of three ways…and possibly all three at once. The curious thing is that their reaction exactly mirrors how narcissists react to boundaries.

First, they will be hurt. Oh, so wounded! Tears! The works!

Secondly, they will accuse. The usual line is, “Well, if you have nothing to hide, why are you being so secretive. What are you up to?” said very suspiciously.

Lastly, the furious pout. Oh yes! My mother was the master of the furious pout. It’s pouting with a side order of anger thrown in. Aloofness. Snippyness. An attitude. They don’t even have to say anything. It’s running out of their pores. You can just feel it. It really gets to a soft-hearted, codependent, trauma bonded victim who’s been conditioned from birth to respond to it.

It’s a kind of emotional siege. All that wonderful love that was pouring your way is suddenly cut off. Things get very frost, very nippy, very fast. Icicles begin to grow until you just can’t stand it anymore. Sooner or later, you will fold “like an energy-based de novo protein in conformational space… like a Renaissance triptych… like a cheap suit,” to quote Sheldon Cooper.

Lower your boundary and all is forgiven! All is forgotten! They waltz gleefully into your now boundaryless sanctum sanctorum while birds sing and the waves of love flow your way once again.

But is it love? Wikipedia describes Love Bombing by cults as a coordinated effort, usually under the direction of leadership, that involves long-term members’ flooding recruits and newer members with flattery, verbal seduction, affectionate but usually nonsexual touching, and lots of attention to their every remark.”

It’s addictive. You learn to rely on it. It’s a self-esteem replacement. When you’re getting it, you feel great. When it’s removed, you can’t function. And that’s how it controls you.

Set one wispy, hairlike boundary, express a unique opinion, crave a soupçon of independence or displease them in any way whatsoever and whoosh! The so-called love evaporates. In a heartbeat, all those smarmy “I love yous” and  oh-so-cringey “I adore yous” are gone and it’s mighty hard to function with the vacuum the absence creates. Personally, I could barely function at work or look anyone in the eye, so horrible did I feel about myself when love bombing was removed.

I particularly remember the love bombing of the Winter of 2010/2011. I was pretty damn depressed. In those pre-hypothyroid-diagosis days, the Winter Blues got me down much more than they do now. I was chronically S.A.D., exhausted, over-extended at work, craved solitude at home (but rarely got it) and to add insult to injury, a coworker had publicly dumped and humiliated me. I was thirty-going-on-thirty-one with a curfew of dusk, no friends, no boyfriend, no energy, no future, hardly any freedom and no hope. I was losing my will to live.

I remember my mom hanging on me, physically, that Winter. They weren’t normal hugs. There was a flavor of desperation in them, as though she sensed I was slipping away and she was desperately trying to hug me back into pseudomutuality, trying to force me back into the hell of perpetual happiness, G. K. Chesterton wrote so brilliantly about. I remember just standing there, waiting for her to release me from these clingy, inappropriately long hugs she was forcing on me. One time she said, “I adore you.” That may sound sweet, but it’s not. It was manipulative. It creeped the heck outta me.

When hanging and hugging and love-bombing didn’t work, she’d flip. “Why don’t you just move out!” she’d yell in a temper and stomp away. But when I finally closed on a house, she flipped again. Crying. Shaming me for causing them financial hardship by not paying them rent anymore. Making faces at me when she thought my back was turned. When shaming didn’t work, she tried bribery, even offering to let me have a dog and a chair of my very own in their Living Room. It was all incredibly…weird.

But I still wasn’t allowed a single boundary.

I should close with Five Easy Steps for Setting Boundaries with Enmeshed Emotionally Incestuous Parents…but I don’t believe they exist. I watched my mom try that for years with her mother…and it was bloody! Everyone lost; there was no “upside.” I know of only one solution: rrrrruuuunnnnn!

Boundaries, you say. What the heck is that!?!

Photo by grilled cheese

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Enmeshed Emotional Covert Incest: Boundaries Just Don’t Exist

Lenora Thompson

For five years, "Narcissism Meets Normalcy" has followed the real-life, ongoing story of freelance writer, Lenora Thompson, and her readers’ healing journey from narcissistic abuse to healing, peace and happiness. In August 2020, Lenora launched a new blog, "Beyond Narcissism…And Getting Happier All the Time" as she and her readers explore the new world of peace and happiness. "Beyond Narcs…Get Happy" is 100% reader supported! To learn more about Lenora, her husband Michael’s heroic fight against Pulmonary Alveolar Proteinosis and to subscribe to her other writings, please visit Thank you!

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APA Reference
Thompson, L. (2020). Enmeshed Emotional Covert Incest: Boundaries Just Don’t Exist. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Jan 2020
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