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Enmeshed Emotional Covert Incest: The Physical, Sexual Aspect

In this series on the cringeworthy topic of enmeshed, emotionally incestuous parents (EEIPs for short), this will be the most bleeeeh article. So far, we’ve assumed in this series that the EEIPs are “only” emotionally over-involved with their child. I was careful to predicate each article on the (hopeful) assumption that physical incest has not occurred.

But that’s not necessarily exactly true. Penetrative sex may not have technically occurred but there are a lot of ways to be sexually involved with someone without actually having sexual intercourse with them. Lots of gray area there. Have your airsickness bag ready.

Take for example, the family of Bob and Sally (not their real names.) No one can quite figure out why Bob and Sally married as they had less-than-nothing in common but marry they did. Two children quickly followed. It appeared to be the perfect Baby Boomer Leave It To Beaver family. But behind the scenes, Sally enjoyed cranking Bob up and when he responded irritably, Sally played the oh-poor-me victim act to solicit comfort and attention from her children, Butch and Trixie, whom she made responsible for meeting all of her relational, emotional, and surreptitiously, even romantic, sexual needs.

Sally was more than happy to strip off and parade naked in front of her Golden Child son, Butch. He was always welcome to watch her bathe. Her excuse was, “I don’t want Butch to be curious about what a woman’s body looks like.”

The fact that Butch eventually grew up and got married, changed nothing. Sally didn’t stop kissing her son on the lips. She didn’t stop doing everything for him. Like most Mamma’s Boys, when Butch married he didn’t move out. Oh no! He simply moved his bride into his mother’s house. This gave Sally a golden opportunity to hate her new daughter-in-law at close quarters.

Sally’s daughter, the Scapegoat Trixie, played a more emotionally supportive role. Like her brother, Trixie lived at home as an adult too. Sally made Trixie’s bed, did her laundry, packed her beautiful lunches to bring to the office and kept her grown daughter hopelessly enmeshed. So when Trixie accepted divorcé Tom’s proposal of marriage and planned to move in with him after their wedding, Sally retaliated by sabotaging Trixie’s wedding. Just before Trixie walked down the aisle, Sally whispered in her ear, “It’s a sin to marry a divorced man.”

Knowing no other pattern of family relationship except enmeshed emotional incest, Sally’s kids continued the pattern. Butch continued to kiss his mother on the lips and kiss his daughters and sons on the lips as well. There was no age limit; even his children’s eventually marriages made no difference to Butch’s mouth-on-mouth contact.

After her marriage, Trixie remained emotionally enmeshed with her mother while recreating the enmeshment with, Meg, her daughter. Meg tells me that the concept of privacy, well, it wasn’t a concept in the Bob-Sally-Trixie-Tom family. “I remember being in second grade, forced to lay spread eagled on my bed every Saturday night while my mother washed my genitals. I wasn’t even allowed a tub of warm water around me to protect my modesty,” Meg said sadly. “I lay there, completely exposed, vulnerable and mortified, wondering if all the other little girls in my class had to submit to this and if they could do it without feeling so horribly upset.”

There is a very specific event in every enmeshed child’s life when things get ugly. When enmeshment that may have seemed sweet and loving up until then turns vicious. You can set your watch by it. It happens to all enmeshed kids, boys and girls alike.

That event is the first boyfriend or girlfriend. No enmeshed parent accepts “competition” gracefully. They react exactly as they would if their actual spouse had an affair.

Meg remembers the first time she invited her first boyfriend, Hank, over to the house. Trixie’s behavior on that occasion was classic. She put herself forward, never let Meg have a moment alone with Hank, chatted brightly, smiled, laughed delightedly and, for all intents and purposes, monopolized and charmed Hank away from Meg. We all know this as quintessential behavior for narcissistic mothers. Mortified, Meg determined to never bring a boy home to meet her parents ever again. It was just too painful to lose a boyfriend to her much older, very married mother.

That was when Meg realized there was something terribly wrong with her family. Even as her mom was stealing her boyfriend, Meg’s father was cozying up to Meg. “He was unhappy with Mom and she was unhappy with him,” Meg says. But she says he had a strange way of showing it. “As a child, he was always inflicting pain,” Meg says. “Sometimes he’d slap the bottoms of my feet hard. They don’t show bruises, you know. Sometimes he’d slap back and forth between my thighs. As a kid, I didn’t think of it as penetration but he loved shoving his tongue in my ears. First one ear, then the other. As I grew older, he stopped inflicting pain. I remember he used to caress the back of my neck.”

Though it happened decades ago, Meg still finds it hard to talk about. When I asked how all this affected her marriage, she shot me a sidelong glance that seemed to say, “Don’t. Even. Go. There.” But there was one thing she was anxious to talk about.

Most guys remember the very first time they touched breasts and most girls remembers the first time her breasts were fondled. Meg tells me, “My parents told me never to let a male touch my breasts and that if a man did touch me, even accidentally through clothes, that I was filthy, sullied and morally corrupt for allowing it to happen. Then they both found ways to cop a feel,” Meg says sadly. “I hope there are no other girls out there who can honestly say that the first person to cop a feel was her mom and her dad.” She hints that it wasn’t a one-time event either.

Having staked their claim over her both emotionally and physically, Meg tells me her parents were vigilant in protecting her, the covert pseudo-spouse they shared. “No young man was good enough for me,” Meg says. That’s typical for EEIPs to tell their children.

She goes on to say, “My parents found all men lacking somehow and, if I did attempt a relationship with anyone and there was physical contact of any kind, my parents found me morally lacking. How intelligent, religious, married people could justify copping a feel of their own daughter’s breasts and then vilify a young, single man for doing the same is beyond me,” Meg says shaking her head in disgust.

Naturally, Meg’s dating experience was one break-up after another but she says, “My father was always there for me after the de rigueur dumping. He’d take me out and silently prove that he was my best date, that no man could hold a candle to how well he treated me.”

We’re often told that, “The biggest sex organ is the brain” and it’s true. That’s how enmeshed emotional incest can segue into the sexual without the parent ever inappropriately touching their child. Why use your hands when you can “use your words”?

Of course, there is the quintessential scenario. The son whose mother cries on his shoulder about her husband’s (his father’s) supposed inadequacies in the bedroom, going into vivid detail, painting mental pictures.

Meg made me aware of another way words can be used to sexually abuse a child. When an EEIP (who’s missing something from their own adult romantic life) brings up sex for no earthly reason other than to get their “yucks” through a gratuitously sexual conversation with their child, this too is one type of covert incest.

“He waited until I was an adult,” Meg tells me, “but after that my father would find a way to bring up sex frequently when he was alone with me. I certainly never brought it up myself, but he did, repeatedly and always when my mom was elsewhere. Sometimes he’d tell me how my mom had been too immature to understand the spiritual aspect of sex. Sometimes  he’d disparage sex as something I’d find disappointing. But he always found a reason to bring up the subject of sex.”

As I bring this article to a close, the thing that bothers me most is how Meg’s experience is probably “tame” compared to my readers’ horrific stories of…what do you call it? Non-penetrative incest? Enmeshment with a sexual component? Emotional intercourse?

The insidious, love-bombing-obscured nature of this abuse is what makes it so damaging, so confusing, so long-lasting. A punch, a slap…those are obvious. You know you’ve been abused when the blow falls.

But this!?! This turns my stomach.

Thank you for reading. For happier, more lighthearted fare and to see how you can support my writing, please visit my food blog, Reluctant Cook, Cheap Foodie.

Enmeshed Emotional Covert Incest: The Physical, Sexual Aspect


Lenora Thompson

Lenora Thompson is a syndicated Huffington Post freelance writer and food blogger. Her readers call her the "Edward Snowden" and "Wikileaks" of narcissism because of her no-holds-barred-take-no-prisoners approach to writing about narcissism. “Narcissism Meets Normalcy” is the real-life, ongoing story of her healing journey from being held “hostage” by a multi-generational, cult-like narcissistic family. It's gritty and real, bloody and bruised, humorous and sarcastic. Lenora Thompson considers herself a “whistleblower,” shining a spotlight on narcissistic abuse so others can also claim their freedom and experience healing. To learn more about Lenora, her husband Michael's heroic battle with Pulmonary Alveolar Proteinosis and to read her writings about food, please visit www.lenorathompsonwriter.com. Thank you!


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APA Reference
Thompson, L. (2020). Enmeshed Emotional Covert Incest: The Physical, Sexual Aspect. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 9, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/narcissism/2020/01/enmeshed-emotional-covert-incest-the-physical-sexual-aspect/

 

Last updated: 22 Jan 2020
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