There’s a so-obvious-no-one-ever-talks-about-it Rule of Thumb:
If it hurts, it’s probably abuse.
Abuse always hurts.
Pain is how we identify abuse — emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual. How else would you realize you’re being abused if it doesn’t hurt!?!
But enmeshed emotional incest can be very happy. It can feel like love. “Daddy loves me so much” or “I’m Mom’s special boy.” This goes on for years with neither of the happy participants any the wiser…until decades down the line it bites ’em in the ass, as abuse is so apt to do.
The first time I wrote about emotional incest was on January 25th, 2016, eighteen days after Narcissism Meets Normalcy was launched and it nearly got me sued. After all, people see the word “incest” and freak, as well they should! But for the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume that sexual contact between the enmeshed family members did not occur (although it may have to some degree, even if was “just” voyeurism).
No, this is about the emotional and relational kind of incest, specifically when a child is forced to assume the role of pseudo spouse for their mother, their father or if you’re an unlucky only child like me, possibly both parents and becomes hopelessly, completely and utterly enmeshed with them, ceasing to exist as an individual.
What makes this abuse so confusing, is that it feels good to the victim and looks wonderful to outsiders. To our jaded society where shattered families are almost the norm, an enmeshed family appears ideal. Outsiders are agog and jealous when parents and children are BFFs. As Dr. Patricia Love points out in her book The Emotional Incest Syndrome: What to Do When a Parent’s Love Rules Your Life, society is so okay with emotional incest that we’ve even coined smarmy cutie-pie terms for it: “Daddy’s Girl” or “Mamma’s Boy.”
So why this topic? Why this topic now?
It all started a week ago when that old cringeworthy memory of being forced to spoon with one of my parents kept surfacing. I tried to push it away, but back the memory came, over and over, so I decided it must be important and to deal with it, for once and for all.
My first memory of being forced to spoon was probably when I was five years old. It’s seared in my memory because I told a family friend about it and got a verbal tongue lashing from my parent for doing so!
Like every child, I loved bouncing on my parents’ bed, making waves on their water bed and having stories read to me. What I didn’t like was the spooning that often followed. It gave me a horrible, creeping sensation so I’d try to edge away, keep my body straight, but it was no use. I was made to spoon…close! I had no choice. I hated it.
Because of the nagging memory, I decided to google (that is a verb, right?) “spooning with parent.” The results of that search were pure smut, which in itself is a pretty good indication that parent/child spooning is not okay. But there was one hit, a Reddit thread, that was pure gold.
Turns out, I wasn’t the only child spoonee. Lots of people were forced to spoon with a parent and they all wanted to vomit at the thought. But the most insightful comment was the phrase “surrogate spouse.” It felt like one of those just-discovered-fire moments even though I already knew about emotional incest. Someone recommended the book The Emotional Incest Syndrome and although I’m only on page 74, it’s relaunched my recovery which had become rather plateaued of late.
The truth is that I’ve come to feel rather an imposter. Something like 99.9999999% of my readers had miserable, horrible childhoods and felt unloved by their narcissistic parents. I didn’t. The first fifteen years of my life were, for the most part, fairytale happy. I’m one of those lucky, rare people who have always felt loved. Surely, a narcissistic upbringing can’t result in a happy childhood!?!
Or maybe it can if you are utterly enmeshed, hopelessly lost in an emotionally incestuous relationship with your narcissistic parent(s). It can if the pseudomutulity is so thick that every word that flies out of your mouth is actually your parent’s thinking, not your own. If the codependence is so strong that you dare not displease your parent/pseudo spouse…ever.
Is that the same as Golden Child? It might be…but not necessarily.
Given my readers’ stories about the despised Golden Child, in most cases it sounds like the parent dances attendance on the Golden Child, facilitating their every whim so they can get away with murder.
In emotional incest, the child walks on eggshells so the parent gets away with murder.
For me, this toxic so-called “love” is the solution to the three seemingly insurmountable obstacles to my recovery. I was stonkered by…
- The extreme effort and slavish attention devoted to raising me.
- The high morals I was taught and assumed my narcissists also followed.
- Love, love, love.
Maybe I should’ve followed my friend “Molly’s” rather exasperated advice to, “Go back and read your own articles, Lenora” because, yet again, I have fallen into the Fallacy of Composition. In December of 2016, I wrote the following:
In case of denial, we are committing a logical fallacy called [the] fallacy of composition. According to Wikipeida, “The fallacy of composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole.”
Here’s how the “logic” (false logic) behind denial goes:
I’m a fairly normal, ordinary person.
I identify closely with my family-of-origin.
If I (the part) am normal, they (the whole) must be normal too.
How could a normal person (me),
possibly come from a narcissistic family!?
Therefore, they must not be narcissists.
They must be normal people who inadvertently
behave in narcissistic ways.
It must all be just a colossal misunderstanding!
And in June 2017, we revisited the topic in Stop Identifying With Your Abusive Family.
When you query, “How could they?” you’re projecting your goodness onto them. A logical fallacy. Just because you’re honest and were raised by your abusers to be unerringly honest, doesn’t mean they are. Just because you were raised to be kind, doesn’t mean they are. Just because they taught you to always listen to you conscience, doesn’t mean they heed theirs. Just because you keep a close eye on your true motives, doesn’t mean they do.
This article is too long already and we’ve barely scratched the surface of emotional incest, so there will be more in-depth articles to follow. For today, these are the takeaways:
- Emotional incest is extremely damaging abuse even though it may feel like happiness and love when it’s occurring.
- Love is not love when the motives are selfish, self-serving and harm the object of that love. It may be love bombing…but it’s not agape love.
As with everything, it all comes down to motives. The perpetrators of emotional incest are brilliant at disguising their true, selfish motives from their victims and probably from themselves as well.
Stay tuned! More to come.
Thank you for reading. For happier, more lighthearted fare, please visit my new food blog, Reluctant Cook, Cheap Foodie.