Covert Incest: Misplaced Emotional Intimacy

Emotional [Covert] Incest occurs when a child is led to believe they are fulfilling an emotional need for one of their parents. Specifically, that child is doing for the parent’s emotions what the partner/spouse has failed to do. They are what psychologists have called “emotional lovers”.

A parent might create this burden of emotional referee very innocently. For example, a child sees that his mum looks sad. Then she looks up, gives him a little smile and says, “Give Mummy a hug, sweet boy.” When she gives him a big smile after the hug and he hears her say, “You make me so happy!”, he believes he has caused her to feel better. While that may be true to an extent, it’s leading the child to believe that he is the necessary component to her happiness and, whether immediately or later in life, he feels responsible to be sure she is never sad. If he cannot succeed in fulfilling her emotional needs, he will take the blame while it was never his role to begin with.

At the same time, it’s not always quite so innocent or accidental. Many parents are well aware of the demand for loyalty, fulfillment, and comfort they have inflected upon their child. Either way, the results are very dangerous to the emotional and mental well being of the child. A child finds security in the love and protection of an adult and covert incest destroys a healthy sense of security. Kids may well grow up believing that they are responsible for the emotional stability of all close relationships. Romantic relationships will be especially challenging because the now-grown child does not know how to give and take; he only knows how to “fulfill”. Relationships become debilitating and guilt-ridden.

Beyond the emotional scarring that occurs, there can be serious sexual side effects. Sometimes sexual abuse becomes an issue during childhood. Other times, the skewed parent-child relationship results in sexual addictions.

Parents ought to be affectionate toward their children but covert incest is a seriously misplaced affection. Here are a few suggestions to assist in avoiding this type of abusive behavior:

1. Don’t tell your child something you wouldn’t tell your spouse/partner. At the same time, your child doesn’t need to know something that you should ONLY be telling your spouse/partner.

2. Find someone other than your child to vent to. If your spouse is not an option, call a friend or close relative. So much raw emotion can spill out when you’re venting feelings like frustration or loneliness it will be easy for your child to confuse your venting about someone with you being displeased with them. A couple’s problems should never become a child’s burden.

3. Teach your children about relationship roles and boundaries. Help them understand how affection should work within a family unit. Let them know they don’t need to earn your love. It’s your job to care for them, not the other way around. provides counseling and resources for survivors of emotional incest. Here you can find various articles, including specifics on mother-son and father-daughter relationships:

Articles from

Dr. Kenneth M. Adams wrote a book entitled Silently Seduced. Most of what I have read on the topic has been drawn from this book. Here, you can find a brief introduction to the concept of Emotional Incest:

Dr. Kenneth M. Adams on covert incest.

12 thoughts on “Covert Incest: Misplaced Emotional Intimacy

  1. fantastic publish, very informative. I wonder why the opposite specialists of this sector don’t realize this. You must proceed your writing. I’m confident,
    you’ve a huge readers’ base already!

  2. i wish there was information on atypical pairing such as mother/daughter. i can’t be the only one. information is difficult to find regarding this dynamic.

  3. Hello there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this site before but after reading through some of the post I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyhow, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back

  4. Once I learned my mother was a covert narcissist I had to look at all my childhood experiences form that perspective. I was the golden child as well as was forced to take the place of my father emotionally after he left. I have struggled to see all the abuse I went through because of the covert nature of it. I always felt it was so wrong that I was expected to feel things I was to young to emotionally understand from my mother This validates every thing I was told was me being “crazy”. I understand how abuse is repeated because we don’t even know what it was. It is important though that after a lifetime of psychiatric hospitals and therapy that not one single person was able to identify this. The lack of awareness is devastating and I am afraid of the consequence in the future generation. I wish there was a way I could use my experience to help do this but I don’t know how. After 41 years of this it is hard to find purpose.

  5. My only child a daughter is now 21 and my husband is a passive aggressive covert which I supect. My husband created a triangulationin in the family and used our daughter for emotional incest from a very young age. my daughter would also relay this to husbands parents which they loved as they never like me from the start. My only daughter hates me and and is very cruel, mean ,disrespectful, verbally abuse, defiant etc.
    I have got the family involved in counseling when daughter was young and becoming defiant only toward me. This was all turned on me as they have been the victims. Therapy did not work as a family as husband did not flow parenting advice parenting tools highly recommended. He always even underminded my parental authority and even lied about it when caught. I my self continued with therapy for 8 years for depression. I just waived the white flag and gave up!!
    I would like information on the dynamics and ramaficatons of this emotional incest.
    The pain of losing your only child to this is beyond painful and destroys the parent which sided against and left out of the triangle.

  6. Covert incest can also continue to become narcissistic stalking to punish the child for refusing to continue playing, hence destroy any other possible life of the child who was too icked out to stick around for more in their adult years. I am trying to heal by using the love fraud website because can relate to the way my father tried to annihilate me by the adult relationships on that website. Stalked and punished in the same way narcissistic men take out their vengeance on their adult partners. Unfortunatley when it is a parent doing the stalking, destroying your relationships, running slander campaigns against you and murdering your pets authorities do not take your complaints seriously. As my father stated -nobody will care because it is ‘family’ and father was right because nobody listened and if I insisted and got them to listen they did not want to touch ‘family’. Also when it is your father running a slander campaign people believe because it is ‘family’family and father’s know. He is dead now but the slander campaign has not died, everyone father touched poisoned them against me and those who never knew father treat me totally differently. At his funeral I was the only one unaware that my living had been made as a prostitute. Other goodies I was unawre of come to light over the years. My cousin told me at father’s funeral that my cousin did not care what I did for a living he was still inviting me to his wedding, as if working in the sex trade were a known fact. Father’s funeral was the first I had heard that my profession was in the sex trade because in real life my jobs were I drove cab, tended bar and waitressed. When a parent is stalking and creating drama / chaos in your life it is diffcult to focus on school or even a stable address because nobody takes you seriously. Humane society did not care that he kidnapped my dog from my house whole I was at work and told my roommate he was going to kill my old english sheepdog. Humane society dis not care because he was ‘family’ and family does not do that unless there is a good reason I was told. Sex felt too icky to be making a living from it. In my later years I became a Community Advocate to right injustices. Am also following Melanie’s website on self-partnering for healing.

  7. This is an insidious, little known, and seldom diagnosed phenomenon. I did not know it at the time, but I married a man who is in this type of relationship with his daughter. He is almost 70 and she is 38, and it has been going on since she was born. I thought I was going crazy, because I’ve never experienced such an unhealthy relationship before. Their relationship has destroyed our marriage, and neither one of them have any idea how dysfunctional the relationship is. I made the mistake of questioning it, and the pain and suffering they put me through is simply overwhelming. Covert insest is a destroyer of families, husband and wife relationships and innocent children.

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