Emotional Incest: Unhealthy Family Dynamic That Demands To Be Understood

Last Update on August 11, 2023 : Published on August 13, 2023
Emotional Incest

Were you growing up in an unhealthy family dynamic environment wherein you were made to be mature even before the right age? It happens when a parent takes their child support in the place of a romantic partner, this term is referred to as emotional incest. Emotional incest is also referred to as covert incest and it is a form of emotional abuse wherein a parent treats their children like a partner and completely relies on them for emotional support instead of a romantic partner.

Emotional incest is not sexual or physical, but it is emotionally challenging because a child is put under certain circumstances wherein they have to act mature even before they are ready. In this blog, let us find out what emotional incest means, its effects, signs and symptoms, and how to heal from emotional incest. So, let’s get started!

List of Contents

  • What is Emotional Incest?
  • Examples of Emotional Incest
  • Signs of Emotional Incest
  • Causes of Emotional Incest
  • Effects of Emotional Incest
  • Ways to Heal from Emotional Incest
  • Key Takeaway: Getting Help

What is Emotional Incest?

According to psychology, when the mother or caregivers tries to raise a responsible child or gets too close to a child, it can cause emotional incest. It is an unhealthy family dynamic wherein a parent relies too much for emotional support on their children. Emotional incest can look like this:

  • Seeking company or comfort from children while feeling lonely or sad
  • Navigating financial concerns with children
  • Venting out personal or work relationships with children
  • Asking for loyalty from children

In the beginning, this dynamic might feel normal or help form emotional closeness with the caregiver or parent, but on the extreme level, it might sound challenging and overwhelming as the child demands to act mature even when they are not ready according to their age.

Examples of Emotional Incest

Below are some examples of emotional incest:

  1. Parents vent everything in front of their children and rely upon emotional support.
  2. Parents sharing intimate details in front of the child which can make children uncomfortable or confused.
  3. Parents sharing everything related to marriage problems which can make children stressed.
  4. Parents expect their children to avoid social activities or friends to fulfill the emotional support they want.
  5. Parents abuse children emotionally when they are not able to complete their parents’ wishes.
  6. Parents undermining or judging their child’s efforts.
  7. Parents come up with challenges or problems which led children to become mature
  8. Parents sharing marital or relationship problems with children and children advising parents related to romantic difficulties.
  9. Conflicts between parents, turning children to comfort or support the other parent.
  10. Children prepare themselves mentally or physically to maintain family harmony.

Signs of Emotional Incest

Below are some signs of emotional incest:

1.Emotional Dependency

In emotional incest, the parent tries to share all the stressors they are struggling with lately and depends on them emotionally for support.


A parent who is emotionally incest overshares with their child instead of confiding adult matters. Emotionally incest parent even shares topics that are not appropriate as a result, it makes children overwhelmed.


Parents who are emotionally incest want to know everything that going on in their children’s lives. They do not care about age-appropriate questions, additionally, they lack parent-child boundaries and do not respect personal space.

4.Monotonous life

Due to ongoing issues or constant emotional support, parents monopolize the life of the children and also limit social activities and friendships.

5.Making a child responsible

Emotionally incest parents always focus on making their children responsible for improving their emotional well-being. As a result, the child learns to put the parent’s emotional needs first even in adulthood.

6.Seeking assurance

Due to ongoing family issues, a parent might show up constantly and share their difficulties or challenges to seek assurance as a parent, a partner, or a human being.

7.Requesting a lot

Parents with emotional incest request a lot of things from their children (not financial or physical demands) but they ask for a lot of emotional support so that they can feel comfort or secure.

8.Blurred boundaries

Parents who are emotionally incest lack boundaries or put boundaries that are beneficial to them. Sometimes, they do not even care about your problems, you’ll always see them discussing their challenges.

9.Confusing roles

Children who are raised by emotionally incest parents often seem to be confused regarding their roles in the family. They might feel important, a support system, a best friend, or a personal therapist but they always miss being treated age-appropriately.

10.Ignored emotional needs

Parents who are emotionally incest always ignore the emotional needs of their children because they are so stuck in their own problems, challenges, or difficulties.

Causes of Emotional Incest

Below are some of the causes of emotional incest:

  • Distrust

Parents who had a rough childhood or adulthood or were abandoned by their parents are likely to develop trust issues. They might start seeing their children as a comfort or safe space to seek emotional support.

  • Lack of support

Parents with unresponsive partners or a lack of support might start finding support in their children. Such situations can also be experienced by single parents or divorced parents.

  • Emotional immaturity

Parents who lack emotional immaturity may also become completely dependent on their children emotionally. They lack the sense that children need to hear or do age-appropriate things.

  • Underlying mental health conditions

Some parents internally struggle with mental health conditions like trauma, substance abuse disorder, or depression which is why they start seeking emotional support from their children as a coping mechanism.

Effects of Emotional Incest

Emotional incest can be harmful to parents and children both. Talking about the effect of emotional incest on children, it is likely to harm emotional and mental development which can lead to regular mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. The fact is that we need to treat children according to their age, we must not prepare our children to fit into a whole-grown adult role to fulfill our insecurities.

Children need to form or learn healthy attachments so that they can positively move toward emotional development. To achieve so, it is really important to offer physical and emotional safety to the children. Children really need age-appropriate things, they must not be defined for clearing mess. They need security and they want their parents to take in-charge of things so that they can also feel safe and secure. Apart from this, below-listed are some of the common impacts of emotional incest:

  • Difficulty forming healthy relationships

If the parents remain the same even through adulthood, the children might not be able to form healthy relationships with others as they struggle with internal fear called “lack of prioritization.”

  • Emotional difficulties

Children who are raised by emotionally incest parents face a lot of struggles in adulthood as they are not able to explain or process their emotions, they even lack the skills of setting healthy boundaries or prioritizing their own emotional needs first.

  • Insecurity

If the child will keep on fulfilling their parent’s needs instead of their own, how will they be able to form a safe or secure environment for themselves during adulthood?

  • Navigating co-dependent relationships

Children raised by emotionally incest parents often look for co-dependent relationships in adulthood so that they can focus on fulfilling their parent’s wishes in adulthood as well. This is not a positive sign, especially for the future.

  • Lack of social skills

Children raised by emotionally incest parents lack social skills as they are not able to express themselves or establish boundaries for themselves.

  • Reduced self-esteem

During adulthood, a child may start repressing their emotional needs which can diminish their self-worth and self-esteem.

  • Reduced sense of self or satisfaction

Children who have struggled with emotional incest are likely to have a reduced sense of self or a sense of life satisfaction.

  • People pleasing behavior

Because children were raised to become emotional support of their parents, children often take up people-pleasing behavior so that they can provide the same unreciprocated feelings to their partners.

Ways to Heal from Emotional Incest

Below are some effective strategies to overcome or heal from emotional incest:

  • Work on building healthy and positive relationships

The first step towards healing is to be socially available to other people and work on building positive relationships with them so that you can understand the dynamics, move on, and work on building your own social support system.

  • Set healthy boundaries

While forming healthy relationships with people, always set healthy boundaries and learn to prioritize your mental health needs first so that you can work on yourself and learn how to be in a healthy relationship.

  • Acknowledge your issues

Acknowledging your issues can work like a catalyst only when you’ll self-forgive yourself and move on in the right direction. Work on building emotionally independent parents and try to have an open discussion with your caregivers so that you can acknowledge your issues and find yourself in the right direction.

Key Takeaway: Getting Help

Extreme emotional incest can be challenging and overwhelming, herein you can either push your parents to seek therapy or you can also join therapy with them so that you both can build healthy relationship with each other. Therapy can put yourself on the road of self-healing or self-discovery. Additionally, therapy will help you:

  • Acknowledging the dynamics
  • Identifying the underlying factors
  • Practicing establishing healthy boundaries
  • Exploring ways to create a social support system

You can try individual therapy, family therapy, and group therapy to understand the dynamics properly and overcome the past to build a better future.

I hope this blog helps you understand emotional incest and how to heal from it. Comment down and share your queries or you can also write us at Calmsage

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Thanks for reading!

About The Author

Aayushi Kapoor
Aayushi Kapoor

Aayushi is a Content Creator at Calm Sage. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Food Technology and a Master's Degree in Clinical Nutrition. Her constant interest in the improvement of mental health, nutrition, and overall wellness embarked upon her career as a “full-time educational writer.” She likes to make an asynchronous connection with her readers. Her mantra for living life is "What you seek is seeking you".

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