More threads by 1210donna


Reading an article on emotional incest I came across some interesting inter-generational dynamics. Emotional incest was more prevalent in parents with their own challenges and the impact on their children seemed to have some interesting implications for social-emotional interaction patterns in their children.

Could ASD parents be more at risk of emotional incest which in turn exacerbates issues commonly identified with adults with Asperger?s?

Interestingly, in our progressively more single parent society, emotional incest was more likely to develop in single parent families, where one or both parents has a developmental, psychiatric or emotional ?disorder?, or is displaced or controlled by another family member or used substitute babysitters such as the TV.

It can result in issues as vast as identity conflict, chronic anger, a sense of life being meaningless, obsessions and compulsions, learning disabilities, anxiety disorders, attachment disorders, separation anxiety, addictions, depression, anhedonia, suicide?..

In the case of father-daughter emotional incest, disenfranchised fathers compensate by becoming emotionally over involved with their daughters. The emotional cost of father-daughter emotional incest includes stress and anxiety disorders, mental and physical illness, identity disorders and underdeveloped and confused sense of identity and depression.

As adults the daughters are emotionally immature, erratic, unable to sustain functional relationships or end up drawn to those which are unrewarding so keep them involved with their fathers instead. It?s easy to see how this becomes so intergenerational.

But mother-son emotional incest was even more interesting in the context of ASD remarkably resembling some of the emotional-behavioral challenges seen in adults on the spectrum.

* obsess about his mother?
* acts as if women should serve him?
* cannot maintain a stable partnership?
* act like a child ? or like a tyrant ? or both?
* brag, lie and boast as he tries to be special?
* is a narcissist - he demands attention or he leaves?
* chase women - quantity not happiness is important?
* have few if any friends, and cannot commit to teamwork?
* does not care if he damages other people?s relationships?
* do these things repeatedly but energetically deny them?
* avoid any form of coaching or counseling on these issues?

This is not to say that those with AS are victims of untreated emotional incest, but given that ASD is a multifaceted condition for which holistic answers address the various components its perhaps worth keeping an open mind whether in our modern society family dynamics are increasing the incidence of emotional incest which ASD parents may be more susceptible to. Just look at The Jerry Springer show, Dr Phil and and the like, and ask yourself do we still live in the same society we did 10 or 20 years ago. Interestingly the Supermom syndrome promoted by a progressively pigeon holing, voyeuristic media-dominated society is highly linked with mother-son emotional incest. Whilst there are certainly attachment disordered children with Reactive Attachment Disorder who have never formed bonds there are equally those damaged by over bonding. The money spinning Western ?emotional bonding? industries making a fortune spreading their new gospel around the world may need to wake up if law suits are to follow for psychological-emotional damages resulting from their related therapies. When will we learn the Taoist principles that BALANCE means health? That MORE is not necessarily better? When the corporate money spinners and organized moralizer collectives get out of our ears and eyes long enough to stop being our new ?parents? so we might get back to having minds of our own?
How much might social dynamics be breeding dysfunctional patterns and contribute to the increase in ASD diagnosis now heading for one in 100 children?

Mother-son emotional incest may resemble or exacerbate ASD challenges, here?s some of the listed consequences:

If people do not appreciate Son?s specialness, Son may attack (become a bully) or withdraw (become a nerd). Son fears not being special enough and dreads Mother?s rejection. Son may become a model passive good boy to please Mother. Or he may rebel against Mother to please Father - perhaps becoming aggressive or delinquent. If he swings between these two extremes - he may be diagnosed as passive-aggressive or with bipolar disorder.

Some men feel that they were not properly mothered. They may complain that they were not loved in the right way, or not long enough, or that their mothers were absent or preoccupied with their work. They may have many mother-bonded traits, yet behave like an adult child - age-regressed.


Selective Mutism, Avoidant Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, mood and anxiety disorders and attachment disorders are conditions which commonly complicate the lives of those with ASDs and will be made worse in families which breed emotional incest. Those who overprotect, take over too soon or constantly outshine the abilities of their as yet developed child will also breed learned dependency, exacerbating any existing learning and developmental disabilities. labeling those with these issues as ?special? often means we then segregate them, or at least fail to integrate them and often this becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

Whilst the world searches for genetic causes of ASD and mental emotional challenges, perhaps they should give at least equal weight to searching and identifying the pathological memes that cripple so many people and leave them needlessly burdened only to pass those burdens on to any next generations.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
I've not heard the term "emotional incest" before and to be honest my first reaction in reading about this article is that it's an unnecessarily sensational term. What it seems to describe is over-enmeshment. Incest is inappropriate sexual behavior occurring between parent and child or siblings. I don't see the point in muddying the waters in this fashion.


I actually tend to agree with you David that the term 'incest' is quite jolting in reference to pathological levels of emotional entanglement between family members.

However, having worked with some parents who cut themselves off from all social connections in order to enmesh with their child the the most obsessional degree that it lead to the parent being suicidal and the child self injurious or such a severe degree of learned dependency as to be their largest disability, I had to acknowledge that more than 'mere' co-dependency was happening.

I do feel that if the term were merely 'pathological emotional entanglement' that families over involved to this really unfortunate degree maybe wouldn't seek help as quickly as they might if their patterns were associated with such a taboo term as 'emotional incest'.

Nevertheless, I didn't create the term and if I hadn't worked directly with many families for whom this stuff was a complicating issue, I'd never have bothered 'for the sake of it' to write the article alerting people to the fact that both extremes of reactive attachment disorder and 'emotional incest' can be equally imbalancing and harmful to those caught up in them.

I don't think the term 'emotional incest' should diminish the focus on the seriousness of sexual incest, but acknowledging that one or both can occur in the one case and that each has its own set of associated challenges may be useful to those seeking to deal with the fallout in either case.

Just my opinion though.

... Donna *)


For those wishing to decide for themselves the division between bonding and emotional incest, here's a number of links.

Interestingly, its also referred to as 'sexuality abuse'.

This is NOT sexual abuse, but they are inferring that the detrimental impact of emotional incest on the child's development of their own healthy sexuality is a major factor.

Anyway, here's the links.

covert and emotional incest is also mentioned on wikipedia

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
I don't think the term 'emotional incest' should diminish the focus on the seriousness of sexual incest

That's my point, though. I don't aim this criticism at you, Donna, but I do think the use of the term "incest" in this context trivializes the experience of "true" incest victims - and it's unnecessary. This is a significant problem in its own right and it doesn't need to ride on the coattails of a different kind of abuse.


Enmeshment was exactly the term that came to my mind when reading the article. I think the tendency to sensationalize actually detracts from anything else the article might have to offer - at least, in my eyes.
when i read the term "emotional incest", i have no idea what it means. those two words just do not go together, they don't make sense together, so i find it meaningless. it's just not an appropriate term.


Hi Ladybug,

with 196 articles about Emotional Incest on Pub Med, its the psychiatrists and psychologists people need to write to and complain if they don't like the term.

It's also referred to as 'covert incest' so those who don't like the term should also suggest that one is thrown out too... and its referred to as 'sexuality abuse' because of its impact on the child's development of sexuality (not to be confused with sexual abuse which can co-occur with it or NOT).

it is also considered a co-dependency issue, so perhaps that term needs to be thrown away too... although emotional incest makes it clear this is between family members where co-dependency doesn't distinguish yet the impacts may be quite different in terms of effect on sexuality development and it helps survivors of sexual abuse understand a separate but important dimension to their abuse as well as helping those for whom things remained at the level of entanglement/titillation rather than sexual abuse as well. Personally, I'm not going to speak for all and sundry in those groups, knowing I am not all those people, so if any have felt helped by the term, then so be it and those who don't like the term don't have to use it, they can call it something else - entanglement, co-dependency, even calling it 'bonding' (which would really muddy the waters as emotional incest leading to severe developmental and behavioral challenges is clearly well beyond healthy bonding).

and the term is often intertwined with dependent personality disorder so perhaps that needs to be thrown out too as useless.

so really, if we don't like, find useless etc, some term that has considerable peer reviewed medical journal articles about it and has been relatively extensively written about by highly qualified professionals in the psych and psychiatry fields, then we either need to petition them with our views or question why we feel so threatened by the term and whether we've done enough in depth reading into the subject or clinical experience as formally qualified people working with those working through it, so we're not merely having knee jerk reactions against a word.

Nevertheless, raising your discomfort with the term is a valid thing which people may like to explore in their own feelings about the term as it may teach them something about their own feelings.

... Donna

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
FWIW, I don't like the term "codependency" either. It's overused and virtually meaningless as a result.

Covert incest and emotional incest are controversial terms used by some to describe situations where there is no actual sexual contact, but rather an inappropriate emotional relationship between relatives. An example would be a parent who treats their child in the same way as they would treat a sexual partner, even though they do not engage in any sexual activity with them.

Those who use the term covert incest may use the term overt incest to describe actual sexual acts which occur between relatives, although almost everyone simply calls this "incest" without qualification. Only proponents of the concept of covert incest generally use the term 'overt incest'. Many survivors of incest and others argue that a situation which does not involve physical, sexual contact should not be labeled incest.

The concept of covert incest is controversial. It has in the last few years become commonly discussed among therapists and self-help groups, with books such as Silently Seduced: When Parents Make their Children Partners - Understanding Covert Incest by Kenneth Adams (ISBN 1-55874-131-3). However, the concept has been criticized as trivializing the acts which are traditionally known as incest. It has also been criticized as demonizing parents who, while they may have some emotional issues in their relationship with their children, do not engage in any of the acts which most people would label "incest". Critics charge that "covert incest" is not a concept associated with serious academic research; rather, it is a creation of pop-psychology.


Many survivors of incest and others argue that a situation which does not involve physical, sexual contact should not be labeled incest

In my opinion, of everything that I have read on this thread this is the part that stood out at me and that I completely agree with.
I have something to say about this, having only read the first few posts between 1210donna and David Baxter. I feel pretty strongly about this, and this is my second attempt to post a response, as I was inactive for so long on the first try that my post was not accepted.. I don't know how representative of the poulations being referenced (sexually abused/ emotionally abused) my experience is, but I personally find the term 'emotional incest' both utterly relevant and extremely validating.

My relationship to my Dad has always been exactly that, nothing less. I have had quite a few years to look back on the earlier parts of my life and analyze them, something I'm good at, even without the clarity of a supportive perspective, and I feel I am capable of being pretty un-biased about our relationship, although I may have let my motivation slip since the last time he tried to attack me.. There hasn't been much else to analyze, in any case..

What I would like to illustrate is the way that a perpetual abuse of emotional boundaries can blend into a pervasion of all other boundaries, or in any case the physical ones pertaining to sexuality.

There's no way I can sum it all up here, and my previous post may have mentioned sensitive subjects that are automatically blocked, although I read the rules and didn't remember that (it would have saved me some time and energy)- namely, the drugs my Dad was on before this particular incident took place.. He had been on a particular type of (illegal) drug for about 11 years when this happened, and had started trying to quit already... But this night we were to be sleeping in the very tiny back of his Isuzu Trooper, together. I had reservations about this idea in the first place, but we were supposed to be camping outside.. I suppose it was also raining.. We had to park on the road because we didn't have tickets for the festival we were there for... I went because he needed me to drive him (revoked license) and I had been once before, with positive memories. In any case, my dad took off to go hang out at a bar nearby where there was music, and I stayed in the car. He told me at least part of this story that night, and the rest I heard later from someone else. While at the bar my Dad met a couple that he felt comfortable with, and ended up doing drugs with them (it would have been crank).. The woman liked my Dad and came on to him heavily- this part my Dad told me himself..- and the man had no problem with this.. They hung out for quite some time. My Dad even came back to 'check on' me, and went back again.. It ended up that he offered me in exchange for the wife for the night, but the husband turned my dad down, having not met or seen me. (Even people on crank can have morals:) I had to sleep next to my Dad that night, after he told me at least part of this story, and I wound up feeling really, really icky. My dad has (almost) always had the power to control me, although in this case I'm sure I would not have complied too willingly, but I felt really enraged and powerless when I went to sleep.

I dreamt that my Dad was having sex with me. He actually made the attempt to ask first, and I said yes, because at that point in our relationship, there was no other answer he would have accepted to any question, and it was always far less painful to forgoe the trauma and just give him what he wanted whenever possible. I woke up, but I still had to sleep next to him.

The pattern I mentioned of giving him what he wanted whenever possible began when I was four or so, and became definite by the age of five. It was never sexual at that point, and as I said, it never actually became so. He had told me never to accept negativity, as a personal responsibility, and at the time and theoretically it had made sense.. but this day I decided to put it into practise when he was ranting at me in a very negative fashion.. and he balked. I had gotten off the stool and actually walked from the room -I still think it may have been the hardest thing I've ever done- and he asked me in very serious tone where I was going, and then told me to 'get back here' or something like it.. I was scared for my life in a way I had never experienced with him before and I had always obeyed him, but I looked at him and I saw a monster with a deformed head. (I may have had a contact high..) I did what he said, and I've always regretted it. How much easier to have kept walking. If only I hadn't stopped.. I was five.

But quite honestly, sexual boundaries were breached at a much subtler level beginning when I was three, and my parents took me to a hot springs where people were naked, which was fine and still is (not with my Dad). There was a springs people liked to ride down naked because it was slippery and my Dad insisted on carrying me down, despite the fact that I objected. Both of us were naked. I believe his sense of "ownership" of me began as early as that, and perpetuates a manner in which people still relate to me, as an object far more than as an intelligent person.


I can understand this but those of us seen as objects and brought up as owned goods have a mammoth battle to trust the instinct to protect ourselves as people in our own right. How can we trust something that's never been validated? So I understand why you didn't keep walking and what matters is you can stand tall now and have made the journey to claim your personhood.

I was a doll, not a person, and a label, not a person, I was flag waved in both directions as a reflection as burden in a martyrs drama, as wind up toy reflecting on my owner's investments in my puppetry. I know that person knew no different but it was only with the help of others that I could see myself beyond these things. And that was strongly fought and invalidated for so long. its a credit to the bloodyminded determination of some spirits that we do the seemingly unheard of and continue to believe in instinct even if it works against a lifetimes brainwashing.

We all get born somewhere. Some of us born to people with no boundaries or to sociopaths, psychopaths, narcissists etc. The important thing to know is we don't necessarily inherit their monsterhood. I have some traits of my monster and many of other relatives, enough to see that similar isn't same - thank goodness. Its awfully hard to deal with feeling irky in relation to a parent and still come away having a strong caring and kindness and respect for oneself, but we really must.

All the best to you strong woman.

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