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What is Emotional Incest?

Take a moment to reflect on the following statements.


* I had to prioritize my parent's need over my own in order to protect them.

* I felt a deep sense of responsibility for my parent's happiness and wellbeing.

* I felt that my parent needed me.

* I felt that my parent relied on me more than their partner or my siblings.

* I didn't feel like I had the opportunity to be a kid.

* I often heard my parent talk to me about adult problems.

* I kept secrets for my parent.


Do any of these resonate with you?


When a parent uses the child to meet their needs, especially when those needs should be met by another adult, this is called emotional incest. Examples of these needs include intimacy, sexual problems/needs, ego fulfillment, relationship problems, and complaints/concerns about siblings.


Because the parent's needs take precedence over the child's needs, the child can feel a sense of responsibility for the parent, always prioritizing their needs over their own. The child learns that their wants and needs don't matter, and can also feel guilty when they have any feelings. As adults, these children may struggle in intimate relationships due to people-pleasing and codependent behaviors. Anxiety and self-esteem are also common long term effects of experiencing emotional incest.


If the other parent is still present, the child might experience additional feelings of guilt, confusion, and responsibility for the other parent's feelings of rejection. They might also be the recipient of jealous feelings from the other parent, or of other siblings. At the same time, the child can feel special to be the 'chosen one'.


If these experiences sound familiar, take a look at the following journaling prompts to help you explore this further:


What feelings, thoughts, and sensations show up for you now?

What messages did you receive growing up about how relationships are supposed to go? What messages did you receive growing up about love and family?

If you could say something to your younger self, what would you want them to know?


If you are looking for additional journaling prompts, check out my 28 day journaling challenge here!