Sometimes covert incest victims feel special and privileged but also creeped-out by the attention they are given. In therapy, they will say things like:
- My mother would take me to the movies with her a lot. Not kid movies, either. Date movies for adults. She would always tell me she had the most handsome date there, and she would want me to hold her hand during the show.
- My father was constantly telling me how much prettier I was than my sisters or my friends. He talked about how nice my breasts were and how I had a “perky little butt.” He told me I should be proud of how I looked and that I probably drove all the boys at school a little nuts.
- My mom always sat a little too close to me, and she talked about my body a lot, especially when I was a teenager.
- My dad would tell me about my mother and how she was frigid. He would tell me that all he wanted was a bit of physical affection, but she wouldn’t give that to him. He talked a lot about his “needs.”
- I had no privacy. If I was in my room or in the bathroom, my mother would be right outside the door, listening to what I was doing and talking to me, asking if I was OK or if I needed anything.
With covert incest, even though there is no overt sexual touch, the relationship feels “icky” to the child—too close for comfort. The lack of boundaries creates an incestuous feeling, and the child feels used and trapped, exactly as they would feel in the case of overt incest.
Typically, covert incest occurs when a child’s parents have distanced themselves from one another physically and emotionally. (Often, this is caused by an addiction in one or both of the adults.) This distancing causes one of the parents to focus on the child, seeking solace and emotional fulfillment by turning the child into a surrogate spouse.
Meanwhile, the child’s developmental needs are ignored and, as a result, emotional growth, especially in the area of healthy sexual and romantic attachment, is stunted.