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.