What are Drivers of Covert Incest?

Parents who display such abnormal behaviour in their relationships with their children are clearly grappling with other issues. There are several factors that play into this damaging type of parentification of children, which include:

Breakdown or Absence of an Adult Relationship

Divorce, separation, or the lack of an emotional relationship with another adult may result in a parent inappropriately leaning on their child for emotional connection and affirmation. Often those who have experienced covert incest report this as being a precursor for emotional abuse.

Historical Issues with their Families

Adults who engage in covert incest may have experienced it themselves as children, and therefore expect such emotional entanglement as a “normal” part of a parent-child relationship. This is also known as “generational enmeshment.” Conversely, an adult who has had a distant, neglectful, or absent relationship with family may over-correct with their child, stepping over necessary boundaries and relying on that child to fill in gaps in their own life.

Underlying Personality Issues

Certain personality disorders, particularly Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) can predispose an adult to engaging in covert incest. This is due to the strong sense of personal entitlement that is part of NPD, making the adult feel as if it is perfectly acceptable to demand the complete emotional support and attention of their child. Additionally, individuals who are highly emotionally dependent may also be prone to covert incest.


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