What is Emotional Incest (aka Covert Incest)?

Emotional incest can happen between a child and any adult role model in their lives. Typically, the primary caregiver is the one who commits this type of abuse, but it can also happen with other close people in the child’s life.

Emotional incest is the abuse that occurs when a parent relies on their child to support them emotionally. Often, guilt and shame are used to manipulate the child into providing the emotional support. In most cases, the child will feel more like a close friend of the parent rather than their child.

In many cases, the adult committing this type of child abuse will not see it as such. Their desperate state makes it difficult for them to see how inappropriate relying on a child for their emotional needs is.

It is not uncommon for the child to distance themself from the parent/adult once they reach adulthood. Although, some children never become away that they have been emotionally abused and may go on to provide this support.

How do you fix Emotional Incest?


Mental health counseling can help you separate your identity from unhealthy attachments. It will also help you get to know yourself better which will provide the strong self of self that may have been missing due to emotional abuse.

Online therapy can help with any emotional and/or mental health issue you may be struggling with. Getting started with a certified therapist is easy with OnlineTherapy.

If you’d like to start online therapy with a certified therapist (plus a full toolbox including extra supportive activities) you can get 20% off your first full month with this special discount link!

Self-awareness practices

Be aware of your tendencies due to the abuse you’ve endured and learn from it. If you tend to avoid conflict, notice when that happens and lean into the moment. You don’t have to fight or argue with friends/family, but work on being comfortable defending yourself or at least explaining yourself in difficult situations.

Speak up

Get familiar with your own opinions, thoughts and feelings. Practice sharing them with people you trust. Something amazing happens when you practice stepping outside of your comfort zone in this area. Once you get comfortable voicing your opinion, needs and wants, your sense of self is empowered which will also help boost your self-esteem.

Set firm boundaries

Break the unhealthy bond with the person who emotionally abused you. This is often easier said than done, however in most cases, it’s an absolute must if any healing is to be done.

Do things that boost your self esteem

Not everyone feels they need a makeover in order to get that little boost of self esteem, but if that sounds appealing to you, give it a shot! Dancing, singing or something as simple as joining a club or activity group can bring a strong sense of belonging and self expression as well.

Try a combination of things! You can even start small by making intentional decisions each day and seeing them through. If you say you’re going to do something and make a habit of following through, you’ll begin to trust yourself and see the value you have. This will build your own sense of self-worth.

Trying to get it from others should not be a priority as no one cares about you as much as you care about you. Befriend yourself and work on your relationship with you. That’s the foundation for everything else you’ll pursue in life.

emotional incest

Self-care is not a luxury, it’s a responsibility to your own well-being! Start making your self-care a priority with these simple ideas today!

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Get a life coach

A life coach is a great resource to have as they present a personalized road map of the things to work on and the steps you can take to achieve whatever it is you’re after. From building self worth, achieving huge goals and much more. A life coach is a great way to hold yourself accountable as well.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle

Eating well and getting some exercise are two of the best things you can do for yourself when working through trauma and mental health struggles. By challenging yourself physically, you gain a strong mental state of mind which will help you overcome trauma much better.

Choosing healthy food supplements all of that and gives you an extra boost too. These two can also help avoid the physical ailments and potential disease that can come from trauma and an unhealthy lifestyle.

Signs of Emotional Incest

There are several common signs that emotional incest has taken place. Some symptoms start out as one thing during childhood and can develop into something else. Just as well, some victims of emotional incest end up dealing with a variety of the same symptoms their whole lives.

Here are the 15 of some of the most common signs that emotional incest has occurred…


Unfortunately, feelings of guilt and shame will most likely follow the abused child into adulthood. This is because the child will constantly be battling between choosing what’s best for them and what they think the abusive parent might want for/from them.

Extreme Self-motivation

In an effort to please the parent, the child will most likely grow up to be successful and productive. While this sounds great, it can lead to an unfulfilled life as the individual might chose a career path that they are not truly happy with.


Even if the child is not aware that they have been abused, depression might occur on some level. There will be an underlying inner conflict due the abuse they endured. This tends to be the case once the child is a teen or an adult.

Developing an Eating disorder(s)

Stress and trauma as a child often leads to the development of an eating disorder. Eating disorder symptoms might start as early as pre-teen years.

Self-Esteem Issues

Since the child’s emotional well-being is being abused, the child will eventually develop certain limiting beliefs about their self-worth. Since the one person that is supposed to care and protect them is hurting them, they might believe they are not worthy of love and protection.

Their sense of self-worth will come from how well they please their abusive parent (hence their lack of self-identity). It will take a while for them to work toward the place where they feel they are worthy without the presence of said parent.

Having a Love/Hate Relationship

The abused child will feel a sense of care and also a sense of deep resentment and frustration toward the parent.


Anxiety develops due to the constant strain and pressure the child has been under.

Inappropriate sense of responsibility on the child’s part

This is one of the more obvious signs as the child will be made to feel responsible for every little emotional issue that the parent has. The parent in this case is typically very troubled and needy and a huge sense of responsibility to fix that will be on the shoulders of the child.

Inappropriate romantic gestures/talk

In some cases that involve emotional incest, the abusive parent will have some sort of romantic relationship. While this does not always include sexual abuse, inappropriate and abusive behavior and conversations might be happening (hand holding, flirting, a sense of “dating”, etc.).

emotional incest

The seeking of advice from parent to child

Often, the parent will involve the child in their decision making processes. This might happen more as the child gets closer to adulthood. This puts unnecessary strain on the child as imparts an uncomfortable sense of inappropriate responsibility.

The seeking of encouragement or acknowledgement (on the parent’s part)

In some cases, the parent might seek the approval from the child. This is especially abusive as the parent is essentially manipulating the child into approving of their abusive behavior which enables them to continue the abuse.

People Pleasing

The child will obviously grow up to be a people pleaser which could lead them to more abuse and self-esteem issues later in life as well.

An overwhelming sense of obligation (on the child’s part)

In many cases it will take an extreme amount of effort for the child to eliminate the overbearing sense of obligation. Distancing themselves from the parent and setting firm boundaries is the best course action to begin healing in this area.

Not having one’s own identity

As you can easily see from all of the other signs, the child will have a hard time establishing their own identity. The abuser is essentially making the child chose between the parent or the child’s well-being so establishing opinions, beliefs and their own social circle will seem nearly impossible.

Poor relationship skills or avoiding a romantic relationship

Unfortunately, the abused child might grow up to struggle to making friends or having a romantic partner. This is because they might overthink everything, will be too much of a “push over”, they might need to be needed too much or they might not want anything to do with close relationships because of their trauma.

Helpful Tools

There are several resources available to help with everyday mental and emotional health struggles. Here are a few that are highly rated:

Panic Away – Program on how to stop panic attacks and end general anxiety.

Anxiety attacks and dealing with anxiety in general are one of several difficulties that come along with a variety of mental illnesses. Panic Away is a program designed to eliminate the root of your anxiety to help you achieve a higher quality of life. Check it out HERE to see if it’s right for you!

Mosaic Weighted Blankets and Accessories – A variety of top of the line weighted products.

Weighted blankets and accessories have been known to help ease a number of mental and emotional health symptoms such as anxiety and depression. Check out the quality weighted products from Mosaic HERE.


Hi, I'm Marissa! I'm passionate about mental and emotional health and want to share what I've learned over the years with others! I've seen first hand how mental health struggles can cause serious issues within relationships, work life, daily productivity, self-worth and more! I truly believe that we owe it to ourselves to bring more awareness to these life changing topics. Start your mental/emotional health journey by learning more today!

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