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Emotional Incest = Sexuality Abuse

"Emotional incest is a violation and invasion of our emotional boundaries.  It is not sexual abuse, nor is it sexual in nature - although sexual incest is often accompanied by emotional incest.  It can however cause great damage to our relationship with our own gender and sexuality.  Emotional incest, along with religions that teach that sexuality is shameful and societal beliefs that one gender is superior to the other, fall into a category that I call sexuality abuse - because they directly impact our relationship with our own sexuality and gender."

"Those of us who have emotional incest issues, feel responsible for the feelings of the people we get involved with in romantic relationships because we felt responsible in childhood for one or both of our parents emotional well being.  Because our emotional boundaries were violated by our parents in childhood, we don't know how to have emotional boundaries in intimate relationship."

"If we are incapable of respecting our self, or having boundaries, we are incapable of getting our sexual needs met in any healthy way.  Often people with emotional incest issues will have a pattern of being sexual with people they don't even like - because being sexual with someone they feel close to emotionally feels wrong, feels taboo.  Emotional incest can have a very detrimental effect on a person's relationship to their own sexuality - and on their ability to have a healthy romantic relationship."

This is an article in a series of articles focused upon issues involving gender, sexuality, romantic relationships, and directly related topics.
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This is article is part of a series of articles which are focused upon issues involving gender, sexuality, romantic relationships, and directly related topics.  This article Emotional Incest = Sexuality Abuse was originally published online November 24, 2003 on Robert's Inner Child / Codependency Recovery page on the Suite101.com Directory.  There is a list of - and links to - the other articles in this series on Suite 101 on the Suite101 Articles page.  This article was used to create this page on Joy2MeU in September of 2004.

Emotional Incest = Sexuality Abuse

By Robert Burney
"Consider a scenario where mother is crying in her bedroom and her three year old toddles into the room. To the child it looks as if mom is dying. The child is terrified and says, "I love you mommy!" Mom looks at her child. Her eyes fill with love, and her face breaks into a smile. She says, 'Oh honey, I love you so much. You are my wonderful little boy/girl. Come here and give mommy a hug. You make mommy feel so good.' 

A touching scene? No. Emotional abuse! The child has just received the message that he/she has the power to save mommy's life. That the child has power over, and therefore responsibility for, mommy's feelings. This is emotional abuse, and sets up an emotionally incestuous relationship in which the child feels responsible for the parent's emotional needs. 

A healthy parent would explain to the child that it is all right for mommy to cry, that it is healthy and good for people to cry when they feel sad or hurt. An emotionally healthy parent would "role model" for the child that it is okay to have the full range of emotions, all the feelings - sadness and hurt, anger and fear, Joy and happiness, etc."

"This emotional repression and dishonesty causes society to be emotionally dysfunctional.  Additionally, urban-based civilization has completely disregarded natural laws and natural cycles such as the human developmental process.  There is no integration into our culture of the natural human developmental process. 

As just one blatant example of this, consider how most so called primitive or aboriginal societies react to the onset of puberty.  When a girl starts menstruating, ceremonies are held to celebrate her womanhood - to honor her coming into her power, to honor her miraculous gift of being able to conceive.  Boys go through training and initiation rites to help them make the transition from boyhood into manhood.  Look at what we have in our society: junior high school - a bunch of scared, insecure kids who torture each other out of their confusion and fear, and join gangs to try to find an identity."

"Many so-called primitive or aboriginal tribal cultures, such as the Native Americans, had far more integrated and balanced cultures for their place and time than any "civilization."  They were not totally integrated and balanced by any means.  They were, however, closer to the rhythms of nature and had respect for nature and natural laws, so were more aligned with universal laws than urban-based civilizations."

(All quotes in this color are from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls)
As the last quote from my book above states, tribal cultures that lived in close relationship with the land, had more respect for the rhythms of nature - for natures cycles of growth and development.  I find great wisdom in some of the ways the natural developmental process was integrated into certain Native American cultural practices.

For instance, a father did not teach his son how to become a man.  It was an uncle - either by blood or honorary - who taught the boy how to be a man.  Such wisdom, to take the father's ego out of the boys training process.  Of course, as Robert Bly talks about in his book Iron John, because of the progress of civilization, women have primarily been teaching boys to become men ever since the Industrial Revolution pulled men out of the home a great deal of the time. 

Another nugget of wisdom that I see in Native culture, is that when boys and girls reached about the age of 5 or 6 there came a point where they could no longer speak directly to the parent of the opposite sex until they reached adulthood.  Boys in their relationships with their mothers, and girls in their relationships with their fathers, would communicate through a third person - and would avoid direct eye contact.  The effect of this tribal wisdom was to prevent emotional incest. 

One of the articles in my inner child healing series on Suite 101 is focused upon emotional incest.  I don't just want to repeat things I said in that article in this one - so I am just going to use a quote from it (and provide a link to it) to make a point in alignment with the focus of this series of articles.

"Emotional incest is a violation and invasion of our emotional boundaries.  It is not sexual abuse, nor is it sexual in nature - although sexual incest is often accompanied by emotional incest.  It can however cause great damage to our relationship with our own gender and sexuality.  Emotional incest, along with religions that teach that sexuality is shameful and societal beliefs that one gender is superior to the other, fall into a category that I call sexuality abuse - because they directly impact our relationship with our own sexuality and gender." - Emotional Incest Issues

In last month's article on Sexuality Abuse, I talked about shame based religious teaching and societal influences.  Emotional incest is another type of wounding that can causes us to have a dysfunctional relationship with our own sexuality.

Those of us who have emotional incest issues, feel responsible for the feelings of the people we get involved with in romantic relationships because we felt responsible in childhood for one or both of our parents emotional well being.  Because our emotional boundaries were violated by our parents in childhood, we don't know how to have emotional boundaries in intimate relationship.

Not having emotional boundaries sets us up to go to one extreme or the other in the reactive polarized behavior dictated by our codependency.  Each of us has our own spectrum of codependent reactions that cause us to swing between extremes in our own personal behavioral defense system.  We can swing from one extreme to the other within the same relationship - or have primary patterns of one extreme in some relationships and the other in different or alternate relationships.  (The codependent - counterdependent dynamic I describe in my series on Codependent Dysfunctional Relationship Dynamics - Part 3 Codependent & Counterdependent Behavior)

In terms of the effects of emotional incest, these extremes involve on one hand complete enmeshment - being totally focused on keeping the other person happy.  One's self worth is completely at the effect of the other person's mood.   When we are in this extreme we are always trying to do more, be more - be what the other person wants us to be.  We have them on a pedestal and when they are happy with us we feel on top of the world.  Such periods of feeling happy can only last for short periods of time however, because when we sacrifice ourselves so completely to make another person happy, they inevitably will not respect us - will end up being abusive to us.  (This is not unconditional love by the way.  Sacrificing our self is not noble when we do not have any concept of self that we honor and respect.  This is martyr victim behavior that sets us up to be a doormat.)

The other extreme is having huge walls to keep anyone out.  The fear of being engulfed by the other's emotional needs, of being smothered, of losing one's self, is so great that we throw up an impregnable fortress to keep people out.  This is the counterdependent extreme where we try to convince ourselves that we do not need other people.  Or at least that we do not need anyone who is foolish enough to think we are worth loving.  Walls are not boundaries.  Walls that keep others out, are also prisons that keep us isolated and alone.

If we are incapable of respecting our self, or having boundaries, we are incapable of getting our sexual needs met in any healthy way.  Often people with emotional incest issues will have a pattern of being sexual with people they don't even like - because being sexual with someone they feel close to emotionally feels wrong, feels taboo.  Emotional incest can have a very detrimental effect on a person's relationship to their own sexuality - and on their ability to have a healthy romantic relationship.

 I also have an article I wrote in 1996: Emotional Incest - emotionally devastating child abuse

I wrote an updated version of that article in 2000 as part of an series of articles on inner child healing: Emotional Incest Issues

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Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney is copyright 1995.  Material on Joy2MeU web site (except where otherwise noted) is copyright 1996 thru 20013 by Robert Burney  PO Box 235401 Encinitas CA 92023.

Emotional Incest = Sexuality Abuse was originally published online November 24, 2003 on Robert's Inner Child/Codependency Recovery page on the Suite101.com Directory.  Some slight changes were made in moving this article to Joy2MeU.com - primarily in removing references to other articles on suite101 and changing the links for those articles to counterparts on Joy2MeU.