covert narcissism and emotional incest syndrome

I learned the term emotional incest syndrome last week. It is sometimes referred to as covert incest.
I know the word incest is a trigger. Reading it makes me anxious and shaky. That word is icky.
What’s even more icky is that parents actually do this to their children.
What’s even more icky is that the other parent of my children did, and continues to do this.

The Things father is a classic covert narcissist, and there’s no two ways about it. He is masterful at manipulating situations to shift the blame, embracing the rage, and twisting words in such as way as to seemingly impact reality.
Nothing is ever his fault, and he buys his own delusions to the point of borderline insanity. It’s only gotten worse as he’s aged, so much so that he is trapped in this fantasy of his own design without any real ability to see the world as it actually is.

When Thing 1 was about twelve years old, I would ‘tuck her in’ at night with a quick, loving conversation and a hug or kiss. Her dad started following me in the night time ritual so he could ‘talk with her’.

To be abundantly clear: I was truly never concerned with him being physically inappropriate with her, he is the least sexual human with whom I’ve ever come in contact.

Their bed time talks became longer and she became more sullen and withdrawn. I mean, she was a tweenager and all, but this seemed different to me. When I encouraged her to talk with me about how she was feeling, she shared that her daddy was telling her things that made her uncomfortable.
He talked with her about his grief after the death of his mother. About his dissatisfaction in his personal and professional life. Even about his marriage to me.
I reassured her that her discomfort was appropriate, that his behavior was not. I promised her I would handle the situation. I encouraged her to tell him that she didn’t like when he talked with her about these things, gave her some tools and encouraged her to build healthy boundaries.
I had many conversations with him about the inappropriateness of him oversharing to a child.
I remember saying these exact words, “She’s a little girl and you cannot talk to her that way. Get a therapist. Get some friends. Please stop using her as your confidant.”
Like any good narcissist, he twisted the truth and manipulated us all, but never acknowledged or changed the behavior. I began to find excuses not to leave them alone at bedtime.
Nothing I did made a difference and the only way it slowed and then stopped was when she left home for college.
His current relationship with her is strained because she’s married another man and he can’t control her anymore.
Neither does he like that she and I are close, he actually told Thing 2 that Thing 1 is ‘drinking the Robyn koolaid’ and that’s why she didn’t love him anymore.

Thing 2 is his current child-wife. He sucked her into his emotional incest hook line and sinker. And she bought into it for quite some time.
She’s said, Poor daddy, nobody should have to die alone.
Um…your daddy actively chooses to be alone.

But of late, Thing 2 is empowering herself. She is actively in a healthy pattern of growth for her emotional and physical life. She’s begun dealing with her childhood trauma. Her emotional baggage. Unraveling her own augmented reality.

I don’t feel like what she is doing, or how she’s going about this is my story to tell, but when she shares her efforts and progress with me, I am truly awed by the difficult and serious work she is doing.

She shared with me that someone recommended a book about this phenomenon and she told me “I’m very curious about it, I want to research on it but I think it’s going to be really helpful with dealing with (her father’s given name) using me as his therapist.”
I shared with her a quick version of how it played with her sister, how I tried and failed to protect either of of them.
She said to me, “You have to remember that I chose this, you didn’t put me here. I did.”
Talk about owning your stuff.
But I’m her momma, I will always have a desire to protect her. Especially from her father.

I once overheard my girls sharing that their father told them (independently) that if he had been more willing to have sex, I would never have left him.
I literally stopped in my tracks.
I went back to where they sat, and told them I couldn’t help but overhear them and asked them to verify if what I thought I heard was correct. They confirmed.
I sighed and said, “First of all, I’m so sorry that happened to you. You didn’t need to hear that. And secondly, that’s not why I left your dad.”
What the actual fuck, yo?

When Baby K was born, Thing 2 and I left the hospital in Savannah and went home to Thing 1’s house. We cleaned the house top to bottom. Did all the laundry. Grocery shopped. We wanted everything to be ready to rock when Thing 1 and Husband N brought Baby K home.
Their dad actually told Thing 2 that he was jealous that she was spending time with me alone, he was worried she would drink the same koolaid as her sister and love me and not him.
He even told her before she left, “Now, I know you’re taking care of your sister, but make sure you take care of yourself too. I need you to come back to me. You’re my rock.”

So. Fucking. Icky.

I get so frustrated!
You’re her parent, you emotional fucking cripple! You’re supposed to be her rock!

I know I am guilty of sometimes saying, “I wish you could be my mommy”, and perhaps that means I’m just as guilty as him.
Is there a difference?
I mean, I hope so. I don’t actually expect my twenty-two year old daughter to be my mommy.

I love that we have an open and nurturing relationship based upon love and respect and genetics. And it feels nice sometimes to be loved by a female who doesn’t want anything from me, who isn’t going to shame me for wanting to be loved. But I am her momma and she is my daughter and that means it’s my job to nurture and provide help and do a bit of protecting even though she’s a grown ass person.

My daughters and I have had our own share of chaos in our relationships.
Good. Bad. Ugly. And indifference.
I have worked to create and maintain healthy boundaries, and if ever I overstepped, I corrected and made every attempt to discuss and apologize where appropriate.
We have been to hell and back, my daughters and I. And from my point of view, this strengthens our love, our bonds, and our boundaries.
And though we talk about any and every thing, and they’re as engaged and (for the most part) supportive of me, and my decisions, and my life as I am of theirs, I can’t fathom using them as ‘sounding board’ (one of their father’s favorite words) for inappropriate things.
I can think of one specific time I did that to Thing 2. She claims to find it humorous, especially because I was inebriated, but I am wracked with guilt and have apologized with every fiber of my being.

This covert incest thing has eaten at the very heart of me since that quick conversation with Thing 2 on Monday last.
Knowing it exists.
Knowing the only other person in this world who is meant to protect them is the perpetrator of this abuse.
It makes me sick. Truly and deeply sick.

I can’t protect them from him.
I never have, I never will.
That cuts my momma heart to a depth that may never heal.
Only I’m not worried about healing my heart. I worry about them healing theirs.
I can’t protect them.
I can’t take away their pain.
All I can do is listen. Offer guidance and support. But above all, love.
And sweet baby Jesus, do I love them.
I love them as they learn more about themselves, the world, and their place in it.
I love them as they struggle and fight the good fight.
I love them as they call me out on my failings.
I love them as they accept and forgive.

I am awed by their resilience as they do the hard self work to discover, and heal, and become whole.
I know I made them and raised them, but this is not selfish pride of ownership, this is the awe of faith, and pride for them, and their ability to continue to learn and grow and love.
I am overwhelmed by their capacity to love.
I cherish being a part of their lives.

These women.
These absolute marvels.
They are truly awe inspiring.

Categories: on being a mom | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Post navigation

21 thoughts on “covert narcissism and emotional incest syndrome

  1. Thank you for sharing this. There are many manipulative, toxic, narcissistic individuals out there in this world. The hardest thing for anyone is to come to this realization and fix the situation. Great post.

    • The research out there is unbelievable! All this time, I never knew it had a name, I never knew how many broken parents actively wound their children.

      I see my daughter as if she’s waking from a dream, she sees things now with a clarity she did not before. She’s ready to make changes that put her first. She has a long hard path in front of her, but I think this time, she’s armed with her own truth and no one else’s. That will make all the difference for her success.

      He will never get the help he needs. And what makes me the saddest about that is he’s never going to have strong or healthy relationships with our daughters. He’s missing out on seeing them for who they are. He’s missing out on building a strong and healthy relationship with each of them.
      Honestly, however much he wounded any of us, he’s the one paying the ultimate price.
      And that’s just pitiful.

      • I never knew it had a name, but I’ve seen it firsthand. This is why I tend to write about parenting so much, because I don’t think people realize how important every decision is in parenting

      • Agreed!
        I feel so guilty that I couldn’t protect my girls. But I know that I did the best I could, and that has to be enough.

      • Sometimes we don’t know what we’re facing when we see it….and it’s heartbreaking to know we can’t always protect our kids

      • Thank you for sharing your thoughts and being on this journey with me! ❤

      • 💗💗💗

      • Jerry

        I am alienated from my 2 daughters, how can I win them back from a toxic ex wife?

  2. Truly sick individuals will only ever sink deeper and deeper into their dangerous personal Hell unless and until they accept and admit their sickness. And they will always deny and blame. Only when a man does all he can to recover from the darkness within him will he truly be a man.

  3. Deep troubling post and thank you for your honesty. It seems to me that your eyes are wide open and fully capable of detecting and avoiding the manipulations of this man.

    • Fortunately, I’m no longer directly impacted by his behavior. It hurts me so that my girls are. But I also see them taking good care of themselves, not letting his behavior hurt them.
      And I’m hopeful.

  4. Pingback: be honest and unmerciful | therobynbirdsnest

  5. Wow, you and your daughters are really doing some hard, hard work. I’m so impressed. The open communication and self-awareness is amazing. Great post.

  6. The term “emotional incest” itself is deeply discriminatory and offensive. By using it, you equal incest with something ugly and abusive. Equating, for example, an abusive parent-child relationship with a mutual love between adult siblings is disturbing. Not all incest is abusive and by using this made up term “emotional incest” you’re bashing people in consensual relationships for their personal choices.
    > I know the word incest is a trigger. Reading it makes me anxious and shaky. That word is icky.
    Maybe I expect too much. If what truly matters for you is what makes You uncomfortable or no, over other people’s feelings, I don’t think you have any moral ground to stand on.

    • I appreciate your frank comment.

      Covert incest, emotional incest syndrome, and enmesment are real, and unbalanced parent-child situations, which are often abusive.

      While I do not feel the need to defend my point of view, in response to “if what truly matters for you is what makes you comfortable or no, over other people’s feelings, etc”, I will simply say, I am expressing my feelings about the unbalanced relationships my daughters have with their father.
      To create better understanding in myself, and perhaps others.

    • Talia

      Please seek help. You cannot try and rationalize your sexual relationship w/your sibling in healthy context. IT’S DISTURBING TO NORMIES FOR A REASON=IT’S SICK & TWISTED. Regardless of whether it’s murually consentual. I do believe I’ll go throw up now.
      Researching CN as I’ve recently extricated myself from one. Idk what’s worse, the fact that your ex talks w/his children in such a distorted way or the fact that people actually comment about being offended over the term you used because they’re proud of their mental dysfunction & sexual deviance.

  7. Talia

    Please seek help. You cannot try and rationalize your sexual relationship w/your sibling in healthy context. IT’S DISTURBING TO NORMIES FOR A REASON=IT’S SICK & TWISTED. Regardless of whether it’s mutually consentual. I do believe I’ll go throw up now.
    Researching CN as I’ve recently extricated myself from one. Idk what’s worse, the fact that your ex talks w/his children in such a distorted way or the fact that people actually comment about being offended over the term you used because they’re proud of their mental dysfunction & sexual deviance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Stories I've Never Told...

(...and some I have)

Starting Over

Because there's never enough time to do it right the first time but there's always enough time to do it over

A Simpler Way

A Simpler Way to Finance

Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope

When I was young my dad would always say, "Crystal, you can choose your attitude." One day I chose to believe him.

Reader, Writer, Photographer, Random Scribbler

Snippets of SnapDragon

Welcome to my cauldron of creative musings, yo.

Encouragement for you!!

Need some encouragement--read this!!

To Write or not to Write and What to Write

#shortstories #thoughts #reflections

Thinker Boy: Blog & Art

by Troy Headrick

Invisibly Me

Live A Visible Life Whatever Your Health

A Teacher's Reflections

Thirty Years of Wonder

Life and Random Thinking

An old dog CAN blog

charles french words reading and writing

An exploration of writing and reading

Sawblades In Your Walkman

effervescing with muchness

History Tech

History, technology, and probably some other stuff

Claudette Labriola

Words, mostly


where the clouds may lead

Meditations in Motion

Running and life: thoughts from a runner who has been around the block

Bitchin’ in the Kitchen

..because the thoughts that fall, kicking and screaming from my head need a safe place to land..

Finding French Charming

Finding True Love.. Even After Forty

Thought Box

Sweet...Bitter...Happy...Sad...All thoughts trapped in a Box...

M.A. Lossl

An author's life, books, and historical research

Wise & Shine

A community for writers & readers

Water for Camels

Encouragement and Development for Social Workers and Those with a Mission of Helping Others

Living In the Sweet Spot

"You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present." Jan Glidewell

Waking up on the Wrong Side of 50

Navigating the second half of my life

%d bloggers like this: