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Feeling Burdened By Others After Growing Up With An Emotionally Incestuous/Enmeshed/Parentalizing Parent

Growing up with a parent who treats you more as their romantic partner rather than their child is extremely traumatic.  It is referred to as emotional incest, enmeshment, covert incest, parentalizing & parentification, & it’s a form of sexual abuse whether or not sexual contact is a part of this abuse.  It creates a LOT of serious problems in the lives of victims.  Today, we will focus on only one of those problems – feeling burdened by other people.

The person who grows up with an emotionally incestuous parent has spent their entire life focused on their parent.  Their parent is their top priority in childhood, & even into adulthood until they recognize this is a problem.  They listen to their parent’s woes (in particular about their marriage or relationship), they try to cheer them up when they are sad, fix their problems, protect them if the other parent is abusive, & basically anything else their parent wants them to do no matter the personal cost.  After a lifetime of this dysfunctional caregiving, it is natural to feel burned out on doing for other people.  The problem is that natural or not, it is damaging to other relationships.

No one wants to be in a relationship with another person that is totally one sided.  Whatever type of relationship this is, whether it is romantic, family or friendship, this type of relationship is miserable & dysfunctional.  Doing with receiving nothing in return is fine once in a while, but when it is the norm, it is depressing, will lead to a lot of resentment & most likely the relationship will end.

Similarly, no one wants to be married to someone knowing that their parent always will be more important to them, that the demanding parent’s needs always come first, that they are looked at as an intruder & feeling like anything they want from their spouse is a huge burden while anything the parent wants is done without complaint.  It is a miserable way to live, & the majority of people will divorce a spouse like this.

If you are a victim of emotional incest, please know that by continuing to tolerate this abuse from your parent, this is what you are doing to those people in relationships with you.  I am not telling you this to hurt you, only to open your eyes of the damage being done & the unfairness of it all.  People who love you don’t deserve to feel this way.  It’s not fair to them.  It also is not fair to you for your parent to treat you so badly & for that parent to do so much harm to you that you are damaging relationships with people you love. 

And, if you are still in this situation with your parent, please do your best to put an end to it.  Start setting limits & boundaries on what you will & won’t tolerate from your parent.  It can be intimidating to do this at first so start small.  Don’t take their call or reply to their text right away.  It’s a baby step that helps you to take back some of your power.  Do more & bigger things as you feel able to do them.  It may take some time, but you will become able to stop tolerating their behavior.  The more you do this, the less burdened you will feel in general, which means the more you will be able to give back in your relationships.

Get to know yourself better.  Chances are, you didn’t have much time for that because caring for your parent took up too much of your time.  It’s long overdue.  Get to know the real you, not the person your parent wants you to be.  It’ll help you in many ways, including learning what you are willing & unwilling to tolerate in the relationship with your parent.

Get angry about what your parent has done to you.  You have every reason to be angry, because treating anyone this way is simply cruel & wrong!  You never deserved it!  Allow yourself to feel that anger & vent it in healthy ways like prayer, talking to someone close to you, journaling, or even talking to a therapist.

And never forget that you do have one loving parent.  God is the most loving parent you could hope to have.  Talk to Him about what is going on.  Lean on him to help you heal, figure out the best way to handle this relationship with your abusive parent, & to help heal damaged relationships.  He absolutely will do it.

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The Value Of Detoxing From Emotionally Incestuous (Enmeshed) Family

When someone grows up in an enmeshed, emotionally incestuous family, they naturally have many issues stemming from this.  One of those many issues is that they need time away from their toxic family to detox.

One example of this that comes to mind is a good friend of mine.  Around me, he’s usually kind, caring, fun loving & laid back.  I always can tell when he has dealt with his toxic immediate family in the recent past however, because that great guy disappears.  The person who replaces him is impatient, irritable, & quick to judge & criticize.  In other words, nothing like who he usually is.  It takes some time away from them for the hard to deal with person to go away & the good guy he usually is to come back.  I’ve started referring to this as his detox.

Sadly, this need to detox after being around an emotionally incestuous family is normal for the adult who grew up in this situation.  Also sadly, it makes sense if you think about it.

Someone who doesn’t understand the extreme toxicity that is emotional incest wants to fit in with their family, even if they hate the dynamic.  They will behave however they need to in order to fit in.  On some level however, they know this isn’t normal so they are dealing with cognitive dissonance.  In other words, they grew up thinking this is normal & anything that threatens that belief makes them extremely uncomfortable & confused.  Time away from their toxic family is their detox, & it relieves them of that uncomfortable feeling, at least until the next time they deal with their family.

Even if someone is aware of what is happening & just how dysfunctional their family is, being around such people can bring old habits back to the surface disturbingly easily.  It’s a lot like drug addicts.  They can stay clean much easier when they avoid people who are still addicts & are around people who don’t do drugs.  Getting around those who are still actively addicted makes it very hard for them to stay on their healthier path.  When they backslide, they may get clean again but they are NOT going to be happy with themselves for backsliding.  The same goes for those with emotionally incestuous families.  If a person has worked hard to get healthier, then slides back into old habits, they are going to be pretty upset with themselves when they recognize their bad behavior.  They need time away from their family so they can detox to get back on the right path.

Another problem is the emotionally incestuous family encourages the dysfunctional behavior.  They reward bad behavior, throwing some breadcrumbs of affection or praise to their family members who follow the rules of the family & don’t try to make any healthy changes.  No matter how much someone may want to break free of this to live in a healthier way, the pressure to “behave” & get those crumbs of affection can be very great, which also can account for the need to detox after leaving.  Distance from these highly dysfunctional people helps them to recognize what is happening, & to get back on the right path.

Emotionally incestuous family members also despise anyone who doesn’t enable & encourage their toxic behavior.  They will talk badly about anyone who encourages someone in the emotionally incestuous family to distance themselves from the toxicity.  If someone in such a family has a friend or spouse that speaks against this behavior, the family is not going to tolerate this quietly.  They will tell everyone just how awful that person is, how they’re trying to tear apart the family or even steal their family member away from the family.  If someone hears this enough from their family, they may believe it in time, & return to the dysfunctional fold.  Time away from them, time to detox from the dysfunction, can clear their head.

If your family is emotionally incestuous, then please, do yourself a huge favor & take the time to detox from them as frequently as you can!  It will be good for your mental health!  Or, if someone you know is in such a situation, encourage them to do the same.  Be willing to listen to them without judgment & speak the truth to them about what their family is really like (gently of course!). 

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Parentalization, aka Parentification, aka Emotional Or Covert Incest

Many adult children of narcissistic parents treat their children more like partners than their children.  These parents expect their children to take care of all of their emotional needs, but some also add in their physical needs (such as cooking or doing housework well beyond what they should be doing at their age) & even sexual needs.  This phenomenon is known as emotional incest, parentalizing or parentification.  For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call it emotional incest in this article.

Narcissists often turn to their children for support rather than their partner for various reasons.  Narcissistic supply can be one reason.  People see the narcissist’s relationship with her child as very close, not realizing it’s actually very sick, & praise this “wonderful relationship” which provides narcissistic supply.  Or, maybe the narcissist is simply unhappy with her spouse or single status, & since the child is convenient, she turns to her child with matters that should be discussed with her spouse or a close friend.

No matter the reason, emotional incest has a devastating effect on a child.  The child subjected to this abusive behavior feels a tremendous amount of responsibility for the parent’s emotional state, as well as possibly also the parent’s physical or sexual needs too.  This child grows up with a tremendously overdeveloped sense of responsibility not only for the abusive parent, but everyone in her life.  This can lead to codependency, depression, anger, anxiety & more.

The child who is abused also feels guilty for growing up, leaving home & wanting to have her own life.  When I was 19, I moved out of my parents’ home & my mother was livid.  She made her disapproval painfully obvious, & even told me I’d never survive on my own.

Emotional incest also can lead to a child having very unhealthy romantic relationships as an adult.  The child is taught from an early age that the parent’s needs come first, no matter what.  A person married to an adult child of an emotionally incestuous environment is going to be a lower priority to that adult child than that child’s parents.  Whatever the parent wants will be more important than the spouse.  If the parent wants holidays spent together, that is what will happen even if the spouse doesn’t want to be a part of them.  If the parent has a need (either real or imagined) on their adult child’s wedding anniversary, the adult child will deal with it rather than the anniversary.

If you are in this dysfunctional situation, then you need to break free of it!  It won’t be easy but it will be possible.

As always, the first step should be prayer. Ask God to show you what to do to help break the cycle.  And, ask Him to help you to have the strength & courage to do it.

Also, start changing the subject with your narcissistic parent.  Both of my parents indulged in emotionally incestuous behavior for my entire life, until I ended the relationship with them, & the best way I found to end it was simple subject changes.  Asking them about something else related to themselves worked best.  Since narcissists enjoy talking about themselves more than any other topic, it makes sense that is their favorite subject change.

Sometimes subject changes don’t work & the narcissistic parent keeps changing the subject back to the topic.  If at all possible, end the conversation.  If you’re in their home or they are in yours, it can be challenging.  Try to have a friend on call, so to speak.  Have the phone number of someone you can trust ready so you can dial the number quickly & discreetly or take your phone with you to the bathroom if need be.  Tell that person ahead of time that if you call their number & it only rings a couple of times & you hang up, that means they need to call you & say they need you to come to them immediately.  Or, if you’re on the phone with your parent & want to end the conversation, ring your doorbell or knock on your door.  You can then say, “The doorbell rang.. I have to go.”  If you have a dog who barks when they hear the doorbell, this is an added bonus- your parent will hear the dog & know that your doorbell rang.  You also can use your cell to call your house phone or vice versa & then you can tell your parent that the call waiting beeped & you need to go.  Sneaky?  Yes, but not dishonest.  Your doorbell rang, your call waiting beeped & you do need to go!

I also learned that saying, “It hurts me when you talk to me about Mom/Dad like that” was a recipe for disaster.  Not only did it not stop their behavior, since they knew it hurt me, they did it even more.  This is typical of narcissists, so learn from my mistake- DO NOT ADMIT IT HURTS YOU!!!

Always remember, the problems your parent is telling you about are NOT your responsibility.  You have no obligation to fix them.  Tune your parent’s words out if it helps you.

Lastly, limit your contact as much as possible with your narcissistic parent.  If you aren’t so available, they may feel forced to find someone else to listen to their woes & you need the reprieve.

Emotional incest is a very painful thing to deal with, but you can handle it!

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No Child’s Job Is To Heal The Parent(s)

Emotional incest, covert incest, parentification & parentalizing.  All describe the same abusive behavior & a topic I’ve written about before.  When a parent treats their child as an equal rather than their child, expecting that child to listen to their woes, tales of marital discord, details of their sex life, &/or expecting their child to care for them in ways such as cooking & cleaning for them well beyond what is age appropriate, it damages the child psychologically.  The child in this situation often grows up anxious, depressed, lacking healthy relationship skills, feels guilt for things they aren’t responsible for & may even have issues with addiction.  Often at the very least, they choose very poorly suited romantic partners.

Sadly, parentalizing is barely discussed in a negative light.  Many people see a child & her parent behaving in this way & praise their “close” or “loving” relationship.  They even tell the child how lucky she is to have a mom who loves her so much, how she has to be strong for her mom or other similar comments.  And, when the child, no matter the age, does something that upsets her parent or *gasp* thinks of herself first, she is labeled unappreciative, selfish, a spoiled brat & more.  This lays even more unnecessary guilt on that child, & it is absolutely unfair!

Let’s get one thing straight.  No one is responsible for anyone else’s emotions.  Yes, someone you love can make you feel happy, sad, angry, etc. sometimes, but that doesn’t mean they are in control of your emotions.  YOU ARE!  This is especially true for children.  Children need to be children, not their parent’s emotional caregiver!

When a parent is abandoned by someone they love, & the only person close to them is their child, it can be understandable they reach out to their child for comfort & companionship.  That doesn’t make it right, though!  Children are growing up – that is enough responsibility on their little shoulders!

Children also didn’t ask to be born.  It’s not their fault if the parents couldn’t maintain a healthy & loving relationship.  Making the child feel that they must step into the role of that other parent is cruel, abusive & unfair!

If you grew up in this sort of situation, my heart goes out to you.  I am so sorry for the pain & suffering you have been through.  Having been there myself I know it is a miserable situation.

If it is still happening, you’re going to have to set some serious boundaries with your parent.  Change the subject as soon as you start to feel uncomfortable.  Tell your parent you’re leaving or hanging up the phone if she insists on talking about your other parent that way, then follow through with your threat if need be.

Whether the abuse is still happening or not, you’re going to need to heal from the damage done.  Pray.  Get angry.  Cry.  Remind yourself what was done to you was unfair & undeserved.  Write in a journal.  Talk to a trusted friend or therapist.  Do whatever helps you to heal!

You can heal from the effects of emotional incest.  It takes time & work, but it can be done.  xoxo

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Emotional Incest, Covert Incest, Parentification, Parentalization

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Parentalizing & The Shame It Causes

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Fixing Your Narcissistic Parents’ Problem Is A Bad Idea

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When Narcissistic Parents Expect Their Children To Be Their Parent

Narcissistic parents often expect their children to care for them rather than the normal course of events where parents care for their children.  They expect their children to meet their emotional needs, listen to their woes, make them happy when they are sad, fix their problems & more.  This is called parentification, parentalizing, emotional incest or covert incest.  (For simplicity sake, we’ll use parentification in this article.)

 

While parentification may not sound all that bad, its effect on children can be devastating.  Children feel responsible for their parents, which burdens them with the false belief they are responsible for everyone in their circle as adults.  That type of responsibility is incredibly stressful, no matter a person’s age, & as everyone knows, stress can cause a plethora of physical ailments.

 

It also robs children of their childhood.  Parentified children aren’t allowed to hang out with their friends.  They have their parents to take care of instead.  Basically these children are living an adult life in their childhood.

 

Parentified children also are depressed.  They often feel like failures for not being able to fix their parents’ problems, & narcissistic parents only make this feeling worse by blaming their children for not being able to accomplish the impossible.

 

These children often carry a great deal of anger inside, too, yet are unable to express it.  To be angry at their parents feels so wrong since their parents have made it their job to protect these parents.  Since expressing that anger is wrong, as far as the children are concerned, the anger gets stuffed inside & often manifests in very unhealthy ways.  It can come out as self destructive ways (such as addictions) or other destructive ways (becoming abusive towards other people).

 

Parentified children have a right to be angry.  They have been subjected to an incredibly cruel & insidious form of abuse by their own parents.  And, to make matters worse, unknowing people compound their pain.  They tell the children how lucky they are to have such a close relationship with their mother or father.  Some people compound the guilt & responsibility on their child by saying things like, “I don’t know what your mom would do without you.”  “You have to be strong for your dad- he needs you.”  These kinds of things only make a child feel ashamed for having any complaints about the relationship, extra responsible for the parent they shouldn’t be responsible for in the first place & angry that they have been forced into this position.

 

If this describes you, you are NOT alone!  Many people have been the victims of parentification, in particular children of narcissistic parents.  I’ve been through it myself & sympathize with your pain.  My parents came to me ever since i can remember with complaints about each other & even wanting me to fix their disagreements.  I still have moments when I think of it that I get angry.  And you know something?  It’s ok!  Being abused in any way, shape or form isn’t right.  It’s ok to be angry about the unfairness of abuse & being forced to live with the painful effects, such as PTSD or C-PTSD.

 

The best way I’ve learned to cope is to go to God, & tell Him about what I feel.  He truly understands & gives me a lot of comfort.  I also have friends who have been through the same thing & understand.  Sometimes one of the most helpful things for me is when they get angry over something I went through.  That can be so validating!  What my parents did wasn’t right, but, as a typical child of narcissists, I’ve always felt guilt for being angry with them.  Although it’s diminished a great deal, it’s still there a little.  Someone else getting angry about what my parents did helps me to understand that it’s ok to be angry about what they did & to realize just how wrong it was.

 

If you’re still in a relationship with your parent who indulges in parentification, you are not in a good place.  Until such time as you decide to end this relationship, if you decide to take that step, you will need to learn ways to cope.  Narcissists don’t accept boundaries like normal people, so you will need to get creative.  Whatever you do, do NOT tell your parent, “It hurts me when you talk about/do that.  Please don’t do it anymore.”  Statements like that are like throwing gas on a narcissist fire.  They will mock you for being oversensitive or do the behavior more often just to hurt you.

 

Instead, try changing the subject.  Since narcissists love to talk about themselves, you can use that to your advantage.  Ask your narcissistic parent something about herself.  How is her job going?  How did her last doctor visit go?  Has she talked to her favorite cousin lately?  It’s really not that hard to get a narcissist to talk about themselves.  Why not use it in your favor?

 

Suddenly have to go.  You just looked at the time & you have to go.  You don’t owe any explanations- you just have to go.

 

Ask if your parent has talked to someone else who has been through something similar about this situation.  After all, that person knows a lot more than you do & no doubt can help your parent more than you can!  Let them think that you’re only suggesting this because it helps them in some way, not you.

 

Whatever your situation with parentification, I truly wish you the best.  I pray you find effective ways to cope with your parent or are able to release any false guilt you may feel for no longer being in that situation.

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Being Your Parent’s Parent

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The Most Dangerous Of All Narcissists- Covert

When people first learn about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the almost always learn about overt narcissists.  They read that narcissists are always loud, brash, braggarts who openly use & abuse people.  Which is mostly true.  Overt narcissists are absolutely that way.

 

What is equally true is not all narcissists are like that.  Some narcissists come across as insecure & passive, even offering apologies sometimes which overt narcissists don’t do.  They make you feel sorry for them.  If you’re romantically involved with one, he may not even be someone you were attracted to at first.  Somehow though, he acted in a way that gained your attention.  He pretended to share your values while also gaining your sympathy, thus making him attractive to you.  He probably says things like he’s never loved anyone like he loves you, he’s waited for someone like you his whole life & other lies.

 

Over time, the mask slips & a much more devious & sinister person comes to light.  Yet when you have believed that this person was good, believing that they are cruel doesn’t compute.  You think the abuse can’t be real.  You must be paranoid.  You must be imagining things or reading too much into it.  After all, when you approach this person, he blames you & says he is the victim of your cruelty.  Someone so good wouldn’t abuse you..

 

Or would they?

 

Covert narcissists are extremely good at hiding their abuse.  So much so even victims don’t always consider it abuse.  They make excuses- “she just doesn’t know any better,”  “He was just kidding!”  “She was just trying to help…”

 

Confronting a covert narcissist never goes well.  They tell you that you’re crazy, wrong, reading too much into things, they never said or did what you believe they did & more.

 

In this position, victims often submit to the twisted beliefs of the covert narcissist, losing their self-esteem in the process & doubting their sanity.  Some try harder & harder to please the narcissist, never being able to do so.  The narcissist constantly changes what they want so you aren’t able to please them.  The victim’s self-esteem continues dropping, & they try harder to please the narcissist, & the cycle continues.

 

If the covert narcissist is a parent, the parent will do their best to gain their child’s sympathy.  They commit emotional incest on a constant basis, treating their child as a partner rather than a child.  They burden their child with their woes about their failing marriage or other inappropriate topics.  If still married to the other parent, they expect the child to get involved with marital problems or protect the parent from the other parent.  They portray themselves as the real victims of this dysfunctional situation, not the child, nor do they care that they & possibly the other parent abused that child

 

Covert narcissists are a thousand times worse to deal with than overt narcissists, in my opinion.  At least with an overt narcissist, you know what you’re getting.  They are bold & “in your face” with their actions, leaving you no doubt what they’re like.  Covert narcissists keep you guessing.  They use your natural instincts of kindness against you.  While overt & covert narcissists both can make you feel like you’re crazy, chances are you will figure out that you aren’t much sooner with an overt narcissist.  Coverts are not only great at manipulation but also using pity to get what they want.  Victims don’t want to think the covert narcissist is trying to make them feel crazy, & they’re afraid of upsetting him, so they are less likely to question what they are told.

 

Covert narcissists are everywhere.  The mother in-law who won’t let go of her adult son & quietly treats her daughter in-law like dirt when no one is around.  The father married to an overtly narcissistic wife who fails to protect his child, instead wanting her to comfort him because his wife abuses his child & it’s hard for him.  The husband who everyone thinks is a good guy, but behind closed doors, criticizes his wife in every area possible, compares her unfavorably to other women & makes her feel guilty for not measuring up.  The parent who sexually abuses their child.

 

These people are incredibly dangerous!  Covert narcissists should NOT be underestimated!  Be aware of what to look for with covert narcissists, & protect yourself accordingly!!  Have good, strong boundaries.  Pay attention to their words & actions.  Don’t let your guard down around them.  Keep conversations very superficial.  Most of all, pray.  Pray lots!  Ask God for wisdom on how to deal with this person.

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A Strange Side Effect Of Parentalizing

Growing up with at least one narcissistic parents almost always means there was an emotionally incestuous or parentalizing relationship between the narcissistic parent & her child.  Since narcissists are so self-absorbed, they often have children to take care of them or to fill some need in their life.  This is where emotional incest, aka parentalizing, comes into play.

 

Parentalizing, parentification, covert incest & emotional incest all describe the same thing.  (To simply, we’ll use “parentalizing” in this post.)  It is when a parent & child’s roles are reversed, when the parent makes the child responsible for her emotional well being.  A parent who talks to a child about adult matters such as her sex life or failing marriage is indulging in parentalizing.  Although this behavior may not sound so bad, it is devastating to a child.  Her feelings & issues can be made worse when people tell her how lucky her parent is to have her to count on or other misguided comments such as,  “She needs you!”  “You have to be strong for her!”  “I don’t know what she’d do without you!”  On the outside, this parentalized relationship may appear loving & good.  The parent & child are close- what a wonderful thing!  When people see the relationship, they encourage it or make those misguided comments, often without realizing the harm this is doing to the child.

 

Children who have survived a parentalizing relationship with their parent or parents often grow up full of guilt, angry, depressed, possess poor relationship skills, are in co-dependent relationships, have a very overdeveloped sense of responsibility (feeling responsible for everyone in their life)  or have addictions.  Another side effect you rarely see mentioned though is the feeling of needing to be invisible, to blend into the background.

 

Parentalizing parents seem to take up all the space in the relationship with their child.  Be they overt or covert narcissists, they share one common thing- the fact that they come first in that relationship, period.  Through fear or guilt, they give their child the message that they are more important, & their child isn’t important at all.  Children often internalize the message, & as a result feel they must stay invisible so as not to disturb their narcissistic parent.  Never upset that parent!  Either comply with anything & everything the parent wants or stay strong for her..  All of these ideas are to please the narcissistic parent & avoid the rage that comes from not pleasing her.  These thoughts even continue into adult relationships, such as “If I’m good enough to him & give him what he wants, he’ll stop hitting me.”

 

Parentalizing parents also communicate the message that they aren’t able to handle things, they are weak, & need the child to clean up their mess.  This message tells the child that her needs are just too much.  Just existing is a burden to the parent.  Her needs aren’t important, including the need for validation.  In fact, often the only validation the child gets is when she is her parent’s “savior” by fixing her parent’s problem.  If she dares to express any need, chances are good it will be met with anger, even rage, so the child learns to fade into the background until she is needed.

 

Feeling invisible, I think, is rooted in shame.  We are ashamed of having needs, wants, feelings because we were made to feel ashamed of them.  Our parentalizing parent also gave us the message that we aren’t important.  Both of these things, I believe, work together to create a root of toxic shame.  Toxic shame can cause you to feel so ashamed of who you are, that you don’t feel worthy of anything.  You assume people won’t want to help you or even talk to you.  Simple things most people don’t think twice about can be a challenge for you, such as leaving your home.  You may feel so ashamed of who you are that you don’t think you should bother people with your presence.  Even expecting help from salespeople, service people, or staff in a hospital may seem impossible because of that deep root of shame.  It’s surprising just how deep shame can go.

 

So what do you do to get rid of toxic shame?

 

First, pray.  Ask God to help you to heal.  Obey any instructions He gives you.

 

Next, push yourself outside of your comfort zone sometimes.  The more you see you can do things successfully, the more confident you will become & the less hold shame will have on you.  Sharing things with trustworthy people, you will see that other people actually do care about you which helps as well.

 

Also, question the shaming beliefs when they come up.  Why do you feel so ashamed of yourself for wanting something?  Why do you feel to blame for a situation where you had no control?  Things like this.  Ask God for the answers if you don’t know them.  And, ask Him to help you to release those beliefs.

 

I have learned these things help a great deal.  I have slipped up, unfortunately, & when I have stopped doing these three things, I fell right back into old, dysfunctional & miserable patterns.  For them to work, you have to keep doing them, even when it gets uncomfortable.  Remind yourself of these things often.  You’ll be glad you did!

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