Sarah Is Healing Herself And So Can You

Book: The Emotional Incest Syndrome
Date: 12 November 2011

For those who, like me, were too close to a parent, I highly recommend this life-changing book:

The Emotional Incest Syndrome:
What to do When a Parent's Love Rules Your Life

Published in 1991 by Dr Patricia Love

I am reading this book for the fourth time (July 2012), one sentence at a time.

Basically, what the author says is that when a parent can't fill their emotional needs because they are in an unhappy marriage (or because they are a single parent), it is easy to emotionally use the child as a surrogate spouse. This situation creates a "parentized child" who lives to fill the needs of the parent instead of the other way around. The consequences for the child last a life time unless the syndrome is brought to the level of consciousness and dealt with.

Here is the checklist printed on the inside cover of the book:

Were you a Chosen Child?
1. I was the source of emotional support for one of my parents.
2. I felt closer to one parent than the other.
3. I got the impression a parent did not want me to marry or move far away from home.
4. Any potential boyfriend or girlfriend was never "good enough" for one of my parents.
5. I felt I had to hold back my own needs to protect a parent.
6. I felt responsible for my parent's happiness.
7. I sometimes felt invaded by a parent.
8. One of my parents had unrealistic expectations of me.
9. One of my parents was preoccupied with drugs/alcohol, work, outside interests, or another sibling.
10. One of my parents was like my best friend.

And here is the table of contents of Chapter 3 with some quotes that I typed here because they resonated with me: either they describe my own situation of enmeshment with my late mother or the situation of some of my friends (in these quotes, sometimes it is Dr Love talking, sometimes it is her patients). Reproduced with the kind permission of Dr Love (July 28, 2012).



- Without a basis for comparison, we grew up thinking our families were the norm.
- Family mythology: A collection of lies, evasions, distortions, and half-truths designed to obscure an unpleasant reality.
- I colluded in this fiction because to be one hundred percent dependent on my mother and to be aware of the fact she was neglecting me would have made me extremely anxious.
- Examples: My needs are not being ignored; I just don't have any. My father is not angry at me, he just does not know how to show affection.
- Once my eyes were open to this hidden consequence of being a Chosen Child, the door was open for change.
- Path to change: 1) In order to break through denial, we often have to get a clear picture of what was wrong in our families and the techniques we developed for coping with it. 2) In order to change a negative trait, we first need to break through our denial and acknowledge that it exists because we don't change what we can't see. 3) Having a tolerant view of past behavior, we are free to look for remnants of this behavior in the present. For example: Are my eating binges more serious than I would like to believe? Is it normal to eat a whole half-gallon carton of ice cream at one sitting?
- Could it be that my Mother was more neglectful than I would like to believe?
- We may discover that to cope with an invasive parent, we erect barries to intimacy by lying, over eating (or not eating), by becoming a parent pleaser, or by becoming a compulsive achiever. One way or another, we developed a behavior that helped us survive childhood and diminish our pain.


- Guilt: For some people, the word Guilt sums up the negative consequences of growing up with an Invasive Parent. At first, Lila was filled with guilt for abandoning her mother. But finally she was able to see that she was not responsible for her mother's well-being. She was the child, not the parent. She had a right to a life of her own. Her mother should have other support systems in her life and now would have to make an effort to find them.
- Anxiety: I worry a great deal - even when things are going well. It's almost as if I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. A child who plays the role of surrogate spouse is a likely candiate for anxiety because the role is always a tentative one.
- As she was growing up, his mother was not only his best friend. She was his sole friend. A constant fear of displacement accompanied him into adulthood. He was uneasy when things were going well. He did not trust the good times or the people he shared them with. He became very sensitive to the possibility of exclusion. He had exaggerated fears of death or illness. In all his close relationships, he was terrified of abandonment. A child is always dependent on a parent, and when the parent is the child's primary companion, the dependency is greatly accentuated. The loss of this privileged position can set up a lifelong pattern of insecurity.


Fluctuating Self-Esteem:
- There have been times in my life when I 've been really full of myself - almost as if I had superhuman powers. I'd look down on other people and feel as if we were operating in two different leagues. At other times, I've felt completely worth less - almost like an imposter. There seemed to be no middle ground.
- Widely fluctuating self-esteem is a common problem for many adult Chosen Children. For some, the high side of the mood swing can be traced to the euphoria of winning the exclusive love of a parent. Being a parent's favorite can give the illusion of being able to conquer anything and anyone in any setting.
- For others, the grandiosity comes directly from parental messages. For example, my mother told me I could do anything.
- In later years, this exaggerated sense of power got me into lots of trouble.
- When I began to get my life into balance, I actually missed the highs that accompanied these periods of grandiosity. I missed all that energy and optimism. I missed the thrill of making heady, ambitious plans. But I sure didn't miss the lows that followed. This dizzy swing of feelings from invincibility to inadequacy is prevalent in Chosen Children.
- Eventually, both her self-loathing and her feelings of grandiosity were replaced by a mature self-acceptance. In reality, she was an attractive, capable woman with a normal allotment of strengths and weaknesses. Neither her exaggerated sense of power nor her feelings of worthlessness were based on reality - they were illusions brought about by growing up in an unbalanced family.

Fear of Rejection:
- Some Chosen Children are plagued with the felling that they're unlovable. Reason: Being enmeshed with one parent often provokes the resentment of the other parent.
- Some parents are so threatened by the coalition between the spouse and child that they become physically or verbally abusive.
- Being rejected by a parent has far-reaching consequences, no matter what form the rejection takes. One tragic outcome is that the child naturally assumes most of the blame. If only I were… a different sex…if only something about me were different. Unfortunately, the message that stays with the child is: I am ugly. I am a bother. I am unlovable. I should have been a boy.
- Another consequence: A child who is rejected by the opposite-sex parent might generalize from the experience and in later years will feel unworthy of love.

Social Isolation:
- When I was growing up, I never felt like one of the group. Sometimes I felt I was better than everyone else; other times, I felt inferior. It was a long time before I had a sense of equality or belonging.
- Spending less time with other kids than does the typical child, the Chosen Child has little opportunity to feel part of the group. The problem is compounded for the only child, for he/she grows up with only a limited sense of kinship or belonging.
- As a result of this social isolation, the child is denied the leveling influence of peers. Children are very direct… while this interaction may be painful at times, it does encourage children to act in socially acceptable ways. A child who is isolated from others may hold on to personality quirks that prove a liability later in life.
- Twenty years later there are times when she still feels cut off from other people. It is difficult for her to take part in group activiites, and she often feels best when she is alone.

A Feeling of Inferiority:
- Children believe what they are told and if they've been told over and over again that thery're in the way or not good, they will take the message to heart.
- Surprisingly, children who grow up with adoring parents may also feel that they don't measure up: In measured doses, sharing activities whih her mother is good the for girl, because it gives her something to aim for. But if the child spends too much time with her mom, she begins to feel inadequate. I will never be as good as my mother, is the enduring message. This low self-esteem continues into adulthood, and the girl grows into the kind of woman who constantly belittles her own accomplishments. No matter what she does, she is never good enough.


Denial of needs:
- It's almost as if I were two people - one who was always on top of things, and then an inner one that was terrifyingly needy.
- A Chosen Child has to repress the need to develop their independence
- Here are some translations of common parental messages that can lead to perfectionism:
. You've never caused me a minute's trouble. Translation: Don't rock the boat. If you want something different than I want to give you, too bad.
. You've always been such an easygoing child. Translation: Be happy. Be pleasant. Don't feel your anger, sorrow or pain.
. I would be totally alone in the wolrd if it weren't for you. Therefore, you must sacrifice yourself to be here for me.
- Typically, when children are given mixed messages such as these, they hear and record the spoken words, but experience the underlying message. This leads to a great deal of confusion. Sorting out the real message from the spoken one is part of the work of rewriting the family mythology.

A compulsive need to succeed:
- Many Chosen Children are burdened by the belief that they count only if they are superior.
- Idolized by his mother, he thought he had to be extraordinary to have any self-worth.
- I felt that success was not an option for me; it was a necessity.
- Part of my legacy was the belief that to be ordinary was to fail.


A diffuse sense of identity:
- A parent who is too closely allied with a child invariably interferes with the development of the child's sense of identity. Typically, the parent programs the child to have the similar tastes and values.
- In most cases, the child will comply because pleasing the parent - and thereby ensuring the parent's love - is more important than developing a sense of self. Survival comes first; self-expression is secondary.
- Her mother's attempts to make her a partner in mental illness had a profound and lasting effect on her self-identity.

An inability to separate from the parent:
- My brother is 43 years old. He relies on my mother for financial support.
- I have seen many, many instances of parents who won't let their children mature. Determined to make a life long career out of parenting, they emotionally disable their children. They tell them "You will never make it on your own" and their children, like all children, do their best to fulfill the parental prophecy.
- Rarely are the parents aware of their role in this drama. The same parent who systematically undermines a child's independence will be the first one to cry out, "When is my child ever going to grow up!"

Personal boundary problem:
- Loose or rigid boundaries.
- Loose boundaries: I have a hard time figuring out where I begin and others leave off. I am always making decisions for other people or feeling other people's pain.
- Rigid boundaries: It's hard for me to get close to people. I'm ok up to a certain point, then I start to back away.
- People with rigid boundaries: These are the people whom you feel you never get to know. They don't ask you about your problems; they don't tell you about theirs. They have few, if any, intimate friends. They are wary of close love relationships and are slow to make commitment. They have compensated for an Invasive Parent by becoming overly protective of their thoughts and emotions.
- Rebuilding boundaries demolished by an Invasive Parent is a key part of recovering from emotional incest.
- Like many overinvolved parents, he was deeply devoted to his daughter and saw himself as willing to do anything within his power to help her. But it became evident that he did not understand her at all. He had no idea what she was thinking or feeling.


Fear of commitment:
- "I do just fine with women right up to the point where the word 'commitment' is mentioned. Then I feel like turning and running away."
- Problems with love relationships are the rule rather than the exception for the adult Chosen Child, and one of the most common problems is a fear of intimacy and commitment. To a person who was bound up with an engulfing parent, any close relationship can feel like an invasion. I see this trait quite frequently in men who were the favorite sons of aggressive, domineering mothers. They want love in their lives, but the thought of a monogamous marriage brings back haunting memories of enmeshment. The notion that there could be freedom within a relationship runs counter to their experience.
- At first he would feel safe with his new wife, then a feeling of suffocating closeness would start to build.

Lack of romantic attraction:
- The normal parent-child bond is powerful in and of itself; when it's amplified by enmeshment, it becomes all-encompassing. Inwittingly, some Chosen Children go through life trying to recapture this intensity.
- Common ways to exit the marriage are divorce, clandestine affairs, becoming overly involved with a child, abusing drugs or alcohol, and workaholism.

Conflicts between the spouse and the parent:
- If the Chosen Child remains attached to the parent after marriage, the marital relationship automatically becomes a triangle, with both the parent and the spouse vying for control.

Attraction to self-centered partners:
- It's quite common for the Chosen Child to grow up and marry someone who ignores his needs. This is an unconscious re-creation of the dynamics of the parent-child relationship. Although outwardly treated like royalty, the child is in reality a servant, trained to meet the emotional needs of the parent.
- Believing that other people's needs are more important, the Chosen Child typically grows up and falls in love with someone who is unavailable or inattentive to his needs. Over time, the partner's lack of emotional involvement becomes a fresh source of pain.

Sexual problems:
- When children are entangled with a Sexualizing Parent, they have an increased chance of being sexually victimized in later years. Because a parent has violated their emotional boundaries and aroused their sexuality, they are ideal candidates for "date rape" or other forms of abuse.
- Although her father had never touched her inappropriately, he had set up the preconditions for victimization.