T he    E motional
I ncest    S yndrome
W hat  to  D o  W hen
a  P arent's L ove
R ules Y our L ife

with Jo Robinson

Do these "endearments" sound familiar to you?

--"Of all my children, I expected the most of you."

--"You've never caused me a minute of trouble."

--"You're the only one who truly understands me."

If so, you may have been a "Chosen Child," seemingly the focus of loving and devoted parents, but in reality a child walking a psychological tightrope -- learning early on to deny your own needs in order to meet the emotional needs of a parent. Today, there is a name for this devastaing and increasingly common form of child abuse: emotional incest.

Here, Dr. Patricia Love offers adults real hope -- and help in overcoming the hurtful legacy of being a Chosen Child. Based on proven therapeutic techniques and using real-life case histories, her total program of recovery will help you:

--identify the telltale signs of emotional incest
--confront your parents-- and your past --with love and

--disentangle your life from theirs -- even if your
   parents are no longer alive

--create a positive relationship with your parents --
   and your own children

Filled with hope and compassion, The Emotional Incest Syndrome is a life-transforming guide to health and healing for all Chosen Children and the people who love them.

[from the back flap of the softbound edition]

Dr. Patricia Love, The Emotional Incest Syndrome

Buy This

About the Author

Dr. Patricia Love grew up in Sistersville, West Virginia, and received her doctorate in counseling from West Virginia University. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, and a Clinical Member/Approved Supervisor in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. She is a charter member of the Imago Institute and is a trainer and clinician in Imago Relationship Therapy. Dr. Love currently resides in Austin, Texas, where she continues to write, practice, and consult, promoting the concept of family reconciliation and healthy family functioning.

Jo Robinson is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon. Previous collaborative works include: Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples by Dr. Harville Hendrix; Full House with Karen Anderson; and Unplug the Christmas Machine with Jean Staeheli.

[from the final pages of the softbound edition]

Table of Contents


Introduction     1
Exploring the Problem

1 Growing Up with an Invasive Parent    5

   Varieties of Emotional Incest    9
   Applying Today's Insights
   to Yesterday's Families
2 Parents Who Send Mixed Messages:
    Love, Neglect, and Abuse

   The Neglectful Parent   13
   The Abusive/Critical Parent   16
   The Sexualizing Parent   21
3 The Adult Cost of Being a Chosen Child   28

   Denial and Family Mythologies   30
   Guilt and Anxiety   33
   Self-Image Problems   38
   Perfectionism   43
   Identity Problems   46
   Relationship Problems   51
4 The Family Role Call:
    How Emotional Incest Affects
    Other Family Members


   Blood Ties   57
   The Invasive Parent   59
   The Left-Out Child   62
   The Left-Out Spouse   65
   The Shadow Parent   68
   The Spouse of the Chosen Child   69
   A Drama Where Everyone Loses   71
5 Why Do Parents Become
    Overinvolved with Their Children?

   Acknowledging the Pleasures of Parenting   74
   Keeping Parental Love within Bounds   75
   A Lack of Love, Information, and Role Models   76
   A Lack of Self-Awareness   79
   Warning Signs of Emotional Incest   82
6 Identifying Families at Risk   85
   Emotional Incest and the
   Single-Parent Family
   Emotional Incest and the Stepfamily   88
   The Only Child   90
   Substance Abuse and Emotional Incest   91
   Mental Illness as a Contributing Cause   92
   The Superchild Syndrome   93
   Other Families at Risk   94
7 Key Differences Between
    Enmeshed and Healthy Families
   The Spousal Unit:
    Roles and Responsibilities of Adult Partners
   Satisfying the Emotional
   Needs of the Single Parent
   The Parental Unit:
   Roles and Responsibilities of Parents
   Defining the Crucial Differences
   Between Parenting and Partnering
   The Sibling Unit:
   Roles and Responsibilities of Siblings
   Consequences of Living in a Functional
   versus a Dysfunctional Family
Defining the Cure

8 Blazing a Path to Recovery:
    Follow the Yellow Brick Road

   A Personal Philosophy of Healing  118
   The Miracle of the Self-Healing Child  120
   Jim: "Most of my life I've been in neutral."  123
   Psychotherapy and the Wizard of Oz  124
   Repression and the Chosen Child  126
   The Two-Stage Recovery Program  126
   Second Order Change  128
   Sibling Rivalry and Successful Change  130
   "JNDs: Just Noticeable Differences"  132
9 Making Your Personal History, History  133

   Coping with Denial and Resistance  134
   Removing Guilt as a Barrier to
   Exploring the Past
   Tapping in to a Well of Pain  139
   Introduction to the Autobiography Exercise  140
   Autobiography--General Outline  144
   Directions for a Family Genogram  153
10 Making Peace with Your Parents  158

   Beth: "I could never figure out
   why Mother was so angry."
   Becoming More Objective  160
   Accepting Your Parents' Negative Traits  161
   Affirming a Parent's Positive Qualities  165
   Setting Limits Around an Invasive Parent  166
   Marcos: "I could never win in my family."  167
   Examining Your Reasons for
   Staying Enmeshed
   Mastering the Art of the
   Ten-Second Confrontation
   Coping with Guilt and Anxiety  173
   How to Free Yourself from
   an Extremely Invasive Parent
   Creating a More Positive
   Relationship with a Parent
   Fake It 'Til You Make It  175
   Do the Unexpected  176
   The Formal Reconciliation Meeting  177
   Resolving Your Feelings
   About a Deceased Parent
   Making Peace with Your In-laws  182
   A Success Story  184
11 Making Peace with Your Siblings  186

   Seeing the Larger Picture  187
   Second Order Change  188
   Directions for a Reconciliation
   Meeting with a Sibling
   The Singular Nature of Sibling Dynamics  193
12 Stengthening Your Marriage Relationship  195

   Marriage and Second Order Change  196
   Creating a Positive Vision  198
   The Universal Homework Assignment  200
   Resistance  201
   Deepening Intimacy  202
   Are You Listening to Me?  207
   Additional Communication Tips  210
   Resolving Cross-Generational Alliances  213
   Learning the Art of Compromise  215
   Turning off the Projector  217
   Polarization  219
   Celebrate!  220
   What If Your Partner Doesn't
   Want to Work on the Marriage?
13 Shoring Up Your Support Network  223

   Identifying the Nature
   of Your Boundary Problems
   Firming Up Your Boundaries  226
   Lowering Your Emotional Barriers  227
   Suggestions for Making New Friends  231
   Maintaining Appropriate Boundaries at Work  234
14 Parenting: How to End
    the Cycle of Enmeshment

   Ten Rules for Healthy Parenting  239
   Freeing a Child from Enmeshment  242
   Realignment Session with a Chosen Child  243
   Making Amends with a Left-Out Child  249
   Realignment Session with a Left-Out Child  251
   A Parent's Success Story  254
15 Victory Laps  256

   Evan: "I came out fighting!"  256
   Diana: "My father always told me,
   'You'll never let me down.'"
   Back to the Self  267
Notes  271
Suggested Reading  275
Index  277

[from the softbound edition]

Buy The Emotional Incest Syndrome


"A landmark study of a very important phenomenon that offers brilliant, positive, achievable paths to a resolution... Should be required reading."

--Harville Hendrix,
author of
Getting the Love You Want

"A marvelous, much-needed work on a difficult subject."

--Pia Mellody,
author of
Facing Co-Dependence

"Sensitively and compassionately written, this book addresses a problem of painful importance in the lives of millions of men and women...This book can be enormously helpful."

--Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D.,
author of
The Psychology of Self-Esteem
and Honoring the Self

"Therapists will find this book to be a 'regular' to give their patients. Clearly written with useful exercises, it will be very clarifying for victims."

--Patrick J. Carnes, Ph.D.,
author of
Don't Call It Love

[from the front and back cover of the softbound edition]

Read more reviews of this book on the
Amazon.com website:
The Emotional Incest Syndrome

The Emotional Incest Syndrome on Amazon.com

Buy Patricia Love's Book


"Emotional incest is not a new phenomenon. History is full of people who were overly involved with their children. Human beings have an innate need for companionship and intimacy, and when those needs are not met by a partner, the natural tendency is to turn to a child. But the syndrome has become newsworthy for the following reasons:

1. Recent changes in family life -- notably the dramatic rise in single-parent households and substance abuse -- have dramatically increased the incidence of emotional incest.

2. The adult consequences of the syndrome are more clearly understood.

3. Recent advances in the relatively new field of Structural Family Therapy have made emotional incest a definable, curable problem.

4. The syndrome finally has a name.

I have devoted the past five years to researching this book. The clearer I've become about the nature of the syndrome, the more I see it around me. Fully half of my clients have an overly close relationship with a mother or father as a central issue. When I lecture on the subject, I can always count on a handful of people coming up to me afterward to tell me, 'What you're talking about happened to me. You've just described my life. For the first time, I have a name for what's wrong with me.'"

The Emotional Incest Syndrome
pages 1-2

"For some people, the single word guilt sums up the negative consequences of growing up with an Invasive Parent. Depending on their circumstances, they can feel guilty for one or more of a number of reasons, including: taking a parent away from a partner, winning out over siblings, failing to live up to a parent's expectations, wanting to break away from an overbearing parent, and participating in a love triangle when they were 'old enough to know better.' One Chosen Child put it this way: 'I go through life feeling as if I've been given too much money at the supermarket and decided to keep the change. I wanted my father's love, but I felt guilty for keeping it.' Although she had wanted the exclusive relationship she had with her father, she had witnessed the pain it caused her mother and sister. She carried this burden into adulthood and continued to take on the guilt of others."

The Emotional Incest Syndrome
page 34

"To a large degree, our parents determined which parts of the self we were allowed to keep. Some of us were allowed to have needs, but not to be independent. We were catered to and indulged, but kept immature. Some of us were allowed to have a great deal of freedom, but not to have needs. We were allowed to wander at will around the neighborhood, but were not given enough comfort and reassurance. Some of us were permitted to develop our talents, but were asked to repress our needs and emotions. We grew up to be compulsive achievers to hid an inner sense of inadequancy. To a greater degree than other children, we were not allowed to be whole. In exchange for love and a position of privilege in the family hieracrchy, we had to give up a large portion of the self."

The Emotional Incest Syndrome
page 126

"I know how difficult it is to give up the wish for perfect parents. We cling to an idealized view of our caretakes because on some level we still view life through the eyes of a child and believe we are dependent on our parents for survival. When we see flaws in their characters, we are not merely annoyed -- we are terrified. Our very existence seems threatened. A voice inside cries out: 'No one is taking care of me!' To ward off this anxiety, we hold on to the dream that our parents' faults will magically disappear: this visit, our parents will be sensitive to our needs; this reunion will be smooth and uneventful; this phone call or this letter will repair old wounds and bring us closer together.

"Not surprisingly, the character flaws we have the hardest time accepting are the ones that wounded us most during childhood. When our parents act in destructive and familiar ways, our present anguish is magnified by our early pain. Underneath our grown-up dismay is a little child crying out for more love and safety."

The Emotional Incest Syndrome
page 162

[from the softbound edition]

Read more about this book on the
Amazon.com website:
The Emotional Incest Syndrome

The Emotional Incest Syndrome on Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

The Emotional
Incest Syndrome

Patricia Love's book
The Emotional Incest Syndrome

may be purchased through Amazon.com.

Buy Patricia Love's Book

Other Books
by Dr. Patricia Love
and Jo Robinson

Hot Monogamy: Essential Steps to More Passionate, Intimate Lovemaking
Learn more about this book also
written by Dr. Patricia Love and Jo Robinson.

Return to Growing beyond Emotional Abuse Books

Design © 2001 by Insight Web Design
All Rights Reserved