My friend Kitten and I have been in deep, ongoing discussion about our absurdly similar pasts and how events from those times are continuing to affect us now. The topic has to do with what my therapist calls “covert incest”1 – something that I can claim for myself, and possibly Kitten would for herself too. The definition below does not make as big a deal as my therapist does about the sexual nature of the covert incest relationship. And no, I do not believe I was molested by my father. However, we “dated” for a year – my 16th year- when we were home alone. Inappropriateness occurred. Things happened and words were spoken that have been crucial in the shaping of what would become my adult life. Hell, my teen to present life.
As I shared about what seems like an addiction –but to a person, rather than a drug or other substance- Kitten said, “I wouldn’t know how to reach through the powerful pull of lust combined with abandonment. Please don’t leave me! Love me! F*ck me!”
That statement sums it all up for me: There’s the sense of abandonment –my parents were not always parental- and then the need for emotional support. And love. And being sexualized as a girl from early on, I believe, only seals the deal on what I’ll call my emotional paralysis.
This has been on my mind a lot lately, too, as it’s all interconnected: Being sexualized as a girl, that is. This seems to occur to varying degrees to most of us (females), at least those in western culture. But when a parent turns his daughter into his girlfriend, the sexualization is even more intense. Because the idea is that home is where we learn to function out there; dad teaches us (girls) how to relate to other males; parents and home should always be safe, and when they’re not, I believe the lack of safety gets woven into this whole mess of emotional paralysis.
The end result is messy, to say the least. I’m calling it “emotional paralysis,” but it’s anything but stagnant or unmoving. It really is like an addiction: An addiction to a FEELING. “This is the feeling [or like the feeling] I got when my needs for love and emotional support were met by my parent!” And no matter how insane the relationship is, no matter how potentially dangerous, unhealthy, or just plain WRONG it is, the covert incest survivor goes back for more. SHE HAS TO. It’s like getting a fix. Hell, it IS a fix.
And what happens when we don’t get that fix? My roommate likened it to sugar, which for me is a drug: “That blah feeling you get when you start to go off sugar,” he said, and that’s exactly how it feels. Empty, gray, meaningless… in need of that rush, the fill, the chase, the thrill. There is nothing good about this, I’m telling you.
Well, what may be good is that one can recover from this – I’m not sure how just yet, but there groups, and the website below (from which I snagged the description of covert incest) seems intent on doing some work around this issue.
So what am I telling you? You may be wondering, “FW, what the hell? Were you molested as a child?” No. “Are you in a sick or unhealthy relationship?” Chances are good that if I’m in a relationship, it is unhealthy (not necessarily a reflection on the other person – this is about me, my history, my reactions, and so on). The other person in the relationship is the “substance” and the addiction has everything to do with the addict – why do I need this? why do I obsess? why do I keep myself in a bad place when it’s interfering with my work/school/daily activities? (And it may interfere with some, all, or none of those.)
One would think that I would simply step away from relationships of all kinds, right? BACK IT UP, SISTER! But no, I think not. For now, I will continue to plunge myself into the churning waters of human interaction, because if nothing else, I do have hope that, like I have with other serious issues, I can work through this one.
Someone might want to mention to my therapist that we have in fact finally hit the tar pit… the power source of all this messiness.
1. Covert incest typically occurs in families where one parent (the shadow parent) does not actively participate in family affairs, thus setting the stage for the other parent (the invasive parent) to turn to a child for emotional support. The invasive parent in effect makes the child a surrogate spouse who is forced to take on the responsibilities of the shadow parent. The roles are essentially reversed; instead of the parent looking after the child, the child is responsible for the parent’s well being. This is a terrible burden for a child to carry, as a child is incapable of meeting the emotional needs of an adult. CovertIncest.org, http://www.covertincest.org/content/why-it-happens