Polly's pages (aka 'Donna Williams')

Ever the arty Autie

Emotional Incest – Too close for comfort?


Reading an article on emotional incest I came across some interesting inter-generational dynamics. Emotional incest was more prevalent in parents with their own challenges and the impact on their children seemed to have some interesting implications for social-emotional interaction patterns in their children. Could parents of kids diagnosed with ASD be more at risk of emotional incest which in turn exacerbates issues commonly identified with adults with Asperger’s?Interestingly, in our progressively more single parent society, emotional incest was more likely to develop in single parent families, where one or both parents has a developmental, psychiatric or emotional ‘disorder’, or is displaced or controlled by another family member or used substitute babysitters such as the TV.

It can result in issues as vast as identity conflict, chronic anger, a sense of life being meaningless, obsessions and compulsions, learning disabilities, anxiety disorders, attachment disorders, separation anxiety, addictions, depression, anhedonia, suicide…..

In the case of father-daughter emotional incest, disenfranchised fathers compensate by becoming emotionally over involved with their daughters. The emotional cost of father-daughter emotional incest includes stress and anxiety disorders, mental and physical illness, identity disorders and underdeveloped and confused sense of identity and depression.

As adults the daughters are emotionally immature, erratic, unable to sustain functional relationships or end up drawn to those which are unrewarding so keep them involved with their fathers instead. It’s easy to see how this becomes so intergenerational.

But mother-son emotional incest was even more interesting in the context of ASD remarkably resembling some of the emotional-behavioral challenges seen in adults on the spectrum.

  • obsess about his mother?
  • acts as if women should serve him?
  • cannot maintain a stable partnership?
  • act like a child … or like a tyrant … or both?
  • brag, lie and boast as he tries to be special?
  • is a narcissist – he demands attention or he leaves?
  • chase women – quantity not happiness is important?
  • have few if any friends, and cannot commit to teamwork?
  • does not care if he damages other people’s relationships?
  • do these things repeatedly but energetically deny them?
  • avoid any form of coaching or counseling on these issues?
  • from http://www.soulwork.support/mother-son-emotional-incest/
    This is not to say that those with AS are victims of untreated emotional incest, but given that ASD is a multifaceted condition for which holistic answers address the various components its perhaps worth keeping an open mind whether in our modern society family dynamics are increasing the incidence of emotional incest which ASD parents may be more susceptible to. Just look at The Jerry Springer show, Dr Phil and and the like, and ask yourself do we still live in the same society we did 10 or 20 years ago. Interestingly the Supermom syndrome promoted by a progressively pigeon holing, voyeuristic media-dominated society is highly linked with mother-son emotional incest. Whilst there are certainly attachment disordered children with Reactive Attachment Disorder who have never formed bonds there are equally those damaged by over bonding. The money spinning Western ’emotional bonding’ industries making a fortune spreading their new gospel around the world may need to wake up if law suits are to follow for psychological-emotional damages resulting from their related therapies. When will we learn the Taoist principles that BALANCE means health? That MORE is not necessarily better? When the corporate money spinners and organized moralizer collectives get out of our ears and eyes long enough to stop being our new ‘parents’ so we might get back to having minds of our own?
    How much might social dynamics be breeding dysfunctional patterns and contribute to the increase in ASD diagnosis now heading for one in 100 children?

    To see how close mother-son emotional incest may resemble or exacerbate ASD challenges, here’s some of the listed consequences:

    If people do not appreciate Son’s specialness, Son may attack (become a bully) or withdraw (become a nerd). Son fears not being special enough and dreads Mother’s rejection. Son may become a model passive good boy to please Mother. Or he may rebel against Mother to please Father – perhaps becoming aggressive or delinquent. If he swings between these two extremes – he may be diagnosed as passive-aggressive or with bipolar disorder.

    Some men feel that they were not properly mothered. They may complain that they were not loved in the right way, or not long enough, or that their mothers were absent or preoccupied with their work. They may have many mother-bonded traits, yet behave like an adult child – age-regressed.

    from http://www.soulwork.net/sw_articles_eng/little_prince.htm

    Selective Mutism, Avoidant Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, mood and anxiety disorders and attachment disorders are conditions which commonly complicate the lives of those with ASDs and will be made worse in families which breed emotional incest. Those who overprotect, take over too soon or constantly outshine the abilities of their as yet developed child will also breed learned dependency, exacerbating any existing learning and developmental disabilities. labeling those with these issues as ‘special’ often means we then segregate them, or at least fail to integrate them and often this becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
    Whilst the world searches for genetic causes of ASD and mental emotional challenges, perhaps they should give at least equal weight to searching and identifying the pathological memes that cripple so many people and leave them needlessly burdened only to pass those burdens on to any next generations.

    Interestingly, emotional incest is also referred to as ‘sexuality abuse’. This is NOT sexual abuse (the two can co-occur or occur separately), but they are inferring that the detrimental impact of emotional incest on the child’s development of their own healthy sexuality is a major factor.

    For those looking for further information, the articles on the following links may make clearer the division between healthy parent-child emotional bonding and emotional incest, here’s a number of links.


    covert and emotional incest is also mentioned on Wikipedia


    and here are medical papers featuring the subject.


    Donna Williams, BA Hons, Dip Ed.
    Author, artist,and presenter.

    I acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Owners of this country throughout Australia, and their connection to land and community.

    posted under Autism, Donna Williams