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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

Father-Daughter Emotional Incest


Veronica loved her father.  Her parents divorced when she was nine years old and she was devastated. Her father moved out and Veronica lived with her mother and older brother.  She was not emotionally prepared for her parents’ divorce and she did not understand why it had to happen at all.

Veronica was very sad and cried a lot.  She thought her mother was mean and unreasonable and could not understand why her mother was abandoning her father and treating him so poorly.  Veronica was to be angry with her mother throughout the next fifteen to twenty years.

Veronica carried on with life, trying to make friends in school and live as best she could under the circumstances. She visited her father every other weekend and was excited to go on these visits, for she loved her father very much.

One thing Veronica was completely oblivious to was the fact that she was being emotionally abused by her father. She was confused when she was around him, but didn’t realize that anything was abnormal for a father-daughter relationship.

She wasn’t being physically hurt or even yelled at. She felt ashamed and afraid, but was not sure why. In fact, she wasn’t to realize how seriously traumatized she was by her relationship with her father until decades later.

Once Veronica started figuring out that she was a victim of something disturbing, she recalls the following memories:

  • On Veronica’s 13th birthday, her father gave her the book, “The Joy of Sex,” because he wanted her to be informed.
  • When Veronica started to develop physically, her father no longer wanted her to call him, “Dad” or “Father,” but she was supposed to call him by his first name.
  • As a teenager, Veronica was not allowed to shop for her own clothes. Her father picked out all of her clothes (later she was to realize he was treating her like a sexy doll.)
  • If Veronica didn’t do what her father wanted he would give her the silent treatment. Once, on her 16th birthday, she spent the evening with a boyfriend. After this, her father didn’t speak with her for three months.
  • Another troubling memory Veronica recalled, was the time her father commented, “My little boy wants to play with your little girl.”
  • Whenever Veronica went on an outing with her father, he treated her like a girlfriend rather than like a daughter, and he would introduce her to others giving that same impression.
  • As a young woman, after Veronica was married, her father wanted to have nothing to do with her husband or his grand-daughter.

Definition of Emotional Incest

Emotional incest may or may not involve sexual overtures, and it can involve either gender parent with either gender child; it is most commonly found between mothers and sons.

Another term for emotional incest is “covert” incest.  It is named covert because it is hard to notice and the abuse is not overt or blatant.  No one is aware that abuse is even happening.  The perpetrator of emotional incest acts, appears, and for all intents and purposes, is very caring to his victim.  He may even genuinely love his victim.

The child of the perpetrator often feels special and “seen” by her abuser and is definitely unaware that any abuse is taking place.  This is what makes it especially damaging.  When someone is hit in the eye or when someone is physically raped, it is quite obvious they have been abused.  This is blatant and apparent.  Not so with emotional incest, which is undercover, cloaked in care and concern.

It is a form of brainwashing. The child who is victimized by an incestuous abuser is being “programmed” to believe that the relationship she is having is healthy, loving, and normal.  She has no reference point from which to compare her experience.  She doesn’t’ even see that there is a problem.

The child does not realize that her relational boundaries with her parent are removed – where she is placed in the position to meet her father’s emotional and/or delusional and fantasy “needs” or wants.

Damage Caused by Emotional Incest

(Please realize this list is not exhaustive.)

  • Confusion about Boundaries: In healthy parent-child relationships, the adult takes care of the child and the child learns to find rest and security in knowing that their parent is “in charge.”  In an emotionally incestuous relationship, boundaries are blurred and distorted.The child is the adult’s “object” whose purpose is to meet the needs of the adult.  The child is made to be responsible for the perverted and delusional needs of the adult’s fantasies.
  • Enmeshed Relationships: Children raised with emotional incest are primed for later enmeshed relationships.  This is a boundary issue.  The perpetrator of emotional incest is putting his child in an enmeshed relationship.When the child grows up, she feels confusion in her adult relationships, not knowing where she ends and the other person begins.  She may have problems parenting her own children, and may over-identify with her children’s feelings.
  • Lack of Sense of Self: Because as a child the adult survivor‘s purpose was to meet the parent’s emotional needs, her own needs and feelings “didn’t matter.”  She learned that who she was didn’t matter.  Not only does she lack self-esteem, she lacks self.  She is so used to being defined by her perpetrator that she does not know how to define herself.


Undoing the damage of this type of destructive relationship requires the following components: (1) awareness; (2) deprogramming; (3) grief; and (4) boundaries.

With the help and support of safe people, distance from the abuser, and good therapy, Veronica was able to find freedom from the confusion and entanglement of this very dysfunctional father-daughter relationship.


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Dunion, P. “The Quiet Wound.”  The Huffington Post. 01/04/2016. Retrieved from

Love, P. (n.d.) The Emotional Incest Syndrome: What to do When a Parent’s Love Rules Your Life. Retrieved from: 20Syndrome.pdf

Father-Daughter Emotional Incest

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California ( Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach -


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APA Reference
Stines, S. (2017). Father-Daughter Emotional Incest. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from