We Are Survivors 

This blog is dedicated to the tens of millions of adult survivors of child abuse and neglect who get up every day and try to work and function in a world that seems to not care about us.

Family Dynamics of Incest- Part 1

I am going to begin a series of articles which will describe many of the dynamics of what happens in an incestuous home. Not all homes were incest occurs fit this description, but it is pretty accurate. I am summarizing information from an excellent overview written by Patricia Crigler, who at the time she wrote it was Commander, Medical Service Corps, U.S. Navy, and Director, Substance Abuse Department, Naval Hospital, San Diego, California. [1] Her characteristics of incest struck home with me because I was raised in a military family. This discussion does not go into military life per se, but is fairly accurate for a large percentage of incestuous families in America.

To begin, I’ll talk about a typical incestuous family. Although the family looks typical from the outside, in the home most often the father is the perpetrator, the mother is detached and is not emotionally or psychologically connected to the children;  there is an older daughter, the next oldest is the son  who learns from the father how to (inappropriately) get his needs met, and the youngest child is the second daughter.

Since the parents can’t get their needs met with each other, the children are put into the awful position of having to compensate for their parents’ empty relationship. The father turns to his oldest daughter for affection which suits the mother fine. “Keeping Daddy happy” now becomes the daughter’s job. Since the mother can’t jeopardize her standard of living should they divorce, she turns a blind eye to the whole matter. There is also the fear of sending Daddy to jail, so this helps to keep the secret. Meanwhile, the oldest daughter, on  an unconscious level, fears abandonment, craves love and attention, and feels guilty for somehow causing her father to cheat on her mother.

The grooming that takes place, so that Daddy gets the “love” he needs, starts at a very early age, sometimes as young as two-years-old. This occurs in private places like when giving her a bath or at night when he puts her to bed. It involves touching her genitals, having her touch his penis, and as she gets to be four to six-years-old, it can progress to fellatio. Although the young girl doesn’t like the behavior and senses this is wrong, with no warmth or attention from her mother, she enjoys the “tenderness” from her father. It is a game between the two of them.

As the daughter gets older, she is conditioned through fear to keep her mouth shut. “Daddy will have to divorce your Mommy if you say anything.” The mother’s abandonment of protecting her daughter so that she can hang on to her husband is both pathetic and criminal. The daughter grows to resent this behavior but feels trapped.

When the daughter reaches puberty and is interested in boys her age, the jealous father chases them away and forbids his daughter to date until she is much older – another control technique. By now, the daughter is so brainwashed with his messages to obey him, and is filled unconsciously with self-hate and guilt, she finds other outlets to get her needs met. This can be alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, self-mutilation, and/or suicide attempts.

These behaviors continue to reinforce the daughter’s low self-esteem, particularly with a media culture that sexualizes everything – working hard to titillate rather than entertain viewers – and a society that doesn’t feel child abuse warrants national attention.

[1] Patricia W. Crigler, Insight in the Military Family, in Kaslow et al, The Military Family, pp. 98-124

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Wounds that Won't Heal- Part 2
Family Dynamics of Incest- Part 2


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