Home > Abusive relationships, Borderline Personality Disorder, Parental Alienation, relationships > Man-Woman-Truth Radio: Emotional Incest and Parentification

Man-Woman-Truth Radio: Emotional Incest and Parentification

parentification 2
A women divorces after many years of marriage. Realizing she is now without another adult in the home, she turns to her 12 year old son and says, “You are all I have now.”

In another scenario, a father prepares to go on a business trip. Just before hopping a cab to the airport, he looks at his 7 year old boy and says, “You’re the man of the house while I am away. Take care of your mother.”

In still another home, 15 year old boy’s mother spends a lot of time telling him she is unhappy with his father; that she is always lonely and left to care for everything on her own. She is so thankful for her son, her “secret confidant.” He feels important does what he can to make her feel better. He also learns to hate his father.

Parentification” and emotional incest is a common theme in many dysfunctional homes. It often begins when a mother, who is supposed to be the caretaker of her child, reverses the roles and makes the child responsible for her emotional needs. It is a subtle and often overlooked form of child abuse.

Tonight, at 8:00 pm Central Time, please join Dr. Tara Palmatier and co-host Paul Elam for a special episode of Man, Woman, Truth Radio where they will address this subject in a general discussion that uses real life reports of emotional incest.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consulting Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

The call in number is 310-388-9709.


  1. Jessica
    August 2, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    My stepson who was the youngest of three suffered greatly from a mom who did just this! Emotional Parentification! The other two siblings paid no attention to her bad mouthing the father and consistently growing more and more bitter as her life seemed to be a mess while my husband eventually moved on and created himself a better life. This is a VERY serious issue and unfortunately at the age of 24, he recently decided to take his own life. She treated him like her “partner” and although we found their relationship different and strange, by the time we put 2 and 2 together it was literally too late. No parent should ever put guilt on their child for loving the other parent NOR should a parent turn the child against a loving father. No matter how hard my husband fought to see him, he was 13 years old and the mom would say “he doesn’t want to see you.”

    So we waited and waited and at holidays we would talk with him about coming to stay over (we even had a bedroom set up for years for him) but the bond that the two created was so immense that unfortunately he felt that if he saw his dad or came by and visited, he would hurt her. After he died which of course we never dreamed would happen, our therapist explained the mom may have been suffering from some kind of personality disorder and when she was divorced, her son actually became her “partner.” This idea seemed so crazy but it made sense to me thinking back to statements she would make about him that seemed inappropriate but now it’s too late…My heart is broken. There’s this part of me saying we should’ve fought harder for him but at the age of 13 and later he made that choice to stay with her and listen to all that bitterness and anger all those years. Of course later on we found out he had depression and anxiety which I also have so to the two of us when we got together would discuss our problems. If I had known the pain he was in I would’ve risked my life and done anything and everything to help him.

    I am loaded with guilt because I wish I knew how deep this affected him. He was a beautiful tall handsome boy with his whole life ahead of him and now we have to live with the fact that all along he was living with a mentally ill parent. Don’t know no matter how many therapy sessions will ever change my feeling but the only relief that I feel is there is no more pain for him. He didn’t deserve that life. He was a good person with a big heart and my hope is he knew how much we loved him.

    • Mellaril
      August 4, 2013 at 11:03 pm

      I’m sorry for your loss.

      If you’re inclined, please check out the Forum. There’s an active group of posters there dealing with some of these issues. Perhaps your experience can help someone else.

  2. Chris
    July 26, 2013 at 12:16 am

    Men, Women, Boys and Girls abuse. All in different ways. Then there’s those that don’t. People who have good boundaries, good morals etc. It’d ok to be selfish as long as it isn’t hurting anyone else in the process. Why would anybody want to challenge somebody who is against any form of abuse?

    Kudos to this site. Keep up the good work.

  3. George
    July 11, 2013 at 6:35 am

    Dr. T.,
    Thanks for shining some light on this form of child abuse which most of society tends to overlook. The examples which you provided are all so common. What I find also very interesting is that if the genders of the people in the examples were swapped, the example starts to no longer apply. For example, I can’t remember ever hearing a mom leaving the house and telling her young daughter to take care of her father because she is now the woman of the house. Heck, nobody ever says to take care of your Dad. Nobody seems to care if Dad is unhappy or lonely, but somehow this seems to be important to society if Mom is unhappy or lonely.

  4. Lovekraft
    June 24, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    Selfish is the only word I can use to describe a mother trying to ‘be friends’ with her kids. This is inherently doomed because the relationship is NOT and will NEVER be equal, which is an integral part of a healthy friendship.

    Simply put, the child cannot take liberties, call out etc the mother the way friends do.

    Either the mothers don’t know this (in which case they should get their heads out of their a$$es), or they do and just don’t care (which is a worse scenario IMO).

  5. Captin Coconut
    June 21, 2013 at 1:42 pm


    You should read more. This site serves men. The information and exchanges provided here are not about bashing women. Dr. T’s site is a healing place and a sounding board for men that suffer from the actions of women that have personality disorders, either by nature or nurture, which affect and effect their lives and their children’s lives in a less than healthy manner. It’s easy to see the transparent suggestiveness imbedded within your comments; they have no teeth here. There are flawed women out there just as there are flawed men, as incredible as that my seem…

  6. June 21, 2013 at 10:06 am

    I heard more than once the defense routine. “Don’t criticize the poor little girl.” Some woman are N/BPD . Somehow saying so is worse. I don’t think so. GRB

  7. CDC
    June 20, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    how is your second paragraph – the father saying this to the child – the fault of the mother?

    • shrink4men
      June 20, 2013 at 8:16 pm

      Hello CDC,

      It isn’t, but mother is complicit if she expects/goes along with it. Fathers participate in this form of child abuse – especially if they are worn out, undermined and diminished by their wives/girlfriends/exes and/or are with an especially needy woman. There are also fathers who turn their daughters into the “little woman of the house,” which is just as dysfunctional and abusive. Then their are fathers who desperately want to stop this, but have been hamstrung by Family Court.

      Paul and I will address these topics tonight. Hope you login and listen.

      • CDC
        June 20, 2013 at 8:31 pm

        I try to understand – I really do. I haven’t read a ton of your site but – it truly seems like your take is that the things women do that are wrong are because they are terrible people and the things that men do that are wrong are because their wives are terrible people.

        My SO has, on occasion, said something similar to our son. I not only don’t encourage it – I find it very sexist and infantalizing towards me; which I haven’t earned.

        As this is a blip in our otherwise fairly egalitarian relationship I haven’t put too much weight on it and would instead say something like “we’re going to take care of each other, right?” so as to shift it and remove the idea of burden/responsibility without actually criticizing his statement/him in front of our kids.

        • shrink4men
          June 20, 2013 at 8:50 pm

          For someone who hasn’t read a lot of my site, perhaps you should — including the comments — before you make a blanket judgment about my beliefs and opinions.

          • CDC
            June 20, 2013 at 9:57 pm

            I do believe I’ve read “a lot.” But it isn’t my intent to niggle over ton/a lot. Ultimately, even if I’d read all of your site, I was only commenting on the way one thing appeared to me.

            I apologize. I appreciate you addressing that / putting that in check without becoming acidic or scathing. I should not have made a blanket statement in reply to an individual incident and I’m sorry for that.

            • CDC
              June 20, 2013 at 10:06 pm

              just to be clear when I say “without becoming acidic or scathing” this is not in reference to having seen you personally do so but rather to the power the internet seems to hold to have things escalate rather quickly.

            • shrink4men
              June 21, 2013 at 2:06 pm

              To quote your original comment:

              “I haven’t read a ton of your site but”

              Now you claim you have read “a lot.”

              • CDC
                March 3, 2014 at 1:10 pm

                yes, a lot in my estimation is less than a ton. followed by conceding to you about it so that we didn’t “niggle over ton/a lot.” followed by more concession and an apology.

                thanks for showing your true colors – takes the pressure/guilt off. ‘preciate it.

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