Covert incest in single parent families

Psychologist Kenneth M. Adams talks about the chance of "covert incest" or inappropriate relationships in single-parent or dysfunctional families
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Covert incest in single parent families

So is covert incest more rampant in single parent families is the important question. I think it's important maybe to kind of reclarify covert incest as a term used to describe what feels incestuous but isn't physical sexual contact or it might be more helpful for people to think about the fact that a child is playing in the role of a surrogant husband or wife. That maybe something that people can relate to better than covert incest. And so certainly in single parent families, there is going to be an absent parent and a sensitive attuned little boy, say for a single mother who's father is out of the picture, or mom is lonely, or sad because dad is, you know, left, he might naturally want to comfort her or he might want to step in and take over the role, and certainly she may want to invite that, but the fact that she's a single parent by itself doesn't mean that's going to happen, you know? As long as she's getting her adult needs met with other adults it becomes a natural barrier, so the child, the son might be very sweet and loving and say mom, I hope you have a better day, but he won't take over the role. We don't have any percentages. In fact, most of the people I work with have come from intact families although they were dysfunctional, so ironically in a more dysfunctional system in which the parents are together, which there's fighting going on constantly for example, there's more of a chance for the child to get used by one of the parents perhaps unintentionally, but nonetheless used to comfort me because your father and I fought, and now I want you to listen to my problems. And you can't go anywhere because you're my six year old little boy, and I know you love me, and you don't want mommy to hurt anymore. So we see alot of that kind of entrapment in families are not single parents.

Psychologist Kenneth M. Adams talks about the chance of "covert incest" or inappropriate relationships in single-parent or dysfunctional families


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Kenneth M. Adams, PhD

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Kenneth M. Adams, Ph.D., CSAT, is a Licensed Psychologist, the Clinical Director and Founder of Kenneth M. Adams and Associates in suburban Detroit, Michigan, as well as a faculty member at the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals. As previous Clinical Director for the Life Healing Center in Sante Fe, New Mexico, a residential treatment center for trauma and addiction, Dr Adams created the first inpatient program exclusively for partners of sex addicts. In addition to maintaining an active clinical practice, Dr. Adams is a national lecturer, workshop leader, and consultant in the areas of child abuse, dysfunctional family systems, and sex addiction. He is the author of numerous peer-reviewed publications, the books Silently Seduced and When He’s Married to Mom, as well as co-editor of Clinical Management of Sex Addiction. In 2011, Dr Adams received the “Carnes Award” for “outstanding work in the field of sexual addiction and compulsivity”. He is a certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT), a CSAT supervisor, and CSAT training facilitator as well as an Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) practitioner. Dr. Adams is a member of the American Psychological Association, Michigan Psychological Association, Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH), and International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) as well as an advisory board member to SASH and IITAP, and an editorial board member of Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention. For more on Dr Adams visit


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