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Unpacking Emotional Incest: How the Mama’s Boy Stereotype Can Be Harmful

Unpacking Emotional Incest: How the Mama’s Boy Stereotype Can Be Harmful

Mom and son caressing heads

In honor of Cancer Season, which is associated with the maternal figure, home life, and childhood upbringing, it is a perfect time to unpack maternal wounds. Recently, a post about a mom claiming herself as her son’s first love and feeling heartbroken about his dating life went viral on Facebook. The post sparked discourse across social media and led to bigger questions about emotional incest and toxic emotional dependency in mother-son relationships.

The maternal wound of emotional incest can be hard to unpack because mothers are associated with nurturing, which makes it difficult to recognize an unhealthy dynamic between them and their children. Emotional incest, also known as covert incest, occurs when a parent uses their child to regulate their own emotions. This is harmful because the power dynamic between a parent and the child is unequal. In a mother-son relationship, this can show up by subconsciously treating your child as a romantic partner. This is why the “mama’s boy” stereotype can be rooted in an unhealthy relationship dynamic; it becomes the boy’s role to meet the mom’s emotional needs.

The viral Facebook post is a great example of treating your son as a romantic partner, even though the mom thought it was a harmless joke. Being overtly clingy towards your son to the point of restricting their growth is toxic. This culture is normalized partly because, even during pregnancy, society prioritizes the male child over the female child. Some mothers are conditioned to believe they will not experience true mother’s love until they have a son. As a result, boys are emotionally infantilized while girls are parentified, leading to emotional codependency between the mother and son.

As a mother, it can be difficult to acknowledge that you are the first person to engage in a toxic relationship with your son. Unpacking the dynamic of your mother-son relationship is necessary because you are the blueprint for what healthy relationships should look like. Normalizing emotional incest from an early age will manifest in a lack of boundaries when a man is pursuing romantic relationships later in life. This dynamic leads to men being emotionally stunted because, at a young age, their emotional needs were neglected to serve their mom.

Mothers need to pursue healthy support systems to avoid engaging in emotional incest with their sons. Allowing children to be children without burdening them with big emotional needs fosters a healthy relationship dynamic. This can be even more difficult for single mothers who lack spousal support in addition to lacking community support. In this instance, mothers should pursue emotional self-regulation by finding a healthy and accessible method that will allow them to release their emotions.


Ever wondered why some men are labeled as ‘mama’s boys’? It’s not because they were overly loved or coddled by their mothers. Instead, it often stems from a dynamic where the mother co-regulates her emotions with the child. When she’s angry or anxious, she unconsciously uses her child to calm her own emotions, making the child an emotional support. This behavior leads the child to become overly bound to the mother, learning to co-regulate in the same way. This anxious attachment is what typically characterizes a ‘mama’s boy.’ Understanding this dynamic is key to recognizing and addressing these deeply ingrained emotional patterns. For more insights into emotional attachments and relationships, click the link in our bio or visit #EmotionalHealth #EmotionalHealing #AttachmentStyles #MamasBoy #PsychologicalInsights #DatingAdvice #SomaticHealing

♬ original sound – doctor.gonzalez

Unpacking mother wounds for men requires recognition of emotional incest for intervention to occur. If you consider yourself a “boy mom” or a mama’s boy, it’s important to examine that dynamic. If you’ve experienced that dynamic as a violation of your boundaries or your privacy, that is considered a red flag. If your mother is disrespectful to your significant other for no reason and justifies this behavior, then it’s also a red flag. It is important to recognize these unhealthy behaviors to then learn to set boundaries and emotionally self-regulate and heal this wound.

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From an astrological lens, with the current support of the moon during Cancer season, connecting with your inner child is especially encouraged. Not only is it Cancer Season, but we also experienced a new moon in Cancer on July 5 which heightened the Cancer energy expression. Collectively, themes of childhood trauma, maternal wounds, home environment, or connecting to your roots might be showing up. During this time, it is helpful to nurture your inner child to tap into your intuition.

Cancer energy is ruled by the moon, which controls the ocean’s tides. In astrology, this makes Cancer a water sign that is associated with the flow of emotions. As a result, it is a great time to connect with your intuition through emotional vulnerability with yourself.  Prioritizing self-care by catering to your needs, reparenting your inner child, and unpacking deep maternal wounds is recommended.

Whether you are unpacking a maternal wound or struggling with other issues in your relationships, inner child healing will help rewire your understanding of healthy relationship dynamics. Check out our article on Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month for mindful practices to help address emotional neglect.

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