Published October 22, 2008
Now that murder charges have been filed against Casey Anthony, the question of her underlying character is more important to answer than ever. Her 3-year-old daughter Caylee is allegedly dead, by her hands. This, after months of Casey lying to family, police and even the famed bail bondsman who sprung her from jail, convinced he could get her to tell the truth about her daughter's whereabouts.
Without having examined Ms. Anthony, I won't hazard a diagnosis of her. But there's plenty that's clear from her demeanor and behavior.
First, Anthony displays an extraordinary capacity to lie. She spun tall tales about Caylee's whereabouts, leading police on wild goose chases. She maintained her falsehoods, or generated new ones at will, even in the face of authority figures--like police or the courts--using their influence to try to unravel them.
This "ability" to deceive and not be coaxed back toward the facts may indicate that she has homed this ability since childhood. While we don't know enough about Anthony's childhood, one kind of environment that could spawn this comfort with lying would be a home where her real and genuine feelings were disregarded or in which punishment was inevitable, regardless of whether she was truly blameworthy. In such circumstances, children and adolescents can break from attempts to stay safe or be vindicated by the facts and learn to lie very effectively to escape responsibility. Lying to parents is the growing place for lying to other authority figures, without a "normal" amount of anxiety when doing so.
Second, Anthony showed almost no panic or concern or depression related to her daughter being missing or dead. This raises the possibility that she is almost entirely cut off from concerns about the suffering or well-being of others. As a woman alone among us, she could be focused exclusively on her own needs--for pleasure or power or money.
Again, having evaluated many murderers and testified in their trials, it is my opinion that this disconnectedness is not genetic. You aren't born with it. It is the outgrowth of earlier life events that were painful enough to lead a person to abandon emotional bonds with others--and with the self. Faced with untenable traumatic or stressful events or relationships, it is as if the person signs off from the interpersonal bonds that define real connections. And that makes the person capable of inflicting great harm on others without feeling remorse.
Third, Anthony seems to display the same kind of misguided self-confidence or narcissism that was evident in Scott Peterson. Peterson (and it seems Anthony) was a bad liar because his lack of empathy also meant he lacked sensitivity to how others would judge his tall tales. It may well be the case that Anthony, too, has trouble telling convincing lies because she can't intuit how her audience--whether police or a jury--will "hear" them (whether they will ring true).
Anthony recently cried when the murder charges against her were recited in court. That's consistent with concern about her own future--which might be spent behind bars, instead of in nightclubs. It also reminds all of us that her grief does not appear to extend to her daughter's likely fate, which apparently moves her far less, if at all.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His newest book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement. Check out Dr. Ablow's website at livingthetruth.com