Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Friday, June 20, 2014

ASK DR. SETH: Looking Back, Casey Anthony

My new article for Psychology Today was called "The Conflicted, Neglectful Parent." It's about how parents who received bad or neglectful parenting themselves as children will always have moments of resentment when they become parents. (Dark, I know - but true.)

A reader of my Psychology Today Blog asked:

"Do you think this is what happened with Casey Anthony? There were no previous signs of problems, so is it possible that she was the recipient of neglectful parenting and, in turn, neglected her own daughter later in life?"

First, what a great question. Following the theory that Anthony was truly responsible for the death of her child, there's no question that something was seriously off in her development. Now, whether that was early childhood experiences with parents, family or peers; or whether it was something more organic in terms of an impulse control deficit or even sociopathic traits, we don't know. I would need to see psych testing from her, including the MMPI, and would also need to interview her several times over a period of time to truly understand this complex woman's psychological makeup.

My (sad) sense is that Anthony may actually be sociopathic. I did television commentary on this case at the time and saw endless footage of her. Her reaction after the death was extremely disturbing. Studies suggest that up to 50% of sociopathy can be ascribed to genetic factors, which means that there would still need to be some environmental component that was pathological in Anthony's young life. Was that family? Was that negative experiences at school? Was there any kind of physical, sexual or emotional abuse from a parent, coach, camp counselor, school staff member, etc.? Don't forget, over half of all sexual assaults are believed to go unreported. 

Short answer: We really shouldn't blame Anthony's parents. There may have been insufficient parenting (say, an authoritarian or neglectful parenting style), but that simply can't explain the kind of extreme neglectful behavior that leads to a child's death.

The Conflicted, Resentful Parent article: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/insight-is-2020/201406/the-conflicted-resentful-parent-1

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