Gray Matters: Thoughts Inspired by Casey Anthony - Op-Ed

Now don't get immediately upset because I use the words "Inspired by Casey Anthony" in the title without including some sort of bequest for her head on a platter. I knew that folks all over the country were beyond upset that Casey Anthony was acquitted of all charges related to the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.
By: Cathy DeBuono
January 31 2012 3:01 PM

Gray Matters: Thoughts Inspired By Casey Anthony, A Psychologically Driven Theory of What Could Have Happened by MFT Cathy DeBuono

Read Gray Matters: Thoughts Inspired by Casey Anthony Part 2 here.

Now don't get immediately upset because I use the words "Inspired by Casey Anthony" in the title without including some sort of bequest for her head on a platter. I knew that folks all over the country were beyond upset that Casey Anthony was acquitted of all charges related to the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. However, since the closing of the trial last August, I have gone into a comfortable denial about the raging violent blood lust of the majority. Enter her “leaked” video diary on January 5th, and the release of her pre-trial psychological evaluations this month, and all that public blood lust came rushing back to the fore.

I won’t explain here who Casey Anthony is. Unless you have been living under a proverbial rock for the last year, you know exactly who she is. If you don't, give her a Google and you'll find enough to keep you busy, well, forever.

Like thousands of others, I became enthralled last summer by the murder trial of Casey Anthony. I was fascinated by the sheer vacillating appearance of what seemed to be going on. I'm always drawn to a murder mystery. However, the more information I learned about the case and the more characters we met along the way, the less clear all of it seemed to become. 

Never mind the black and white of guilt or innocence -- I had other questions. Who, exactly, were the good guys supposed to be? Who was the bad guy? There was no proof to lead us to a conclusion of an inarguable truth. The closer I looked at the black and white facts all I could see was gray.

A lover of psychology as I am, I was hooked. Not only did the stories, time lines, and “so-called” facts of the case seem negotiable (as demonstrated by the lies told by Casey herself), but all the supporting characters in the entire Anthony family seemed to shift and change shape depending on the moment in time we encountered them. 

By this family’s standards, reality, it seemed, was something to be negotiated until all parties were sufficiently appeased. It’s as if “truth” ceased to be a matter of any real importance a long, long time ago. I was astounded at how each and every member of Casey’s immediate family behaved just like holograms. We’d see whatever image of themselves was necessary for their survival in any given moment.

It was a spectacle not to be quickly understood. How does an entire family end up manifesting into an organism that harmoniously operates in this way? I have to imagine that the answer can only be that it was a far more palatable option than the truth itself.

Very early on in the trial last year it became clear to me that if actual responsibility were going to be allocated appropriately for the death of this baby we would have to expand the diameter of the hot seat to include not only Casey but decades of generations of the entire Anthony family tree. No one seemed interested in doing the work. Not the prosecution, not the media, hardly anyone.

Now don't get me wrong -- I can hear the boiling blood from here as I dare to insinuate that Casey be granted a bit of wiggle room. I'm not implying she be free of all accountability for any responsibility she holds in the death of her daughter. I am suggesting that everyone who wants to burn Casey at the stake, slap themselves in the face and snap out of their simpleton thinking - just for a minute. 

I’m aware of how the story of those 31 days after her child was “missing” makes Casey look to the rest of us. Who can fathom how any innocent, loving, well intended, mother could put on a happy face and party after the death of her two year-old daughter. Even if she weren’t responsible for the death itself, who doesn’t report an accident or someone she suspected as her killer? What kind of person lies to cover up the bad behavior of someone who they believe caused the death of their baby? I’ll tell you quite possibly who. A survivor of horrific, life long sexual abuse coupled with emotional neglect who has been protecting that person as a matter of survival for her whole entire life.

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Again, let me qualify my remarks lest I be next in line for the firing squad for daring to suggest Casey deserve a little breathing room here. I know she lied to police and lead them on a wild goose chase. And I’m not implying that every survivor of abuse results in the same personality structure as everyone else. There are often similarities in the ego structures (ways of navigating relationships and the world) that develop in different people who have suffered similar extraordinary conditions. But make no mistake; no two of them are ever identical. Human beings are like snow flakes. Each born with unique potentialities for all kinds of possible developments and our environment dictates the rest. Development of destructive ego structures is never simply excusable, but with a little patience and courage, it sure can be understood and used for the higher good.

There is a reason Casey’s behavior is shocking to a great many of us. We apply a logic and expectation to the behavior of others based on what we would expect of ourselves. We look at others and the choices they make and we make judgments. We listen to the words they choose, we watch their level of emotion and we decide what we think is appropriate for the seat they find themselves in. We base it all on what we can identify with, personally. Sometimes we’d all be better off to consider that maybe, just maybe, we don’t have the frame of reference necessary to fully understand what we are observing.

Despite the arrogance of prosecutor Jeff Ashton as he worked the trial of Casey Anthony -- a factor I believe played a role in his losing the entire thing quite frankly -- the black and white pieces of evidence in this case weren’t quite enough to convince 12 reasonable adults that Casey Anthony was singularly and absolutely responsible for the death and disposal of her daughter, a decision I completely agree with.

Mr. Ashton has been quoted as saying the jury was made up of a more “dull” crowd than he had hoped for. I would have to completely disagree. Those twelve people were sharp enough to recognize that the gray areas in this case matter greatly, and they weren’t willing to kill anyone or put them in jail for life because of it. I’m sorry, Mr. Ashton, if the good people of Florida didn’t make your job easy and simply fall in line with the mob mentality that the streets so easily adopted. These people could hear the grumbling of the storm surrounding Caylee’s death, and they courageously made the right decision.

What happened to Caylee Anthony was not born inside the closed vacuum of Casey Anthony's mind. What happened to Caylee Anthony was not that simple. What happened to Caylee Anthony was not a black and white, open and shut case. What happened to Caylee Anthony was born out of years and years of negotiable realities, re-written truths, and whopping convenient lies that were as natural and common to the Anthonys as church on Sundays. Caylee Anthony died in a creepy gray storm.

The pre-trial psychological evaluation reports of Casey Anthony prepared by Dr. Danzinger and Dr. Weitz were released publicly for the first time just this month. It would seem that the psychological findings in these reports fully support, in theory, all of Casey’s allegations of the sexual abuse history by her father. 

Although upon first glance Casey seems to fit the description of a Sociopath, she tested completely normal and free of any personality disorders by the standards of the most tried and true psychological testing tools of today’s day and age. If she’s not a cold, murderous, Sociopath then exactly what happened here? And how do we, as a society, turn that knowledge into wisdom.

Casey had shared with many people in different settings and at different times in her life that she was a victim of her father’s forced incest. Sure she's a proven liar, but how do we decide when? How do we decide who else is or isn't? Casey’s ex-boyfriend reports that she told him she would wake up in the morning as a child lethargic, nauseous and sore in private places of her body.

Still others who were interviewed during the course of the investigation in this case gave testimony that George Anthony, Casey’s father, loved to be around children, that he somehow seemed more at home around them than adults. An observation that gave more than a couple of them a creepy, unsettling feeling.

Psychologist Dr. Keith Ablow wrote in his book “Inside the Mind of Casey Anthony” that as Casey labored to give birth to Caylee, George stood at the foot of her bed in full view of her “naked, shaved vagina”. I suppose I can understand his being in the delivery room. It’s possible Casey wanted her family's support. However, I have to question the motives of a man who willingly heads straight to the foot of his 18-year-old daughter's bed, as she lay bare from the waste down, spread eagle and vulnerable. Wasn’t there anywhere else in the room to be?

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When Casey's mother Cindy Anthony, learned that Casey was pregnant and didn't know who the father was, she didn't take her 18 year old, self proclaimed virgin of a daughter to an obstetrician. In fact, Casey's loving and supportive parents never took her for any prenatal care at all. Instead, the Anthonys adopted a collective delusion that the pregnancy wasn't really happening. They sidestepped their son, Lee's, queries about his obviously pregnant sister. Cindy actively continued to claim that Casey was "still a virgin" to anyone who asked and the entire family lived in their collectively created delusion right up until Caylee was born.

These are but glimpses at the makings of the people who raised Casey Anthony. Is it any wonder she grew up developing what would become masterful "cool-as-a-cucumber" Sociopathic lying skills? It's pretty clear she had been severely psychologically damaged long before she would ever become a mother.

When a little girl grows up learning that reality is negotiable, lying is a way of life, and happens to have enough of her own internal predisposition for a certain type of personality, you have the perfect storm. Storms aren't black and white, they're a deep, murky, opaque gray - and when someone is on trial for their life, gray matters.

The screams from the rafters for Casey Anthony to burn in hell is born of our unconscious human need to believe that we have the ability to recognize evil when we see it and that we are potent enough to snuff it out. In reality, we are potent enough to do no such thing. Our human abilities to organize the chaos that is our experience can only go so far. Beyond that there is nothing but gray area, chaos, and we are faced with expanding to include that, or live like simpletons.

Today, we are living in a world where a majority of people would rather kill Casey Anthony or see her rot in prison than accept the discomfort that grey actually matters. What about racking focus past Casey, and searching for a more complete truth in service of not only justice for Caylee - but in the expansion of our human consciousness?

It is far more challenging to accept that maybe, just maybe, we still don't exactly know where the evil lay in the tale of Caylee Anthony's demise. We still cannot see clearly enough through this murky storm of gray for the white light of the truth. To look at this reality touches us in the darkest recesses of our most primitive human fears. And a great majority would rather just see a troubled 25-year-old woman burn in hell.

So what’s my point? Allow me spell it out. Had we, as a society, been tuned in to Casey Anthony before June 16th, 2008 we would be calling for someone else’s head on a platter. We would be rushing to Casey’s aid, wearing t-shirts with her photo on it and out raged about what had happened to her. We’d recognize her seamless lies and ability to completely detach from her emotional center as the defenses they are, developed out of a sheer need to survive without completely unraveling. We would be crying out for justice for Casey... but we were all simply too late.

So then what happened to Caylee?

If Casey were involved in the actual purposeful killing of her daughter, I have two theories that I believe jibe with not only my own observations of the characters in this story, but with the black and white facts and the recently unsealed psychological evaluations. 

By all of the accounts from Casey’s friends, she was a masterful liar. However, the one thing that remained uniform in all of their testimony was that Casey felt her life was completely and utterly controlled by her mother Cindy. Casey felt smothered, judged, leashed and most of all – valueless, according to much of what her friends said. When Casey had gone to her mother for protection from her father (and then later from her brother), Cindy called her a “whore” and suggested her brother was probably “just walking in his sleep”. That was the end of Cindy’s intervention.

On June 15, 2008 Casey had a documented knock down drag out fight with her mother -- the fight where Cindy accused Casey of being an unfit mother and threatened to take custody of Caylee legally. According to Casey’s brother Lee the fight escalated to include Cindy physically attacking and choking Casey. I can imagine this as a straw to break the camel’s back of Casey’s already damaged psyche.

Remember Casey’s response to Cindy’s MySpace post during those 31 days? Cindy wrote of her “ungrateful, selfish” daughter who was now “withholding” her perfect “angel”of a grandchild from her.

Casey responded with, “On the worst of worst days remember the words spoken. With great power comes great consequence. Trust no one but yourself. Everyone lies. Everyone dies.”

I can’t help but wonder how a 22-year-old girl from a supposedly loving and supportive family came to believe you should “trust no one but yourself”and that “everyone lies.” By 22, Casey’s frame of reference of the ways of the world and significant relationships had included only her family of origin. She hadn’t ventured out into the world yet to have suffered a series of events elsewhere that would create such a perspective. A perspective so deeply ingrained in her, that she was able to emotionally sever all ties with her own parents.

Read Gray Matters: Thoughts Inspired by Casey Anthony Part 2 here.

Cathy DeBuono is a Licensed Clinical Psychotherapist; her online practice is at Cathy Is In. Tune in live to Cathy Is In: The Cathy DeBuono Show Tuesdays at 12:00 pm PST on LA Talk Radio, Transformation Talk Radio and WBLQ 1230AM RI.

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