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Casey Anthony and Lying: Is It Nature or Nurture?

June 16, 2011 by

I have been following the Casey Anthony trial currently going on in Florida. As everyone probably knows by now, Casey Anthony is the young mother charged with the death of her two-year-old daughter, Caylee.  In 2008 Caylee was reported missing by Casey’s mother. When speaking with the police, Casey revealed that her daughter had been missing for 31 days. She never told any of her family or friends the child was missing. When anyone asked about her daughter, Casey told them about different people she spent time with.  Every one of those stories was a lie and none of the people she mentioned even existed, but that didn’t stop Casey — she kept on lying.

Casey told police that she left her daughter with her regular nanny, at the regular apartment where she always dropped her off, and went off to work like usual. During the investigation it became clear that there was no nanny, the apartment had been vacant for months, and Casey did not have a job. With even further investigation, the police found video footage of Casey shopping, using checks that were not hers, as well as photos of her in nightclubs during the 31 days her daughter was missing.

For three years she stuck with this story that the child was kidnapped by the nanny. She even gave the name of the nanny, who turned out to be a real person, though she’d never met Casey, never worked as a nanny and never lived in that apartment.  Casey told lie after lie, but stuck to each one no matter how outrageous. Casey has been in jail for the last three years. Even after the body of her daughter was found and the circumstantial evidence against her mounted ever higher, she still maintained her innocence and stuck to the story about the nanny.

Casey’s lawyer stated that when the trial began, he would reveal the truth behind what happened to Caylee and the world would finally understand and empathize with Casey for not reporting her daughter missing for 31 days. He claimed it would all suddenly make sense. True to his word, in his opening statement, he claimed that Casey was sexually abused by her father as a child and since the age of eight has been able to survive in the world by keeping secrets and lying. He then claimed the baby drowned in the pool and Casey’s father helped to hide her body.

The case has been highly publicized and I have been following it from the start. Over the past three years, people following the case have tossed out opinions regarding Casey: Narcissist. Sociopath.  Borderline personality. And now, Abuse. If this is true, it begs the question, “nature or nurture?” Is this Casey’s nature, or was she trained by her circumstances to lie?

The reason I am so fascinated with this case is because there are people who lie habitually in my own world and I have been struggling to make sense of it. My stepson is 11 and the lies roll off of his tongue with no forethought. He doesn’t even have time to plan them!  He lies to cover up something he’s done to avoid a consequence. That kind of lie I can even almost understand. Kids lie and kids with ADHD lie a lot. But his lies are more deliberate, more calculating. He will get in your face and be so angry and belligerent when you’re asking about the something he’s done, as if you have some nerve even asking him! He’ll leave you wondering if maybe you were mistaken.  Then the next day he will “confess.” After a week or so he’ll say he only confessed so people would stop questioning him, but that he was innocent all along.  Again, I can almost “get” when he lies after being accused of something, but he also will tell elaborate stories of things that happened that really never did! That’s what gets to me the most — when he lies when there was no reason to lie!

So is this nature or nurture? He has been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as ADHD and anxiety and depression.  He suffered neglect as a baby and witnessed domestic violence. Many children with this type of history have similar symptoms. They lie, they steal, and they hoard food. If you can remove them from their environment early, they might learn to feel safe and to trust the adults who care for them. Maybe not. These are defense mechanisms and maladaptive behaviors these children have used to cope.

My stepson’s mother also lies. She lies all the time. Mostly her lies are to manipulate you into doing what she wants. My all-time favorite was when she asked my husband if she could pick up J. from school at 3:30 instead of at the house at 4:30. The plan was for her to pick him up every other Friday after the bus dropped him at home. More often than not she cancelled at the last minute or asked my husband to bring him to her on Saturday. My husband tried explaining the importance of consistency to no avail. She begged. She pleaded. She CRIED. “I am the mom of the family! I have other children who need to have dinner! The traffic is terrible at that time of day! If you let me pick him  up it gives me an extra hour with him and we can make dinner together! It will be a special time for us to cook together!” So my husband gave in and we arranged for her to get him. The next day we asked him what he had for dinner. He said he had pizza. We asked if he and mom made pizza together. He looked at us like we had two heads. “Um, no. Mom ALWAYS orders pizza on the Fridays when she gets me. It’s a tradition. We even call it J & K pizza night!”

If you confront my husband’s ex with her lies, she will get very angry; how dare you question her! Sometimes she’ll tell you it didn’t happen the way you remember, or that you were the one who lied. She’ll rewrite history and say you did things you know you didn’t do. Or she’ll finally admit that she lied, but in a twisted way will justify why she did. Let’s face it, I could probably write a book with all of her fabrications and the fantasy world she seems to live in. But what fascinates me and makes me crazy at the same time is that she functions in the world, just as I do. She holds a job. Why isn’t she held accountable for her lies? People tiptoe around her.  Nobody wants to confront her — it’s just not worth going to the mat with her over every lie she tells.

So I ask myself, is it nature or nurture? Did my stepson learn to lie from the master? His older brother, at age 14, has commented on the fact that his mother lies. He seems to have just accepted it and adapted.  So did my stepson become the way he is due to the environment he was living in and adapted to protect himself?

The real question is, can we help him and steer him in the right direction or is this something inborn that cannot be changed?

Emmie is the mom of two boys, ages 13 and 19, both with ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. She is remarried and her husband also has two boys, ages 10 and 13. Emmie says, “There is always something happening at our house!”

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