Shadow Boxing

A blog that probes the mind's dark secrets

Addicted to Lies

Reflex fraud explains the enigma of Casey Anthony

Casey Anthony told so many lies while people searched for her missing daughter that someone online made a “top ten” list. She even lied when it should have been clear to her that she’d be exposed. Many commentators expressed surprised (and still do) at her belief that her flagrantly false deceptions would work. Yet she’d been doing this for most of her life.

Her brother thought she liked to lie, and to friends Anthony had bragged about her inventive prowess. Quite often, it worked. Such talent arises from a memory for details and an ability to pack them into believable tales. If one went south, Anthony could bounce back with another.

Although the trial is over, she still pops up here and there with a few more fibs. Facts contradict most, but she tells them nonetheless. We can surmise from behaviors on public display that lies often worked for her in a family that just looked the other way. They became a habit, and addiction was but a short step away.

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Because some people deeply fear a loss of control or have a desperate need to prove themselves, they construct layers of stabilizing deceptions. Lies become a defensive strategy. Ensconced in a preferred fiction, lies feel better to them than truth, so they fabricate without provocation. It’s just fun. It helps them control their world and manipulate others.

Law enforcement knows this as ‘duping delight.’ Back in the late nineteenth century, psychologists used the quaint but descriptive term, ‘reflex fraud.’

Even when the truth might serve them better, some people just like to lie.

Initially, they feel joy – perhaps even pride -- from lies that succeed. With this comes a smug sense of superiority, which is confirmed each time they dupe a trusting soul. Eventually, they can lie quickly, elaborately, and convincingly. To them, truth (if they still grasp it) matters less than their personal needs. They view lies as tools, and deception becomes a natural reflex.

Such liars believe they’re immune to discovery, or that they can always cover discovery with another lie. They become the victims of their own lies, but they won’t recognize it. Lies are their friends.

Family mass murderer Jean-Claude Romand began with a little white lie. He’d neglected to take his medical exams, but he told friends and relatives that he’d passed. No one questioned him, so he'd spun a false persona: he was a humanitarian doctor and researcher for the World Health Organization who could offer them all “investment opportunities." With their money, he'd supported his comfortable lifestyle. Yet, like all such liars, he'd failed to plan long-term.

When investors pressured him, Romand claimed he had cancer. This bought him some time, but when finally cornered into a place where no lies would help, he exploded. On January 9, 1993, Romand murdered his wife, children, and parents. Initially, he blamed a “man in black” for these murders, but he finally confessed. The lies were no longer working.

Only with the awareness of serious consequences might such people grasp how their dception hurts others, but some will never relinquish the inner reward their lies have yielded. Reflex fraud is more than just a series of decisions to keep lying; it’s deeply entrenched in the liar’s sense of identity and even in his or her physiology. Lies can become body memories.

Should Casey Anthony pop up again – and she will – we shouldn’t be surprised by anything she says. After all, some of her lies have succeeded.

Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., an expert on murder and other shadow themes, teaches forensic psychology and has published 46 books.

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