The Casey Anthony Trial: From Fascination to Just Plain Sad

Commentary: mysteries of incest and narcissism in dysfunctional families

Posted Jul 08, 2011

The highly publicized Orlando murder trial ended last weekend with 4th of July fireworks exploding on the 23rd floor of the Orange County, Florida courthouse. The carefully selected jury went to deliberations for a short time and came back with a verdict of "not guilty." There continues to be riveting reflection as the public is transfixed on this almost surreal scene of courtroom drama and family dynamics. Of course, everyone loves a mystery and many like to play armchair detective, psychologist, and "who done it" experts. But, the fact remains that the dynamics in this murder trial may hit close to home for many. That's not to say it is common to have murder in families, but, that the issues brought forth in this soap opera trial seem to be causing personal stir in the public eyes of the world. Everyone comes from different perspectives and backgrounds, as does the microcosm of the selected jury, but the outcome was an enigma to many. Some are calling the verdict nefarious and immoral. Some are raging about miscarriage of justice. Casey Anthony will be released from jail in approximately one week.

Coming from thirty years of trauma work with narcissistic and incest families, this writer proposes that the national fascination with this case comes from a place of mystery. That mystery may be that the dynamics of the issues discussed are not well understood.

Unpacking the defense arguments may allow for further understanding, but is not intended to take a stance on guilt or not. Sometimes doors are simply opened for further education. Let's take this case as a hypothetical.

With public pre-convictions of Ms. Anthony, one has to wonder if there was a "bias against Baez?" When discussing this with Craig Truman, a nationally known defense attorney in Denver, Colorado, the wonderment was confirmed. Jokingly, Mr. Truman reported, " When people ask me what I do, I often tell them I am with the mob rather than a criminal defense lawyer. People often are put off with what I do until one of their family members gets arrested and then I'm their best friend and they become civil libertarians." It is difficult to believe that people would not want to hear all the evidence on both sides without preconceived bias.

As defense attorney Jose Baez began his opening argument, he very quickly threw out the allegation that the father of Casey, Mr. George Anthony, had sexually abused her. Then Mr. Baez did not bring testimony to this effect during the trial. But, one has to wonder what evidence he could bring? Even in circumstantial criminal sexual abuse cases, the argument usually comes down to "he said" vs "she said." Sexual abuse on a child is done in secret, and we typically do not have witnesses or medical evidence. Children do not report sexual abuse readily, especially in incest families. Mothers in incest families do not usually know the abuse is going on. Siblings are played against each other and the offender controls the communication in the family. Eric Leberg, in Understanding Child Molesters, states the following:

" Working with child molesters on probation and parole shows that they have lied for more years than they have molested. Many others who work with offenders on a professional basis have written and spoken about the sex offender's willingness to be dishonest and to we have seen, the offender has deliberately hidden the truth about himself from others. He has also deliberately revealed parts of his life that would decrease suspicion. He has learned to read others' reactions and gauge when others might be suspicious. Simply put, the sex offender has often become an extremely skillful deceiver." Learning to lie comes from somewhere rather than a blanket determination of a sociopathic liar. Lying and secrets are at the core of the incest family. Having worked with thousands of incest families, these dynamics are paramount in each case.

If Casey's brother Lee did sexually act out on his sister and there is a parental sex offender in the family, this is a dynamic we see frequently in incest families. It is fairly common in incest families to see sexual acting out with the children, sexual promiscuity in the victim, strained relationships in the parental marriage and other unusual sexual activity with the offender.

If there was a cover-up of an accidental drowning, and we factor in that sex offenders go to jail for a lifetime too...would there be motive to hide the body if the victim threatened to report the sexual abuse? Maybe the father's background in law enforcement could play a role in cover-up as suggested? Someone could go to jail in the drowning theory if reported immediately. One for neglect or one for sexual maybe trying to set it up as a kidnapping and a murder made sense to protect both. Not moral or reasonable sense... but dysfunctional family sense. If then, Casey was instructed to lie about the cover-up, and she was continuing to go along with it, how hard would this be to do? She is young and she could have been in a desperately traumatic state of mind. Could it have been difficult, in a state of trauma, to deal with such a horrific cover-up? Many have questioned the accidental drowning and why the family did not simply call 911. If there were secrets to be kept, this question is answered. It also suggests incredible dysfunction.

Prosecutor Jeff Ashton revealed in his closing arguments that Casey was afraid of her mother's reactions. There was much talk about the power of the mother in this case. That she would not approve of this or that and she told George to stay out of it and not be negative. If there was also maternal narcissism, it could be difficult for most people to understand the fear of the narcissistic mother. Victoria Secunda writes masterfully in When You and Your Mother Can't Be Friends, "Their mothers may be long dead or white-haired, and in-firm, but still they have a profound hold on their daughters, who talk of them as though they were about to be sent to their rooms. How is this reign of terror by little old ladies possible?" In the experience of interviewing and treating hundreds of daughters of narcissistic mothers, that fearful display of the narcissistic mother is seen in practice on a near daily basis. For those who have loving and nurturing mothers who fit the saintly archetype of what mothers should be, this fear factor is truly hard to understand. To learn about daughters raised by narcissistic mothers, read more in Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.

In addition, if there was incest in this family, the mother's jealousy of the daughter that is evident in incest cases and narcissistic families, would explain the conflicts in the mother-daughter relationship. If there was an engulfing narcissistic mother in the family, does the murder motive of Casey seeking freedom to live the beautiful life really make sense when everyone would know that the grandmother would engulf and care for the child? Engulfing narcissistic mothers over-parent in the early years when they have control over the child. The relationship begins to fall apart for the mother and daughter when the child grows into some independent thinking in adolescence.

If there was murder of this child, and the perpetrator was Casey...would there be some evidence of child abuse in the past? Was there a record of abuse from this young woman towards her child? The ex-fiancé, Jesse Grund and his father, both spoke highly of Casey. They also spoke of her insecurity and neediness and her desire to exaggerate things to make herself feel better. This can be narcissism, but it can also be a child who was not loved and nurtured properly. It was interesting that this same fiancé said he witnessed the dynamics in the Anthony household and the mother frequently beat down Casey's self esteem. He described constant negativity and past failures being thrown in her face. These are familiar sketches we see with maternal narcissism and mother-daughter dynamics. Jesse Grund reported that he would not have wanted to grow up there.

And finally, looking at grief and trauma reactions, we know that people can respond to severe trauma in many unpredictable ways. Ways that don't necessarily make sense to many unless they have experienced the same. It is very common, for instance for people to cope in dysfunctional ways when experiencing severe trauma by using drugs, alcohol, sex, and other ways to numb the pain. There is also the factor of dissociation. To cope, the victim often will dissociate and remove herself or himself from the pain. It is possible that the triple trauma of losing one's child, being a victim of incest, being a child of a narcissistic family, could cause significant trauma to a young woman. Then if one added a horrific and dysfunctional directive of cover-up, what would happen to that young person?

Was there some method to the madness of the father's suicide attempt, letter, calls to family? We are not to judge this. But, if the cover-up was not working, and his daughter was now arrested and set for trial in a death penalty case, that could cause some significant concern on his part. Could he have been concerned that the sexual abuse allegations would be brought forward? And he would be asked to testify?

Although the defense did bring in a grief counselor to testify...there is wonderment about how little this has been discussed. Have we seen continual clips of that testimony? How much has grief and trauma been discussed in this case? Could there have been some wisdom to bringing in trauma experts to discuss Casey's bizarre behavior? Was there a lack of psychological testimony to augment the understanding of the family dynamics? Was there assessment done on Casey or her family?

The bottom line is that a child died. A life lost. Of course there is outrage and should be. Being a child advocate for years causes this writer to not even be able to view the pictures of a precious little girl smattered across the screen on a daily basis.Anyone following this case has to have a hole in his or her heart, just knowing that something happened to this little girl. But, is there more to the story than we know? Of course there always is. There continues to be "the mystery" and many want the mystery solved.

There is no intent here to take sides on a case where even the jury could not determine how the child died. There is only the intent to use the hypothetical of a case unsolved to educate further about dynamics in incest and narcissistic families. If we want to prevent child abuse in the future, there is a great need for further education in these arenas.

Additional Resources for Recovery:

Resource Website:

Book: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

Audio Book:

Workshop: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Virtual Workshop. Work recovery in the privacy of your own home, complete with video presentations and homework assignments:



Daughter Intensives: One on one sessions with Dr. Karyl McBride

“Is this your Mom?” Take the survey: