Psych Today's Dr. Karyl McBride Answers Your Casey Anthony Trial Questions

As promised, guest blogger Dr. Karyl McBride answers your questions today regarding some of the psychological issues that have arisen during the course of the Casey Anthony trial.

Dr. McBride is the author of Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, published by Simon and Schuster and available as either a paperback or e-book. She will be hosting her annual workshop (for therapists and narcissist survivors) this fall at the Inverness Hotel in Denver, Colorado on October 7 - 9, 2011 (details here), the "Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Workshop."

You may listen to her recent interviews regarding the Casey Anthony trial at her website, which include (1) June 9, 2011 - HLN's "In Session" with Mike Galanos and (2) June 20, 2011 - HLN's "Issues With Jane Velez Mitchell." 

For more details on Dr. McBride's background and expertise, please review the biographic details provided in my earlier post.  What follows are Dr. McBride's answers to the questions sent to her, which were culled from both Backseat Lawyer comments as well as emails that I received regarding psychological questions/concerns.

Question:  In families with a narcissist, what other mental illnesses are found - aren’t they all ill from living with the narcissist and being controlled by him? 

Dr. McBride:  Narcissistic families are a dysfunction all to themselves. There are unique and insidious factors to the family that looks good on the outside, but has emotionally harming behaviors and reactions happening on the inside, in the dark, and behind closed doors. The cornerstone to maternal narcissism is the inability to love unconditionally and a lack of empathy.

Narcissistic parents do not tune in to the emotional world of their children. Instead, everything is all about them...the parents. The children are there to meet the needs of the parents. There are many ramifications to the children... so many, I could write a book about it! Ha! See book details at www.nevergoodenough.com . The most damaging to the children is growing up with nagging self doubt and a feeling of not being good enough.

Question:  What is the difference between a narcissist and a sociopath and a psychopath?

Dr. McBride:  Not all narcissists are sociopaths or psychopaths of course. But most sociopaths and psychopaths are also narcissists. How confusing is that, eh? Psychopaths can't form human attachment, have a lack of empathy, masked by an inability to appear normal. They have no remorse and these are the people with a criminal mind who do bad...really bad things.

Sociopaths are people with social behavior that is extremely abnormal and they are interested only in their own personal needs and desires without concern for the effects of their behavior on others. They can also be criminals.

There is an interaction between genetic predisposition and environmental factors much like addiction in sociopaths and psychopaths, but it is thought that psychopaths leans more towards heredity while sociopaths lean more towards environment.

I don't think there is enough research out there to confirm. The debate continues on nature versus nurture. What makes it even more confusing is that trauma effects the brain.

Question:  Is being a liar or a gambler sometimes a born trait? 

Dr. McBride:  Addictive personalities have a predisposition but turning into a gambler is mostly related to environmental factors. Lying is a learned behavior in my opinion. Can you imagine looking at a new born baby and knowing that this precious little one is sure to be a liar. It doesn't make much sense to me.

Question:  How can a mother not cry about her missing child but go bar hopping and being in “Hot Body” contests? 

Dr. McBride:  Oh, talking about Casey Anthony here? I do not believe we know all the details of this case. See my Psychology Today post on the family dynamics theories. I always worried that Casey's behaviors were trauma related and best explained in that way. I still wonder why the litigation did not bring forth more psychological testimony or assessment.

Question:  I would like to know if it does not seem strange that there has never been any comments from friends or relatives of the Anthony family... except Casey's fly by night 'friends' who we've seen in court. Why no one else is sitting in the courtroom with George and Cindy for support. Where are the siblings of George and Cindy? Or neighbors or parents of Lee or Casey's childhood friends, teachers – anyone who can say something about what life was like in the Anthony household? 

Dr. McBride:  This is such an interesting point! In narcissistic families, there are few friends. Narcissists don't make emotional connections with people. We don't know if this family had narcissistic dynamics, but if there were, this all makes a whole lot of sense to me.

Additionally, the family members of narcissistic families are rarely close and connected. They were not taught to be close, but rather pitted against each other in competitive ways. Ughhh!

Question:  Do narcissists kill? Isn’t that what makes the difference between a narcissist and a sociopath like Ted Bundy? 

Dr. McBride:  Many people have narcissistic traits and we could never say that narcissists kill.

Question:  Is Lee Anthony the scapegoat in this dysfunctional family? 

Dr. McBride:  Again, good question and thought. We don't know anything for sure. But, with the dynamics we saw and then looking at narcissistic family dynamics, it looked that way.

Question:  What about Cindy Anthony? No one talks about her but she lies too and there’s something not right about her. It can’t be just one mentally ill person in that house. What if Cindy is a maternal narcissist? 

Dr. McBride:  I don't want to diagnose anyone without knowing them. We can only do hypotheticals. But the mother-daughter strained relationship makes sense if we have a narcissistic family and an incest family. The engulfing behavior of the mom in this family makes more sense too.

Question:  How do we know if we are working with a narcissist? I think I know someone just like Casey! 

Dr. McBride:  A narcissist is someone who exploits others, has no empathy or interest in others, is all about themselves, can be grandiose, haughty, arrogant, has a sense of entitlement and is jealous of others or thinks others are jealous of them. I think one way to tell is if they are able to give and take and do reciprocity or if it is always about them when they invest in something. The biggest key, however, is that lack of empathy.

Question:  Can narcissists change? Could Casey Anthony have been helped if she was in therapy long ago or she unreachable?

Dr. McBride:  We don't know if Casey was or is a narcissist. Narcissism is a spectrum disorder and one can have traits without being a full-blown NPD. I think it is very difficult to assess what went wrong in this case and with Casey.

I can make a case for the defense though when I look at all the dynamics. If so, then Casey does not look like she appeared on television. Hard to explain, but if you read the blog post on Psychology Today it will make more sense.

I don't believe in diagnosing people we don't know, so please understand that my postings here and on my blog are using the case to educate about dysfunctional families and not to take a stance or diagnose this family. There is much here that we will never know or understand because there are too many unknowns, secrets and lies.

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