The most common question I am asked regarding the Casey Anthony trial and its chief participants is why does Casey Anthony lie, and is lying endemic in the Anthony family?
To answer the first question: People usually lie because it gets them what they want. Especially sociopaths. They are glib and charming, have a grandiose sense of self, crave excitement, are cunning and manipulative, impulsive, irresponsible, and promiscuous. They lack serious, realistic long-term goals, and most important, lack empathy, remorse and guilt. And they lie. Pathologically. Because they only have feelings for themselves and what they want. Lying gets them what they want.
That description is certainly true about Casey Anthony. But how did she get away with it for so many years? Why didn’t other people – family, friends – detect the lies years ago? The answer to the second question is denial: The cause of this horrible tragedy lies in the juxtaposition and synergy between lack of anxiety on Casey’s part and denial on the part of her parents and friends.
Lack of anxiety
We know that people who are not anxious – a condition that surely contains both biological and environmental components – can lie without giving away any hint of deception. They don’t feel guilt. They don’t display the tell-tale micro-expressions that people with the normal degree of anxiety display. There are no subtle messages to pick up on, no nervousness or body language that gives them away. They don’t sweat like normal people do when caught in a lie. They don’t blush and their faces don’t turn red. Their voices don’t move to a higher pitch. Their muscles don’t tense; they don’t twitch nervously.
The only consistent sign of anxiety Casey Anthony – which is clearly not an “act” – is the old collar pull – constant adjustment of her clothes most commonly caused by discomfort. The other rarer sign (for Casey) is the panic attack she had in jail when she heard that a child’s bones were found in the area where little Caylee’s body was discovered. Contrast this with her smirk when she heard that searchers were looking in a nearby park – a place where she knew Caylee would not be found.
But how and why did she learn to lie? She learned to lie because she was rewarded. It worked. She got what she wanted. Her parents, especially her mother, wanting to believe the best in her child, turned a blind eye to behavior and excuses that was questionable, inconsistent, and would have been of major concern to more vigilant parents. They, like many parents of dysfunctional kids, didn’t really want to know. They didn’t want to face the pain of knowing. To one degree or another, they were “in denial.” Her lies were never questioned. She was able to steal, party, neglect to contribute financially to her and her daughter’s support without consequences. With her mother’s support, she was able to successfully push back when she was challenged – and her father, sometimes sensing deceit – did try to challenge her. Unfortunately, he was intimidated by Cindy and Casey into silence, an act of regret that he agonized about in his suicide note.
Casey, able to get away with her lies with no one holding her accountable, honed her skill to a fine art. And she did so with horrible consequences.