From my perspective as a brain educator, no one fails at parenting. I firmly believe that every parent does the very best they can in any given moment. Even Casey Anthony, given the stresses she was under and her personal trauma history, was doing the best she could in the moments just before and after her daughter was lost to her. And some of our less conscious, less skillful moments as a parent unquestionably result in great suffering for ourselves and our children.
The remedy for many of the patterns present in the Casey Anthony saga were best administered in the early years of her development, when she might have been provided secure attachment with an optimized flow of energy and information to her young brain. That said, here are 11 areas where Casey Anthony’s brain, based on second-hand news reports, seemed to come up short…
Lack of impulse control
Habitual impulsiveness gets in the way of being able to organize a stable life. But we know from extensive studies in brain research that without sufficient orbitofrontal neural connections, impulse control is not easily accomplished. From all accounts of her drinking and partying, not to mention being re-arrested multiple times while out on bail for things like forging checks and petty theft, Casey Anthony seemed to have an impulse control problem. She also appears to have an …
Inability to be truthful and honest
People who are unable to consistently tell the truth demonstrate a neurological deficiency. Lying is a strategy we initially develop as a way to manage anxiety and avoid punishment or any responsibility for our actions as young children. When the adults in our world allow that strategy to work to help us self-regulate, it becomes reinforced. Subsequently, the probability increases that we will try it again next time we’re caught in a stressful situation. Casey Anthony appears to have had much to lie about in her early years. That early dynamic seems to have in part contributed to her suffering today.
Lack of perseverance and perseveration
Some of us give up too easily, while others of us are unable to stop even when our quest will clearly be fruitless. A tough balance for even the best of us to skillfully manage sometimes. In Casey’s case the fact that she concocted a story concerning the whereabouts of her daughter and then was unable to change it, even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary, suggests that critical circuits connecting her emotional brain to her higher order abilities were not functioning properly.
Misattribution of blame
Some people always blame themselves for even the slightest mishap. Some always blame others. Casey Anthony’s primary strategy was to blame fictitious people she fabricated from whole cloth like Zenaida “Zanny” Fernandez-Gonzalez, the phantom nanny, or her parents for a variety of transgressions. There appears to be virtually no capacity for self-introspection, nor the ability to feel any responsibility for Caylee’s disappearance.
Using the wrong abilities
Casey was clearly unable to use the right abilities for the tasks required of her as a mother. For example, using right brain intuition – going with her gut – when some linear, logical assessment might best be brought to bear. Intuition tends to work best for most of us when wired up and integrated with logic and love.
Inability to orient towards outcomes
Some people seem more concerned about the process than the results of activity. In my experience it’s often better to first envision what end result we’re wanting, and then work backwards in our efforts to bring it into being. The only outcome Casey Anthony seemed concerned about was to avoid any severe consequences for her actions.
Inability to complete tasks
For some people nothing ever draws to a close. Perhaps it’s fear of what they would do next or fear of becoming hopelessly enmeshed in detail. This and the next item are both results of diminished Executive Function capacity. By itself many of us are often able to find workarounds. Great stress makes effective Executive Functioning almost impossible.
Lack of an integrated mirror neuron system
Mirror neurons operate to trigger emotional states in us in response to events and behaviors that happen to other people. They allow us to empathize with others. A number of reports suggest that Casey does not have much of her mirror neuron system up and fully operating very often.
Distractibility and lack of concentration
Even some very intelligent people have very short attention spans. By itself, it’s not a problem. If Caylee did accidentally drown, as several reports suggest, it was very likely because the adults in charge of supervising her became overly distracted and began living in The Precarious Present.
Overwhelmed by personal difficulties
A great many of us are unable to keep personal difficulties from grossly interfering with our life and work. In our lives, most of us can expect some real joys and some real sorrows. Maintaining a proper perspective is often difficult. When you add the stress of a missing child to an already disorganized brain, overwhelm can be the ready result.
Inability to translate thought into constructive action
Any number of us appear to be constantly buried in thought. Our linear language hemispheres race a mile a minute. We sometimes have good ideas, but rarely seem able to do anything about them. Whatever happened that resulted in the death of Casey’s daughter, Caylee, that loss, and the stresses at the trial that resulted from it I can guarantee have done significant damage to Casey’s nervous system. Much like OJ Simpson, I will not be at all surprised to find Casey’s picture on the front page once again in the not too distant future.
* Many of these elements were adapted from the book, In Search of the Human Mind by Robert Sternberg. NY: Harcourt Brace