Monday, June 20, 2011

The Many Innocent Victims of Incest

Susan Smith placed her young children in a car and let it roll into a lake in 1994. She hid the facts, blamed someone else and was later found guilty and is currently serving a prison sentence. Casey Anthony is currently on trial for the disappearance and subsequent death of her two -year old daughter Caylee. Immediately after her daughter’s disappearance, Casey hid the facts and blamed someone else. Both women claim to have been incested by their fathers for several years of their childhoods and into their adulthoods, and it is this connection and the similarities of their alleged crimes that I want to think about.

Incestuous relationships create a confusing and traumatic situation with the child in all cases. The bond with the incestuous parent becomes confused between the normal attachment that a child feels for a parent as caregiver and the additional sexual attachment. There is no such thing as mutually consensual incest and there is no outcome to such situations other than trauma.

One of the major psychological findings about children involved in incestuous relationships with their parents is what’s called an insecure attachment style. Okay, quick primer on attachment. Attachment is the word we use to describe the bond between parent and child in childhood, which later translates to how well the individual is able to bond in adult relationships. The Attachment Bond Theory was created by an English Psychiatrist named John Bowlby and an American Psychologist named Mary Ainsworth in the 1960’s.

Ideally, a child will be securely attached and able to create meaningful relationships and feel empathy for others as they mature. Secure attachment is the result of parenting that is child focused with an awareness of the child’s emotional world. Everything else falls under a large umbrella called insecure attachment and includes avoidant, ambivalent, disorganized and reactive attachment styles. Avoidant attachment is the result of unavailable or rejecting parents and leads to adults who are avoidant of intimate relationships, rigid and critical. Ambivalent attachment occurs when parenting is inconsistent and even sometimes intrusive. Ambivalently attached children grow up to be anxious and insecure adults who can be controlling, blaming, and erratic. Disorganized attachment is the result of parents who ignore their children and even can behave in frightening or traumatizing ways. Children raised this way can become chaotic, insensitive abusive adults, who in spite of their behavior, desperately crave security. Finally, reactive attachment is the result of extremely unattached or malfunctional parenting and often results in adults who are incapable of forming relationships. Okay, primer done.

So, as I mentioned, ideally we raise our children to be securely attached individuals who will later pursue and nurture healthy adult relationships. Where incest is involved, as alleged in the Casey Anthony case, there is no chance for secure attachment. The very act of molestation discounts awareness of the child’s emotional needs. As we have seen in the case of Susan Smith and other women who have committed similar crimes, the sad reality of attachment dysfunction is that it trickles down to the person’s own relationship with her children, or in other words, the inability to attach includes the inability to attach to biological offspring. 

In both the Casey Anthony and the Susan Smith cases the immediate reaction of the women seemed to be detachment and dissociation from the reality of the loss of their child. They seemed emotionless when talking about their missing children and appeared to be cold and callous. Additionally they resorted to primary defenses of blaming others and perhaps hoping that they could get away with, well literally murder, if they simply pretended the crime didn’t happen. It’s a very childlike way of reacting, like deflecting responsibility for a broken lamp. This immaturity can also be the result of insecure attachment as their primary focus in growing up might have been survival in a chaotic home, a home that allowed incest for example, instead of being nurtured through maturity in a healthy way.

Is insecure attachment an excuse for killing your children? No. emphatically, no. However, knowing that there is an explanation that can serve to clarify why such a nightmare can and does happen, can help us to feel like the world is a bit more organized, and can remind us as parents how important it is to be good and attentive caregivers. Our children require us to see them, to acknowledge and respond to their emotional worlds in nurturing ways, to hold reasonable and steady boundaries within which they will push and eventually become their own person. Unfortunately, it is way to easy to create children and much, much more difficult to create highly functioning people.


A Voice of Sanity said...

"Additionally they resorted to primary defenses of blaming others and perhaps hoping that they could get away with, well literally murder, if they simply pretended the crime didn’t happen."

You are assuming facts in the Anthony case that do not exist. Accident fits the actual, known facts far better than homicide of any sort.

Anonymous said...

An interesting read. However like Voice of Sanity I too got the feeling that there is an underlying assumption of Casey Anthony's guilt - which looks very doubtful so far despite most of the country being ready to lynch her.

But even if Casey didn't murder her daughter her behavior is definitely not what you would consider "normal" for a parent who's lost a child. Dr, Golland could very well be on to the reason for this...

Sandy said...

Would you give me an example of a highly functioning person, because in my nearly 60 years on this earth I don't think I have ever met one. Everybody has "SOMETHING" going on. What do you describe as NORMAL? And how can one individual say that another is PERFECTLY NORMAL when normal is simply and opinion? Look at the many people that seemed so very normal to those around them and then turned out to be someone like BTK.
By what you have written here, are you assuming that the defense is correct in it's accusaiton of incest?

A Voice of Sanity said...

You are correct Sandy. What I learned from the Scott Peterson case is that most people are as dumb as a sack of rocks. They can't think, they merely fake the appearance of thinking. What I learned from the Casey Anthony case is that this applies to lawyers, judges, law professors, psychiatrists, psychologists and many other alleged professionals.

The case that Casey did not kill her child makes much more sense of everything than any case does that she did.

Anonymous said...

And voice of sanity, why does it make more sense that she did NOT kill her child?

Sandy said...

I believe Casey is guilty. She may not have intended to but I do believe she is responsible. Her and her alone. To me... more things say she did than she didn't.

A Voice of Sanity said...

Anonymous said: "And voice of sanity, why does it make more sense that she did NOT kill her child?"

Several things. After all, what sort of 'plan' was this? It makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

@Sandy - A parent is "always" responsible for her child. Until they turn 18 whatever happens to them (or whatever they do) is formally our responsibility. But that doesn't mean that a parent should be put to death or locked up for life if her child has an accident. Of course things are different if you can prove murder or malicious intent but merely being a bad and neglectful parent is a case for the CPS - not a full blown jury trial.