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Out on a limb

Enmeshment, continued.

Dr. Coplan reviews the case of Dee Dee and Gypsy Blancharde, and draws parallels to Nancy and Adam Lanza.

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Do you ever get the feeling of déjà vu (“I’ve seen this all before”)? Do you ever hope that you are wrong? I’ve been having both of these feelings today.

I’ve been blogging about Adam and Nancy Lanza, their probable enmeshment (a condition in which one individual “takes over” the life of another), as well as the fact that Nancy Lanza claimed a self-invented diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and represented Adam has having a non-existent seizure disorder (go here and here). Whether she actually believed these things to be true, or whether her motives were more conscious and explicitly manipulative, we do not know. Thereby hangs the difference between malingering and Munchausen Syndrome (or, in the case of her representation of Adam, Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy). In either case, it’s pretty clear to me that mom was the driving force behind events – until the very end. Adam had been so cut off from the outside world by his mother, that the only way he saw to free himself was “to shoot his way out”. That doesn’t explain why he went on a rampage at a nearby elementary school; for that we have to look at Adam’s own neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric issues. But his rage toward his mother can be accounted for as a reaction against years of parent-child enmeshment (which has been described by researchers as “emotional incest” .)

I was horrified by my own analysis, and expected some push-back from readers. None came. Instead, I read in yesterday’s Washington Post about another case that bears an eerie similarity to the relationship between Nancy and Adam Lanza.

Eight days ago, police in Springfield, Mo., put out an urgent call to the community: a mother and her wheelchair-bound teenage daughter were missing, and officials needed the public’s help in locating them. ‘We want to find these women safe and sound, so please share the social media posts and their story,’ the Greene County Sheriff’s Office said on the night of June 14. Hours later, though, came a startling update to the ‘endangered person advisory’: the mother, 48-year-old Clauddinnea ‘Dee Dee’ Blancharde, was found dead at home, and the search, local authorities said, had “turned into a homicide investigation.’ Arnott said in a statement. ‘Ms. Blancharde was an apparent victim of foul play and her daughter Gypsy is still missing.’ On Facebook, two ominous messages posted on the mother-daughter’s joint account — including one reading That B—- is dead!’ — had prompted friends to call the police, leading to the discovery of Dee Dee Blancharde’s body” – stabbed to death, apparently, by Gypsy’s boyfriend, at Gypsy’s request. And there the story takes an unexpected turn:”

Dee Dee Blancharde’s tale of maternal heroism was a tissue of lies: At least as far back elementary school, Dee Dee had been passing Gypsy off as multiply disabled, confining her to a wheelchair to simulate paralysis from nonexistent “spina bifida,” inserting a feeding tube, shaving her head to simulate hair loss from treatment for nonexistent “leukemia,” and so on. Dee Dee also claimed that she and Gypsy had survived Hurricane Katrina. Mother and daughter were lauded as heroic in the face of adversity, and showered with gifts. It turns out that Gypsy’s medical issues were all contrived by mom, and the story about Katrina is also in doubt.

The news account continues: “A cousin, Bobby Pitre, told the Springfield News-Leader that Dee Dee Blancharde confined her daughter to a wheelchair that she didn’t need for years and gave her seizure medicines that caused her teeth to fall out. She also shaved her daughter’s head to make people believe she had leukemia….”

And then the line that jumped off the page as I read the article:

“She took Gypsy and it seemed like she almost imprisoned her.”

To which I can only say “Yes indeed. And you can remove the ‘almost’.” Children will do whatever it takes to receive parental approval. Ordinarily, children earn that approval by demonstrating their competencies: “Look at what I can do, Mommy!” But in this case, Gypsy’s route to maternal “love” was through submission to defilement: wheelchair, feeding tube, shaved head, and all the rest. Eventually, Gypsy began to play the part. (Mother and daughter made appearances at the local Children’s Hospital, and fooled everyone.) This phenomenon – sometimes labeled “identification with the aggressor” – has been well-documented in hostage situations, and forms the basis for “brainwashing”. The prisoner, whose life rests in their captor’s hands, eventually begins to adopt the mind-set of their captors.

But deep down inside of this “crippled” girl was a very angry healthy girl, desperate to get out. As in the Lanza case, it’s not clear whether mom had Munchausen Syndrome, malingering (consciously contrived fakery), or something else – Mother Nature is not obliged to put people into neat DSM5 cubbies. Regardless of exactly what was going on inside of Dee Dee’s head, it seems clear that we are looking at another case of parent-child enmeshment, and that Gypsy Blancharde, like Adam Lanza, saw only one way out of her predicament – killing her captor. After all, not a single adult had come to her aid in all those years – even the family member who seems to have known what was going on. And speaking of adults in her environment, it will be interesting to learn whether she was in school as a child. Did she have an IEP? A 504 Plan? What documentation was provided to the school district (if any)? Or is this another example of a mother artfully duping the educational system?

More to come .


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James Coplan, MD is an Internationally recognized clinician, author, and public speaker in the fields of early child development, early language development and autistic spectrum disorders. Join Dr. Coplan on Facebook and Twitter. Have a question for Dr. Coplan? Ask the doctor.


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