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Van der Sloot's Mother: A Study in Grief and Avoidance

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Dr. Wendy Walsh: Watching Joran van der Sloot's mother, Anita, on "Good Morning America" today, I was struck by both her openness and her avoidance.


She apologized to the family of Stephany Flores and expressed sadness about that family's loss, yet she also demonstrated the kind of flat emotion common to people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). No doubt the woman has been subjected to some serious traumatic stress -- her husband died suddenly in February, and four months later, her eldest son was arrested and confessed to murder in Peru. Not a good year for any mother.

One of the most common reactions to acute emotional pain is a kind of shutting down of emotional processes. It's nature's way of protecting the brain from deep psychic pain that could lead to dangerous behavior. And this phenomenon is evident here. When Joran's mother was asked how she had felt when she first heard the news that a dead woman had been found in her son's hotel room, her response was classic: "I was just complete ... shut. Complete shut. Numb. No feelings. Numb," she said.

Most illustrative of her need to avoid more pain right now was her admission that she will not visit her son in prison. "I'm not going to visit Joran in Peru," she said. "I don't have any feeling that it can add up to anything. I want to keep distance. I think it will bring emotions up that I'm not ready for right now. I'm not a police officer. I'm a mom."

Then she goes on to imply that her son is suffering from a mental illness, suggesting that he has bipolar disorder. Critics may say that she is helping to set up a legal defense based on insanity, but I see a mother who is at wit's end. It makes me think of other mothers who have been unable to get mental-health services for their children, either because they can't afford it or because the children are over 18 and decline help.

Here in America, we place so much emphasis on individual rights and freedoms that we do not forcibly hospitalize or medicate people unless they are an immediate threat to themselves or someone else. The problem with this liberal and well-intentioned law is that many mentally ill people do not have the capacity to make these decisions for themselves. The mother of a mentally ill young adult often has to watch in horror as the child she has loved and nurtured for eighteen years becomes lost on the streets and homeless because he or she has refused medication.

Joran van der Sloot had the financial wherewithal to get lost on the streets of the world and let his mental illness run the show. My heart grieves for this mother. She's dealing with two losses in four months -- and the public shame that comes from those who make motherhood a pathology.


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10 comments so far | Post a comment now
paulaflowers June 23, 2010, 2:03 PM

I’m not buying that. I think his parents knew he killed Natalee Holloway and covered it up to protect thier little monster. There is no denying he killed Stephany - this woman has been coached by lawyers - she knows what to say she was married to one. She should be crying and begging for forgiveness not just for him but herself - her dead husband and Aruba. She has to know better. Apple falling from the tree!

justanonymous June 23, 2010, 2:37 PM

She’s a mom — most of us cannot possibly understand what she is going through.

You pour your heart into your baby, and hope that one day he’ll marry a wonderful girl and give you wonderful grandkids.

I’m sure the woman is devastated and just coming to grips with the fact that her son might have killed not one but perhaps two young women and that the families of those girls are themselves grieving terribly. Not only that but thanks to “infotainment” the entire world knows about this.

There are THREE grieving mothers here and one is certainly different from the other two.

So yes, she is probably blaming herself and hoping just hoping that Joran is just very very sick and that there was nothing that she could have done to correct this.

I am certain that her media consultant is advising her to be careful not to abslutely defend her son because he might just be guilty - and the evidence that we’ve seen certainly points in that direction.

This is a tragedy of three families, all around. There are 110,000 missing people in the US today —- that’s 110,000 tragedies that are invisibly going on around us that we are unaware about.

As a father of daughters, I can tenously relate.

justanonymous June 23, 2010, 3:37 PM

@paulaflowers

I think you are correct in some respects. The Flores killing in Peru certainly points to a disorganized, angry and very brutal killer. If he is guilty of the Holloway disappearance (and I suspect he is) then I think he had to have help in getting rid of Natalie and that most likely came from someone close like his father.

Anita might have very well been in the dark of the Holloway arrangements. Now has now not just lost her husband three short months ago but she has received confirmation that her son is a brutal murderer and that he was likely the killer of holloway and that Joran had help in disposing of the body.

I do think she’s being coached. I think she’s going to do everything within her power to bring Joran home. She might not lobby for his release but she would 100% prefer to see him in an Aruban or Dutch mental institution vs a Peruvian jail.

Tragedies all around.

me June 24, 2010, 1:01 PM

i’m not buying it. SHE KNEW what this monster was, and chose not to deal with it. Instead she coddled him to keep him quiet so he wouldn’t interfere with her husband’s career. Can you imagine having a judge for a husband and a criminal for a son? If she is really sorry,l let her come clean about these events:

1. Joran van Der Sloot allegedly murders his dog and then tries to blame an innocent school mate.

2. When Sebastian van der Sloot, Joran van der Sloot brother was seven years old, Joran allegedly beat him up so badly that Sebastian had to be hospitalized and almost died.

3. Joran van der Sloot at 15 allegedly throws a classmate through a plate glass window

jeanie  June 28, 2010, 9:29 AM

she is not just some victim mom, she & paulus set up a 5,000.00 tab usable in any casino in aruba for Joran when he was 15…and she complains he had a gambling addiction. No normal parent would have done that. There are many examples (Anita responding to the allegations that Joran was using date rape drugs to take advantage of vacationing girls in Aruba (on their last night in Aruba so they wouldn’t come to their senses and accuse him of anything) she responded with a “boys will be boys” statement. She is the classic profile for an enabling parent of a sociopath.

george July 8, 2010, 12:15 PM

She knew everything. she knew her son killed before. she is blaming the victims family for her son’s killing again

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