A Psychological Aspect of Susan Smith: Dependent Personality Disorder
On October 25, 1994, Susan Smith drowned her two sons, Michael and Alex, in the John D. Long Lake in Union County, South Carolina. For nine days she lied about knowing where the boys were. On November 3, she confessed to the killings and would soon go to trial. Susan's defense team hired a psychiatrist to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of her. She was diagnosed as having dependent personality disorder. He described her as a person who "feels she can't do anything on her own". "She constantly needs affection and becomes terrified that she'll be left alone" She was only depressed when she was alone. The psychiatrist studied her family history and concluded that based on her family history and his interviews with her, Susan had a tendency toward depression that began in her childhood. Susan's attorney argued that his client was psychologically destabilized by a lifetime of betrayal. A father who killed himself when she was just six, a stepfather who sexually molested her as a child, a husband who cheated on her and a boyfriend who toyed with her affections (Pergament).
Her boyfriend testified that "the pleasure she got from sex was not physical pleasure, it was just in being close and being loved". The psychiatrist testified that Susan had sex with four different men during the six-week period leading up to the murders and she had begun to drink heavily during this time (Pergament). Alcoholism is a component of dependent personality disorder.
After only four days of testimony, the defense rested its case. Susan was charged with two counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison with the chance of parole in 30 years, the year 2025.
Dependent personality disorder is an inability to function without significant reliance on a forceful or dominant person providing direction. Individuals diagnosed with dependent personality disorder are usually quiet, and needy for attention,...
References: American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV. (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author
Bornstein, Robert F. (1993). The Dependent Personality. New York: Guilford Press
Gillihan, Lori. (n.d). Dependent Personality Disorder. Retrieved March 1, 2002, from http://cstl-coe.semo.edu
National Mental Health Association. (n.d.). Personality Disorders. Retrieved from http://www.nmha.org
Pergament, Rachel. (n.d.). Susan Smith: Child Murderer or Victim? Retrieved March 1, 2002 from http://www.crimelibrary.com
Rey, Joseph M. (1996) Antecedents of Personality Disorders in Young Adults. Psychiatric Times, 13 (2). Retrieved March 1, 2002, from http://www.mhsource.com
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