Before and after can assist in understanding the tragic moment

May 14, 2014

This morning, the judge in the Oscar Pistorius trial will decide whether he will be admitted for psychiatric evaluation in a mental institution.

When asked to comment about the prosecution’s intention to file for a court order to have him undergo psychiatric evaluation, Oscar Pistorius revealed a part of himself that concerns me. He stated that it was ‘a joke’.

While I know that this comment has an interpersonal context of meaning that should be considered, the words ‘a joke’ tells a story about Oscar that suggests that he has absolutely no idea of the severity of the death of Reeva Steenkamp and the present situation that he finds himself in. I feel that his comment reflects little or no remorse, little or no respect for the legal process, and actually suggests that he believes that there is nothing wrong with him psychologically. This suggests delusional thinking and indicates that he may have narcissistic tendencies, coupled with an inability to assume responsibility for his actions.

According to the defence psychiatrist, Oscar Pistorius has been suffering from General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) from a young age. The report presented by the forensic psychiatrist was based on an evaluation of Oscar Pistorius that was conducted after he had actually testified in court.

Based on (a) the evidence given by the defence psychiatrist and (b) how the defence has been perceived to be tailoring evidence as the court proceedings have unfolded, the prosecution has responded by filing for a court order to have him undergo psychiatric evaluation for a minimum of 30 days in a state mental institution. A full psychiatric evaluation can then take place that will offer a deeper and broader insight into the personality and emotional dynamics of Oscar Pistorius.

The mental state of a person is fairly fluid and forever changing. While there may be a predominant tendency in the way a person interacts, it is always necessary to look at: (a) the before and (b) the after; in order to fully understand the mental state of a person at a particular ‘moment in time’. In this way, mental dynamics are considered to be fluid and evolving over time.

In trying to piece together some of the information that has unfolded during the case some tentative ideas are forwarded:

Before the shooting

In an article on the tragedy of Oscar Pistorius, I stated that there were a number of smaller incidents leading up to the death of Reeva Steenkamp that were indicating that a destructive cycle was unfolding. I believe that these warning signs were driven by a complex dynamic between his feelings of vulnerability and his feelings of omnipotence.

  • Ongoing incidents that suggest that a destructive cycle is unfolding
  • Obsession with guns
  • Paranoia regarding his security
  • Feelings of vulnerability
  • Self-absorbed, narcissistic tendencies
  • Competitive and dominant
  • Issues of abandonment
  • Issues around his disability
  • Generalized anxiety disorder

After the shooting

  • An intensification of his generalized anxiety disorder
  • Dealing with post traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Inability to fully comprehend the seriousness of the situation he finds himself in

I believe that Oscar Pistorius is presently suffering from post traumatic stress disorder; and has been over the past 15 months since the shooting. Throughout the court case he has had to relive and replay the tragedy over and over again. The vivid images of the crime scene are powerful visual stimuli that would continually reactivate the experience for him again and again. In the process, there is no respite and relief from the trauma.

At the moment of the tragedy

I hypothesise that Oscar was having to deal with intense emotionality just prior to the shooting that may have caused a moment of irrationality. More specifically, I believe that he was having to deal with either intense anger or intense fear at the very moment of the shooting. He was unable to control these intense powerful feelings. This inability activated him to act out. To shoot another human being requires that you be in either one of these two extreme emotional states (unless you are a psychopath with little or no conscience). While the shots were being fired, I believe that there may have been a dissociation that took place. Dissociation is a defence mechanism that acts like a ‘trip switch’ on a electrical circuit board. During this dissociation, very little memory occurs and the event is experienced as a blur.

In trying to explain to the court about what happened on that night, Oscar came across as being inconsistent, evasive and defensive. In listening to his testament, there was a pervasive feeling that there is a hidden truth that has not been fully revealed.

I feel that a full psychological evaluation of Oscar Pistorius would go a long way to help the court gain deeper insights into his functioning at the moment of the shooting and the detail leading up to the tragedy. Undergoing such a thorough assessment will not be a joke – if anything it highlights the seriousness of the tragedy.

Desolate

Desolate


A traumatic 3-0 whitewash will usher in a harsh winter

February 15, 2014

Before the start of the cricket test series against Australia, captain Graeme Smith stated that his team would do the talking on the field of play. This was in response to some of the media comments that the Australians had made in the build-up to the series.

The severe defeat that the South Africans suffered at the hands of the Australians in the 1st test raises the question of whether they will be able to do much talking on the field in the next two tests. The manner in which the team capitulated in the heat of battle must now be of much concern to the players. This loss may have caused significant emotional and mental damage. Only time will tell the extent of the wounds that this defeat has caused.

The South African cricket team are in a vulnerable, unstable state at the moment – this may be a watershed test series for them.

In the past, the South African team has been able to recover from their pattern of having a poor start in a series. This time, it may be one too many of those poor starts since it is unlikely that this Australian team will offer them any respite from the bombardment on both the batting and bowling fronts. There will be no place to hide during the battle.

I have doubts about whether the South Africans will be able to recover from this 1st test defeat. A 3-0 whitewash is a serious possibility, if the team is unable to respond quick enough to the situation they find themselves in.

On the batting front, most of the batsmen seemed afraid, uncomfortable and ill equipped to deal with the pace and bounce of Johnson. It was interesting to see how one opponent was able to unsettle and cause terror in a group. Much courage will be needed from the batsmen.

The bowlers seemed ineffective and lethargic. The attack was totally dominated by the Australian batsmen, with three centuries being scored against them. Greater intensity and consistency will be required from the bowlers.

A 3-0 whitewash will usher in a harsh winter for the South African test team.

Seasons can change dramatically for teams. The England cricket team is a case in point. Everything seemed rosy at the start of their Ashes tour, only for powerful downward vortexes to destroy the holistic fabric of the team. The casualties suffered by the English team highlighted the severity of a harsh, unexpected winter. It usually takes a couple of years for a team to recover from such a traumatic event.

All teams go through processes of decay – no team can escape it. As part of the decay, the older experienced players decide to retire, get dropped or get injured. They are no longer up for the fight. Years of battle have made them weary. Some start feeling afraid and vulnerable, but cannot show it. This is a very difficult period in the natural phases of a team’s evolution. It can be likened to the start of a winter, where there is very little growth.

Seasons come and go and fortunately spring follows winter. But usually spring does not follow quick enough since the re-building phase that is necessary in a team just before the onset of a winter is invariably delayed since management tends to hold onto the ‘old’ for too long, thus prolonging the severity and length of the winter period that the team will have to endure.

On a recent visit to the USA I experienced extreme winter temperatures below -20C that were caused by, what meteorologists termed, an ‘Arctic/Polar Vortex’. The frozen water feature outside the house was testament to the severity of the cold. As South Africans, we are seldom faced with such extreme weather conditions.

The frozen grip of the Polar Vortex - Richmond, January 2014

The frozen grip of the Polar Vortex – Richmond, January 2014


Galloping into 2014

January 7, 2014

In the Chinese zodiac, 2014 is the year of the horse. In it’s wild, untamed state, the horse is a noble, independent animal that enjoys the freedom of movement.

Chincoteague and Assateague are islands, situated on the Atlantic east coast of Virginia, USA are known for their herds of wild horses. On a recent trip to Assateague I wondered if I would be lucky enough to spot one of these elusive horses. As it so happened I was gifted with a rare sighting.

A wild horse on Assateague island

A wild horse on Assateague island

While travelling to Assateague the car broke down. We were forced to re-plan, to deal with this mishap. Being stranded in an unfamiliar place kicked up anxiety. We felt vulnerable. It is only in times such as this that one realizes how important having independent transport is and how this enhances and supports ones feelings of security and strength. However, after hiring a car and having lost a large chunk of time we were back on the road towards our destination.

After this hiccup in our journey there was discussion in the car, about modes of travel, horses, and hindrances in reaching our destination.

We were only staying one night on the island of Chincoteague, since Assateague was a nature reserve that did not offer any accommodation.

While standing on the balcony of the hotel room in Chincoteague, I looked to my left. It was just before sunrise, overcast and cold. I focused on a house in the distance that was on the edge of the water. Above the house, the clouds filled the sky. The was no possibility for a single sun ray to penetrate the thick cloudy blanket. The water in front of the house was still. It offered a perfect mirror to create a dreamy, fluffy reflection that matched everything that existed above.

Looking to the left just before sunrise

Looking to the left just before sunrise

After an outing, I returned to my room mid-morning. Once again standing on the balcony, I looked out to the right. A beautiful perspective of lines and simplicity was in front of me. The full blanket of clouds had broken. The natural clear blue sky was coming through. A bridge surrounded by a strip of golden coloured reeds and marshy vegetation separated the distant sky from the still water.

Looking to the right at mid-morning, 10h30

Looking to the right at mid-morning

Perspective and point-of-view are what determines our explanations and interpretations of the experiences we have in our lives. As we gallop into the new year, we will no doubt encounter our challenges and mishaps. Our journeys may be temporarily halted. It is during such times that we need to be aware of our perspective. The two perspectives standing on the balcony highlighted the following for me:

  • Conditions change as time unfolds
  • A clear distant goal emerges out of a sea of murky possibilities
  • There are at least two perspectives when standing in one place – try and access both of these
  • Look for a clear, simple straight line to your goal
  • Look for the bridge that joins two distinct (and maybe opposing) worlds
  • Keep still to allow reflection
  • Try and access the beauty that surrounds you

Wishing you all an exciting new year.


Battle for food

December 17, 2013

I was out walking the streets of Richmond in Virginia looking for urban art to photograph. Out of nowhere, a raptor (which I later identified as a red-tailed hawk), with prey in its talons settled on the top of a street pole right in front of me. I couldn’t believe my eyes (and luck) as I witnessed this sighting. This was such an unusual sight in the middle of an urban context of a city, where wild life seldom ventures.

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I only had my 50mm lens on my camera and couldn’t get closer to the action. While this lens was perfect for the intended use of street art, I hankered after my telescopic lens while snapping away at the raptor as it was eating the squirrel it had caught.

And then…the attack.

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The hawk enjoying its meal spread its wings over the prey as its competitor descended. A brief scuffle ensued, with the intruder being driven off. The hungry hawk found its own perch as it re-assessed its next move.

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The attack came again…

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And off they flew over the high rise buildings; the ‘have’ fleeing the ‘have not’.

While not so openly evident, the tense dynamic between ‘those that have’ and those that are in desperate need, also exists with humans. In the USA, for example, statistics show that the few rich are getting richer, while the many poor are getting poorer. And of concern is that the gap is widening as time unfolds.

As I gathered myself, I re-focused on my original task…looking for urban art.

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Attack and defend: A double-edged sword

October 7, 2013

Despite losing 38-27 in a thrilling contest, the Springbok rugby team played liked stars against the All Blacks at Ellis Park. They played with courage, belief and creativity.

Going into the final match knowing what needed to be achieved, helped to structure and focus the mental energy of the team. In order for the Springboks to win the 2013 Rugby Championship, they needed to beat the All Blacks by more than 7 points, score four tries (to get a bonus point) and then prevent the All Blacks from getting a bonus point (by stopping them from scoring four tries or getting within 7 points).

In the build-up to the match there was a lot of talk about scoring the four tries. On a realistic level, it was going to be a tall order for the team to achieve this. Historically, the Springboks play a cautious, measured game, based on a solid defensive pattern. At times in the past, however, this type of mindset has back-fired. In the 2011 World Cup, for example, the Springboks lost in the quarter-finals because they were stuck in a rigid defensive mindset that had been in-grained for a couple of years preceding the tournament. So they found it impossible to convert their significant territorial and possession advantage into scoring tries.

It is not in the nature of a Springbok team to throw caution to the wind and consciously think and focus predominantly on attack. For this match, the team was asked to shift from their more secure and comfortable stance of safety and defence, to an attacking mindset against a world class opposition that seldom leaks four tries. This approach was going to involve taking some calculated risks.

I was interested to see whether the Springboks would be able to commit themselves to this goal during the match. It is one thing talking about a goal; it is another ball game to act on the stated intention of attack and scoring tries.

Of major significance, after only 59 minutes of play in the match, the Springboks had scored the four tries that they had spoken about and were leading 27-24. This was a remarkable achievement. At that stage of the match, the All Blacks had scored three tries. Unfortunately, for the rest of the match the team did not score another point, while the All Blacks ran in two tries.

While the coaching staff may review the match and assess the crucial moments in the match that turned the tide against the team, I believe that the fundamental reason why the Springboks failed in their quest was because they were not able to shift quickly enough from an attacking to a defending mindset. Movement from attack to defend and back to attack is not easy to achieve. The reason is that energetically, defence and attack are mutually exclusive and opposite to each other. So a team tends to get stuck in one of these two worlds for too long during a match.

The team needed a double-edged sword of mental energy – attack AND defend. However, for this type of mindset to be created the team needed to activate the energetic shift to defence immediately after they had scored points/tries. In this way, the mindset is not attack or defend; but rather the shift or change from one state into another. While in theory the Springboks may have been aware of the required shift, simple basic and defensive errors (for example, not gaining possession at the kick-offs, and some crucial missed tackles) resulted in the team not reaching the Everest that it had set out for itself.

The coach, Heyneke Meyer, needs to be commended for setting out a game plan that resulted in the team scoring the required four tries. It is clear the he gave the team ‘permission’ to express themselves. He could have easily aligned himself with a safer option of just focusing on a win against the All Blacks. Instead, he asked the team to take a leap of faith and they responded in a committed way on the field. He can feel proud of the team. Excellent coaching!

The team needed to experience what it feels like to run in four tries against the defending World Champions. On reflection, the team will come to realise that it actually came close to achieving the near impossible task of what they had set out for themselves, which also included restricting the All Blacks.

The future looks rosy at the moment. To achieve further success, the Springboks need to integrate defence and attack into a holistic plan of action. Quickly shifting from one mindset to another during a match will make them unstoppable.

The brilliant Karoo night

The brilliant Karoo night


The crowd and coach could not handle the pressure

August 7, 2013

I have been asked whether a crowd can have an impact (positively or negatively) on the performance of a rugby team.

Players will tell you that playing at home can lift their performance. Players will also tell you that if the home crowd has an issue with the administration, coach, a losing team or a controversial selection in the team, a critical and aggressive energy flow will be felt which may hinder creative, relaxed play. Playing away or in another country, with a mostly foreign crowd watching the match may feel ‘hostile and threatening’ resulting in timid and fearful play.

The crowd may be observers (and not active participants on the field of play), but if you view the creation of reality as a dynamic expression of the energy and informational flow between all participants in a broader context in a rugby stadium, then a crowd will certainly be able to influence the unfolding match. While we may not have an exact measure of this interconnected dynamic between team actions on the field and crowd responses to the performance, there is a quantum physics principle that states that the observer influences that which is being observed. The degree and nature of this influence cannot be measured, predicted and is never the same in all situations.

Every match has a unique feel to it and is dependent on the intensity of the circular pattern of energy flow between observer (crowd) and active participant (player). Last weekend, the Brumbies beat the Bulls in a thrilling semi-final Super Rugby match that was played at Loftus Versfeld, the home ground of the Bulls. The crowd are very loyal supporters of the team. However, during this match, I believe that the crowd and coach had a huge part to play in the team losing.

Let me try and sketch the unfolding process as I witnessed the match on television.

With around 20 minutes left in the match, the Bulls inched ahead 20-19 for the first time.

The Bulls continued to dominate the match territorially and had most of the possession as the minutes ticked away. The Bulls were camped in the Brumbies half during this time. With 12 minutes left to play, the Bulls were awarded a sure 3-point penalty in front of the poles. Instead of kicking the penalty, the captain Dewald Potgieter, decided to kick for touch in order to set up a line-out close to the Brumbies try line. The line-out failed to produce the try, but the dominance of the Bulls continued, as more and more pressure was exerted on the opposition.

With 10 minutes to go, another penalty in front of the poles was awarded to the Bulls. Again the captain signaled for a kick into touch close to the Brumbies try line. This time, the crowd started to show their disapproval with shouts and boos. Nevertheless, the kick for touch was taken. Again, the same result, no try, but still the continued pressure on the opposition.

Two minutes later, another penalty was awarded. The crowd erupted and intensified its message to the captain to take the sure 3-point penalty and kick for poles. The television camera focused on the reactions of the Bulls coaches and caught the head coach screaming into his walkie-talkie. It was clear that he was agitated by the decision-making of the captain. Despite the intense energy of the crowd voicing its disapproval, the brave captain stuck to his strategy and instructed the kicker for go for touch again, in order to sustain the pressure on the opposition.  Again the line-out failed and did not result in a try.

One of the complicating factors during this unfolding process was that a number of substitutions had been made by the Bulls which may have disrupted or hindered the execution of the line-outs.

With five minutes left to play (and the Bulls still dominating territorially), another kickable penalty was awarded. The crowd went crazy and ‘demanded’ that the penalty be directed to poles to get 3 points. The message from the crowd was deafening. As the dialogue between captain and players unfolded, one of the coaching staff ran onto the field and in no uncertain terms ‘instructed’ the captain to kick for poles. It was obvious that the stress had become too much for both the crowd and the coach. (A ‘passive’, observing participant watching a drama unfold can get very stressed, due to not feeling in control – think of when you are watching a thriller and how the music and lighting of the scene all feed into intensifying the suspense).

The captain now had no choice. He succumbed to the external pressure. He kicked the penalty, thus extending the lead to 23-19 with three minutes left of play.

While the score had been extended, the intense ongoing pattern of domination over the last 15 minutes had now been broken. The opposition now had gained possession and were playing in the Bulls half of the field for the first time during this period. Against all odds, the Brumbies managed to score a try from broken play in the last minute, winning the match 26-23.

It may be easy to blame the captain for the loss. In fact, some naive spectators may believe that 9 points were lost through his ‘poor’ decision-making. But when viewed through the lens of the quantum world, it can be argued that the crowd and coach were not able to tolerate the intense stress that was unfolding in the stadium. Each kick for the line-out, escalated the level of stress to the point when the captain had no alternative but to capitulate and change his strategy.

In a post match interview, Dewald Potgieter stated that he regretted not kicking for touch again for the fourth time. I couldn’t agree with him more.

My thoughts go out to him – it can’t be an easy time for him having to face all of the scathing after-match reactions, especially if he is being blamed for the Bulls not eventually being crowned the Super Rugby champions for 2013.

Deep in contemplation

Deep in contemplation


Love bird fish eagles

July 24, 2013

In the bush you can be a witness to many wonderful moments that nature ‘decides’ to share with you. However, you may need to be in the right place and at the right time to be part of the unfolding process. Some call this luck; since you generally do not have to wait patiently for nature to reveal itself. During a recent visit to the Kruger National Park I was given the gift of being part of a special moment when two fish eagles were mating. It all happened so quickly.

While it is said that every picture can tell a story; a series of pictures helps to enhance and enrich the narrative.

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The over-riding feeling of being in awe enters one’s being after you have witnessed something special in nature. There is also a need to share the event with others; to talk about it; to re-live the moment over and over again. But words are generally unable to fully describe the experience and/or do justice to the unfolding process. I was thankful that I was able to photograph the two love birds and I am happy to be able to share this with you.


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