Before and after can assist in understanding the tragic moment

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.


2 thoughts on “Before and after can assist in understanding the tragic moment

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