Inside the mind of Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee and Olympic athlete on trial for murder, has said that, once he was introduced to competitive running, he has “never looked back.”

That may be one reason why he vomited upon hearing how the Black Talon bullets he fired into his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp ripped apart his girlfriend’s body.  He couldn’t turn his back; he couldn’t run away.  The past would not disappear.

Without question, Pistorius’ past is full of trauma and triumph. Born without fibulas, he underwent below the knee amputations when he was just 11 months old.


No one can underestimate the struggles of a boy to grow up without legs, or the courage required to do so, nor the remarkable force of will it takes to compete against able-bodied athletes while wearing carbon fiber limbs.

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Maybe, though, there was more than sadness and resolve that took hold inside the mind of Oscar Pistorius as he moved forward in life, through sheer determination.

I have never met the man, and certainly have not treated him, but it seems as though rage was building up inside Pistorius, too.

During 2008, when a young woman refused to leave a party he was hosting, he was arrested for assaulting her by slamming a door on her leg. The charges were later dropped. A former girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, has testified that Pistorius was both controlling and prone to rage.

Once, after being stopped by police for a traffic violation, Pistorius reportedly fired a gun through the open sunroof of his car.

Oscar Pistorius, it seems, does not like being stopped.  And he does not like looking back.  The trouble with that, of course, is that, when taken to an extreme, it prevents a person from confronting and being humanized by the pain and suffering inherent in his past, and risks being dehumanized by it.

Maybe buried feelings of vulnerability from being a child without legs can explain why, as a man, he kept tigers as pets.

Maybe the halting steps he needed to take at three and four and nine years old can explain why he not only had a passion for speed as a runner, but, according to a profile in the New York Times magazine, drove at 155 miles per hour, in the rain.

Maybe it explains why he was in the habit of going to a gun range to shoot when he couldn’t sleep at night—to use the alchemy of gunpowder to turn anxiety into power.

Maybe it explains why he reportedly threatened to break the legs of a man who he believed was flirting with his then-18-year old girlfriend.

Maybe it even explains why he reportedly accidentally once shot a friend of his in the foot.

When a man without legs slams a young woman’s leg in a door, threatens to break another man’s legs and shoots his buddy in the foot, it doesn’t take a psychiatrist to wonder whether he has really overcome all his feelings about losing his limbs and whether he has run away from feeling disempowered, in part by seeking power over others.

If Oscar Pistorius is found guilty of murdering Reeva Steenkamp, it may well be because she argued with Mr. Pistorius and locked the door to the bathroom in which she died, putting something immovable in his path—something he might have liked to—but couldn’t—kick down.  And for a man who has “never looked back” at the past once he strapped carbon fiber blades to his knees and started running, that door, standing defiantly on its hinges, could have been an intolerable reminder of it.