Psychologists see Simpson as impulsive

June 20, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- The actions of O. J. Simpson reveal a man out of control, in denial, on the verge of killing himself and genuinely distraught over the death of his former wife -- even if he was responsible for it, said psychiatrists and psychologists interviewed Saturday.

These experts said that Mr. Simpson's behavior on Friday -- the goodbye letter, sudden flight from arrest and aimless freeway drive -- suggests a personality that is impulsive -- one that may react instead of thinking things through.

This impulsiveness could have enhanced Mr. Simpson's prowess on the football field, which required him to act quickly, almost without thinking. But it could also explain how a man whom everyone thought so friendly and kind could commit a rash act of violence, such as spousal abuse or even murder.

"This is the behavior of a man who didn't know what he was doing," said one Los Angeles psychologist, who did not want to be named. "There was no plan there. There was no deliberateness. There was going from point to point, moment to moment, a certain lack of will."

Yet it may have been Mr. Simpson himself who offered the best summation of his state of mind on Friday. In his poignant letter to the public, he described himself sadly as "this lost person."

"This is definitely a suicide note, and I think it was because of two fantasies that he had," said Dr. Carole Lieberman, professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, who specializes in issues of celebrity. "One was to rejoin his wife in death, and the other was to leave the question of his culpability ambiguous to protect his children."

Then again, Mr. Simpson may not have intended to kill himself at all, said psychologist Lilli Friedland. Ms. Friedland said that Simpson,through his letter, may simply have been coming to grips with the fact that his life will never be the same.

"It was really goodbye to the life of super hero," Ms. Friedland said. "I think what we started seeing was the disintegration of his public persona, his super hero facade. I think he was witnessing that, while medicated and while incredibly distraught." (Mr. Simpson's lawyer has said he was taking anti-depressant drugs.)

Mr. Simpson's actions, experts said, also fit squarely with the pattern of an abusive spouse who turns violent as a means of controlling a woman he loves and feels powerless over.

He wrote in his letter that he sometimes felt "like a battered husband" -- an indication that she may have hurt him deeply. And he opened the letter by declaring his love for Nicole Brown Simpson, saying, "If we had a problem, it's because I loved her so much."

That remark, Dr. Lieberman said, "is a typical line of what a wife abuser would say. You could take that from a script. These men don't see it as hating their wives, they see it as being so in love with their wives that they don't want their wives to abandon them."

Also telling, Dr. Lieberman said, was Mr. Simpson's request to see his mother -- another extremely important woman in his life -- at a time when his wife was gone.

"His wife is dead," she said. "The object of his desire is dead. So his very worst fears came true, whether it was his fault or not."

The experts said that it is unlikely that Mr. Simpson staged Friday's events in a calculated attempt to gain public sympathy or aid in his own defense by making himself seem mentally unbalanced.

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