What we can learn from the Johnny Depp / Amber Heard Trial.
The truth is every victim has damaging accounts that can be misconstrued as being the aggressor, not because they have any blame to carry but because the world unfortunately does not understand domestic violence and a victim’s behaviour in its totality. To the world these “damaging accounts” often translate to abusive behaviour.
If you are on social media, you have likely formed an opinion on whom you believe, you might be fighting one or the other’s corner passionately but besides the media frenzy surrounding the trial there is value in this trial having been given public viewership. We can learn from it and should.
Not too long ago I myself sat across from my abuser in a courtroom. That day I learned of the ability a manipulator inhabits — turning the truth into their own believable lie and win. That day my strength in fighting was crushed and I felt helpless, just as I did when living with the abuse. Victims are too often silenced not just by their abuser and at times their peer, but also by circumstance and learned behaviour. I will explain what I mean by this with the help of the trial the world is glued to at the moment.
Some People look for your weaknesses and use what they learn about your past as ammunition. — Johnny Depp about Amber Heard.
This simple sentence may have been overheard by many watching but it struck me like lightning. What we have to recognise first and foremost is that many victims of abuse have history with abuse which are deep rooted in their behaviour, reactions and mannerisms.
Learned behaviour is reignited when faced with a familiar painful past memory. Previous coping mechanisms instantaneously aroused and recycled. Abusers take a keen interest in your past and will weaponise that suffering to gain control over you. They study your every word and take pleasure in learning about how to push your buttons. You will soon relive repetitive past trauma.
Johnny Depp talked about his mother’s violence toward himself, his siblings and his father. He recalled her narcissistic traits and oppressive authority over her family. Accounts of bullying which would force a child to assimilate in order to outsmart the next blow — to deal with the traumatic events to a child’s best ability. You learn to become creative to escape or numb the pain but in reality, no one inhabits the aptitude to deal with the psychological effects this would have on anyone, never mind a child. Resorting to self-harm is not uncommon, nor are destructive coping mechanisms.
Drug or Alcohol abuse being one of the most relied upon substances to numb your racing mind and painful echoes. Cutting and Eating Disorders can become a part of your life to gain some sort of control and then there is humour and creativity (which can come in many forms).
Johnny Depp cracked a smile whenever uncomfortable audio filled the court room or when difficult questions were asked. The desperate need to reflect from the pain was there on that stand with him. A smile for just a moment releases endorphins — by triggering certain facial muscles you trick your brain into thinking you’re happy. This will allow you for a split second to breathe. You have heard of people smiling when hearing of someone’s death. It does not by any means imply they are happy but simply that they are trying to cope with the heartbreak. This subtle coping mechanism was visibly pertinent watching Johnny Depp. Knowing childhood trauma, I recognised this immediately. It’s involuntary in adulthood and a learned behaviour which cannot be switched off, especially in stressful situations. Your body reacts on autopilot. Simultaneously it sends a subconscious message of not being a threat to the person you feel threatened by. It’s a sign of sadness rather than humour, sadly.
Creativity and imagination are outlets of solace to victims. There is anger of course. There is frustration. There is confusion. There is rage even, which builds up inside like a volcano but is not allowed to spew because the repercussions would be far worse than to just let it all sizzle to boiling point, damaging your every cell of your body — so you become reliant on letting the volcano erupt through means of creativity in order to not completely lose yourself. I have written and sent so many unkind and colourful voice notes and text messages to my friends just to let off some steam. Venting when stuck in an abusive relationship is incredibly therapeutic to a victim. You don’t hold back. You don’t voice just one assault. You voice the years of pain in every text because you were never able to escape any of it, so every time you talk about it, it all comes to fruition again.
There had been days I charged to an off licence to buy wine and would drink it straight from the bottle. I was lucky enough that I had some control over it and never became an alcoholic, but I certainly used alcohol to calm my distress. Once inebriated it would go two ways. I’d either fall into bed drunk and in tears or my frustration would emerge and at those times I would fight back and scream. I finally didn’t care enough anymore about anything and was fired up with courage and give a piece of my mind. I punched inanimate objects. Repercussions of these outbursts were inevitable but so much less felt when doused in alcohol.
Reactive violence is also used by victims to defend themselves. Now, I am not talking about with every punch the victim instantly strikes back. I am talking about for every fifty or hundred punches there is one by the victim in defence. This does not just imply to physical violence but also verbal attacks. There could have been months or years of verbal abuse until the victim rebukes with just as vicious language. Years of manipulation, bullying, violence, gaslighting eats you up. It changes you. You lose your understanding of what is right and what is wrong. What is true and what is a lie. You lose yourself and you are the saddest version of what one could be — sometimes it brings out the worst in you and you free it in that instance — all that pain coloured brightly in ruthless language.
I didn’t want to fail. I thought I could help her, turn this around. — Johnny Depp about Amber Heard.
If as a child. you are subjected to parental abuse. A person you are programmed to love unconditionally — you will not lose that love completely but instead will start making excuses on their behalf. Again, this is for your own psychological survival. You want to love them, and since they are “nice and loving” on occasion, you believe in them, you believe they can change. You want to believe they can change. Most of all, because your love for them is honest and pure, you can’t fathom that theirs might not be.
This is something that when experienced in childhood often translates into adult relationships. You already know that character from your past if you should meet them again. You lie to yourself that they are not “bad” in their entirety. You hope there is room for change, in fact you are convinced you might be the only person who can save them from themselves. You have learned to be patient. To be lenient. To be understanding. You will let things slide far easier and you will stick around longer than others would and more often too long, to a point where it’s already too late. You forget about yourself again and their world becomes yours. You do not want to fail yet another human you deeply love. That fear of failing is very prominent in a victim. Gaslighting and manipulation multiplies that fear of failing someone and you keep on trying. So much so that you will say things like: “I fell when drunk” to explain the bruises on your face (I cut my finger off) to protect the one that hurt you, so others won’t give up on them because you have not given up on them yet yourself. It seems too painful to give up on them. Reminiscent of the empath and the narcissist combination.
That manipulation was discussed on the witness stand by Johnny Depp when talking about why the couple started to record themselves. He recounted the many arguments they would have after a fight and Amber’s denial about what she had said. So, the recordings started for the truth to see the light because most of their togetherness was in apparent darkness of lies.
To be honest, I wish I had thought of that in my own “story”. When I was sexually assaulted, the next day apparently it was just all in my head and I exaggerated the many times I said “no” or in fact, I never said ‘no’ at all. When I was not allowed to leave the room, I apparently wasn’t followed and constantly berated at all. When I was violently attacked, it was a fragment of my imagination. I was SO confused by it all. I constantly questioned my own recollections. Questioned whether I am overreacting. Recordings would have helped my own sanity. As this trial proves however, recordings could have been damaging in proving his guilt at the same time. I am very sure if we had recorded each other, I at times certainly said things which out of context (and the very likely lack of consideration that I was subjected to years of psychological and physical maltreatment) could have been misconstrued as me being just as much an aggressor as the perpetrator.
When Johnny Depp said that he didn’t know whether he was an alcoholic and had a drinking problem, or whether it was something he started to believe because he had been told repeatedly that this was the truth, I could relate. I had struggled similarly with problems that were invented by my abuser and then became an issue, not because I was suffering from it but because I was driven to believe I had those problems. I succumbed to them, if you will. Today I know I never suffered from any addiction; it was merely a way for my abuser to lessen my credibility. And that is where, how and why a victim may have a hard time to be believed in court. Their abuser worked for a long time to damage their credibility.
A victim might hit back. Might send horrifically worded text messages. Might self-harm. Search for relief in drugs and alcohol. Use verbal attacks in defence. Even strike back. A victim is troubled. Is suffering. Very likely behaves unfavourably to their own character. Is certainly ashamed of their actions. An abuser will always have damaging accounts of the victim — the importance lies in understanding what is ‘reactive’ and what is ‘active’. The world should learn from this very public and heart-breaking trial and educate itself on the effects of abuse on victims.