Domestic Violence – Depp vs Heard Trial

Research reveals the gravity of domestic violence

Domestic violence studies reveal 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the U.S. have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. This includes a range of behaviors (slapping, shoving, kicking, pushing, pulling hair, twisting arm, pummellingspitting, screaming, yelling, burning with cigarette, throwing objects, threatening with gun or other lethal weapons).

Women abuse Men
Slapping or hitting – domestic violence

The Johnny Depp and Amber Heard domestic violence defamation trial ended with Depp being unanimously  vindicated and Amber Heard declared the aggressor. 

The dynamics of domestic violence are difficult to recognize and sort out the subtle entangled aspects.

In 30+ years of assisting people in their domestic violence recovery process, I believe Games People Play, by Eric Berne, M.D. has clearly and concisely diagramed how the Instigator might appear as the Victim and can fool even the most astute police officers, therapists, lawyers, jurors and judges. 

When people play psychological games they are stepping into one of three roles: The Victim, The Persecutor, or The Rescuer.

In a game situation, these titles explain the role. A person can be the Victim of someone, the Persecutor, or the person who Rescues or both. In the milieu of Depp defending himself he sometimes became an aggressor.  Many times the roles change in a communication transaction. Berne states the Instigator uses the Victim role to initiate an interaction.

Heard often initiated conversations by complaining that Depp was gone too much for work, or not telling her he loved her. That he paid more attention to his children than he did to her. This communication style is referred to as Gaslighting a person to keep control. Accusing someone puts the responder in a position of defending him or herself. Gaslighting is psychological manipulation that makes the recipient question their feelings, instincts, and even their sanity. It is one of the worst forms of dirty communication, and it is used by both men and women. Gaslighting includes a variety of techniques, such as:

  • Pretending not to understand a statement even though it is obvious that she or he does understand.
  • Accusing a partner of something that she or he didn’t do.
  • Labeling your partner’s thoughts as crazy or imagined.
  • Questioning the other person’s memory of events when they remember correctly.
  • Pretending to forget what actually occurred even though it is obvious he or she remembers.
  • Denying promises that you know she/he made.
  • Trivializing or denying the other person’s feelings as being too sensitive when their reaction is legitimate.

Depp testified Heard became abusive and “bullied” him with “demeaning name-calling”. Audio recordings of the demeaning name-calling and taunting were relentless and bone-chilling.  In that dynamic Depp was the victim and rescuer. He wanted peaceful coexistence. Therefore, he appeased Heard to end the seeming relentless baseless accusations. However, appeasing someone only lasts a short period of time. 

In relationships, especially close relationships, Instigators play the victim in order to manipulate and guilt their partner into doing what she or he wants.  On a global stage, when an Instigator “plays the role” of a Victim, it takes on a different tone.  Someone who plays the Victim rallies supporters into defending the Instigator turned Victim against a perceived enemy.  This serves two purposes to distract from the Instigator turned Victim behavior and to keep the perceived enemy off-kilter by quickly switching from an Instigator to an indigent Victim.
The Instigator attacks whenever someone questions or asks about the Instigator’s behavior—and whoever stands up for those who question the Instigator is similarly attacked.  However, when the pressure is on the Instigator will play the “poor me” Victim card.

Amber Heard – clever and astute instigator disguised as a victim

For example, Heard laid a well-planned trail of evidence, although contrived text messages to family, and friends, and staged scenes of supposed violence, audio recording conversations. After she buttonholed Depp into futility and frustration while defending himself it seemed he was the Instigator. In one recording Depp pleaded with Amber there could be no more violence. If we are angry we need to separate. We can go to separate rooms. Heard pleaded you are leaving me, that will kill me. I’m not leaving Depp emphasized. Heard insisted he didn’t want to talk it out until they came to a solution. Depp stated that if she didn’t like what he said, she became violent, bam, I get hit with something. I go to another room and bam, bam you are pounding on the door.

The frosting on Heard’s victim cake for the trial was she thought her therapist’s notes of violence that she reported would prove she was the victim. She believed telling her therapist about the ‘fights’ with Depp was evidence that she was a victim. The therapist’s notes weren’t allowed as evidence. Anyone can tell a therapist anything, that doesn’t make the statements factual. Nor can a therapist ethically testify the statements have validity.

Heard said there were many ways Depp denigrated her and cut her off from her own choices. She testified that Depp sneered at the movie projects she auditioned for. This type of testimony was ruled to be ‘hearsay’ and stricken from the record.

“He would talk about other actresses who do my role in this way where they were worthless whores and that they were fame-hungry ‘expletives.’ Just the point is, it felt really dirty to be an actor, never mind that he was one,” Heard testified.

The “whore” accusations, Heard claimed extended to how Depp talked about the way Heard dressed, Heard testified. “It was like, ‘Oh, really? That’s what you’re wearing? No wonder you get cast in those roles,'” Heard reported,  Depp said. “And it just continued. And then there would be a blowup.”

Heard testified that Depp or one of his employees was also told to get copies of the scripts she read and the wardrobes for movies she was cast in. Depp “reluctantly agreed” to her acting in the 2015 male-stripper movie “Magic Mike XXL,” she said, after bargaining with him.

“I wasn’t going to be playing a sexualized character,” Heard said. “I wore minimal makeup in the movie — no sexy clothing, no kissing scenes, no sex scenes.”

These narrative details came up in closing arguments as Heard’s lawyers explained to the jury the reasons they could believe her. The jurors are unlikely to have experience with controlling relationships or understand the reason someone doesn’t immediately leave after their partner throws the first demeaning statement or punch.

This scenario is presented in court frequently, especially in the context of domestic violence because some jurors might believe, “If someone is abusive to you, if they even say a mean word to you, obviously, you need to break up with them and never see them again.” And that opinion may be formed by jurors’ own lack of familiarity with the Instigator-Victim domestic-violence dynamic. 

Depp’s lawyers challenged Heard’s narrative in cross-examination

What can you do when you go from being attacked by an Instigator turned Victim to being painted as the Instigator by the same person?  You could immediately defend yourself, but you run the risk of looking like you are validating the Instigator’s accusations.  If you stay silent and wait for the Instigator’s comments to die down, damage may already have been done to your peace of mind and reputation. This is exactly what the Instigator seeks—putting the real victim in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.  That is where the Instigator gets her or his power.  Controlling through playing the Victim gets the Instigator as much satisfaction as being an Instigator with a frontal verbal or physical attack.

In some situations and/or some relationships a combination of setting a boundary and then laying low is the solution.  State the truth, with verification of that truth—then let the Instigator comments ride out their impact.  When an Instigator makes enough swings from Instigator to Victim towards the same source, others start to notice the pattern.  Then people will ultimately question the source when the Instigator turned Victim acts as if they have been “done wrong”.

Ultimately, when the Instigator switches to playing Victim, it causes more difficulties for survivors of harassment/ violence and other crimes to be believed.  Note the discussion and number of articles regarding “victims.” The majority of articles written about domestic violence are about women victims. Others start questioning whether claiming to be a survivor of violence is a “real” thing—and that may stop people who are true survivors from speaking out.  To further complicate the domestic violence equation, society has more often turned a blind eye to the probability of men as domestic violence survivors. 

The whirlwind of Instigator turned Victim is exhausting. And that’s the reason they do it. To wear their perceived opponent, who they need to control by creating mental and emotional exhaustion, Therefore, it is difficult to keep up with all the twisted lies, skewed logic, and word salad. Thus the person being mentally, emotional and/or physically abused eventually gives up. This was Heard’s approach with Depp consistently and persistently.

Depp acknowledged he approached her instigation as he had witnessed his dad did with his mother, being stoic, attempting to appease her or withdraw. Depp retreated to his own room when he was overwhelmed by his mother’s aggression and recriminations. Thus, he would retreat to another room during heated discussions with Heard that resolved nothing. This seemed to ignite a fear of abandonment in Heard. Heard pounded on the door where Depp had escaped to and demanded that he come out. Heard escalated the confrontational dynamic to avoid feeling abandoned.

Verbal abuse – domestic violence

Ultimately 13 months of extreme victimization Depp gave up objecting to Heard’s claims. Depp left and worked to create an amicable divorce.

An equitable divorce settlement was made. However, it wasn’t enough, Heard wanted more! Heard wanted revenge and she got her revenge published in the Washington Post Op-Ed. Ultimately, causing Depp to lose millions in movie contracts and other professional opportunities.

Depp decided he needed to reclaim his reputation, integrity and career. Depp asked Heard to publically retract her domestic violence claim–that he abused her. Heard refused and Depp sued her for defamation. 

Depp achieved the redemption he sought  

Following Depp’s vindication, many male domestic violence survivors have stepped forward stating their experience of domestic violence has similar dynamics as Depp-Heard, albeit a different setting and content. 

Can abusers change?

 Abusers often repeat violent behavior because they witnessed or experienced violence as children, and they are repeating the pattern. Thus, domestic abusers need professional intervention to resolve the mental/emotional harm/trauma they witnessed and/or experienced and develop healthier ways of interacting in intimate relationships. Victims of domestic violence need to engage in his/her own recovery from the violence and establish what in his/her psyche didn’t recognize his/her behavior was out of bounds before the worst behavior surfaced. Couple intervention is required alongside both parties engaging in individual mental/emotional recovery work.

Indicators the domestic abuser has changed include:

  • The abuser has fewer negative reactions during interactions, and when there is a negative reaction, it is less intense and without emotional blowups. 
  • Your partner evaluates his/her own emotions instead of blaming you when stressed.
  • You and your partner are able to conduct discussions in a healthy interaction, without violence or verbal attacks. 
  • When upset, you and your partner are able to calm yourselves and behave rationally, without becoming violent or threatening. 
  • You both feel safe, respected, and you each have the freedom to make your own decisions. 

Things to Remember

  • You need to see evidence of actual, lasting change to achieve reconciliation after domestic violence. Temporary change, followed by reverting to previous violent behavior, is not enough to say that a relationship can survive after domestic violence. 
  • Domestic violence often involves a pattern, whereby the abuser engages in violence, promises to change afterward, but returns to former violence patterns. 
  • When asking yourself can an abusive marriage be saved, you need to be able to evaluate whether your partner is actually making changes, or simply giving empty promises he/she will stop the violence. 
  • Promising to change is one thing, but promises alone will not help a person to change, even if she/he truly wants to. If your partner is committed to stopping the abuse, you need to see that she/he is not only engaging in transformation healing and also implementing new behavior. 

If reconciliation is unattainable, both parties need individual intervention to become co-parents and recovery to avoid entering into another relationship with similar dynamics. We tend to draw to us a mirror to prompt us to get in touch with aspects of oneself that need to be remedied. In fact, the propensity to engage in another similar relationship dynamic is referred to as Same Guy–Same Woman, different face. And sometimes the face and body build is highly similar. 

In cases after domestic violence reconciliation, actions truly speak louder than words.


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  Published: February 5, 2023