Gaslighting

The ongoing saga between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp has filled the news over the past few weeks. Whoever’s side you believe, I think it’s undeniable theirs was an abusive, toxic relationship. With descriptions of physical violence, verbal and emotional abuse, and defecating in their shared bed, it sounds like a nightmare. Regardless of who abused who, or if they abused each other, something known as gaslighting obviously played a part within their relationship and now on a larger scale by public opinion and the media.

According to Wikipedia, Gaslighting “is a form of intimidation or psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim, making them doubt their own memory and perception.” It is one of the most damaging forms of emotional abuse because it can be so difficult to detect due to its (sometimes) subtlety.

Caught in the Cogs – O. M. Grey’s Blog post, December 2011

Amber has been caught in several lies. This doesn’t confirm her guilt, but it also has put her story into question. Even before this, most people defended Johnny, despite the fact that men perpetrate domestic violence at a much higher rate than women. Men commit 80% of violent crime and as high as 99% of sexual violence, so it seems ridiculous so many believed Johnny over Amber. However, that’s the normal cultural response when women speak out against male violence, even when the man isn’t a beloved celebrity.

I believed Amber without question. My default is to believe women because our culture’s default is not to believe women. Now, I adored Johnny Depp for decades, and I don’t want to believe he’s capable of such things. But I know better—especially when it comes to privileged, powerful men.

Public opinion has vilified Amber with the same excuses as always: she’s crazy, she’s unstable, she’s exaggerating, she’s vindictive, etc. Now a doctor (not board certified and hired by Depp’s lawyers) is saying she has a personality disorder rather than PTSD. Borderline Personality Disorder is highly stigmatized and often misdiagnosed C-PTSD. Histrionic Personality Disorder, also a Cluster B personality disorder in the DSM-IV, isn’t talked about as much, but the name echoes back to women being committed for hysteria in the Victorian age for anything from postpartum depression to having a healthy libido. Even if she does have a personality disorder, these “crazy” excuses are the hallmark of gaslighting:

Depp’s supporters loved his movies and don’t want to believe he’s an abuser. They fail to realize that they only see his public persona and don’t know him behind doors. From multiple experiences, I know a man can do anything he wants behind closed doors and no one will believe me. Nothing will happen to him even if they did.

Psychologists say many people don’t want to believe someone who has qualities they admire could be capable of harm. 

USA Today

I’ve experienced this first hand, and I think it’s the primary reason why so many just don’t believe survivors: they don’t want to, as I said in my post on C-PTSD last week. Those who stand with Amber tweet under #IStandWithAmberHeard, and those who support Johnny tweet under #IStandWithJohnny and #JusticeforJohnnyDepp.

The trial so far favors Depp’s side of the story, but Amber has yet to testify. We’ll see how things go once she does. Johnny has already lost his defamation suit in the UK, in which he sued her over her OpEd in the Washington Post.

Videos have surfaced that show Depp being abusive, but then there are other videos that make Amber look pretty bad, too. Pooping in their bed is definitely abusive. From what I’ve seen, they abused each other, and I suspect more of this will come out in trial. What’s yet to become clear is if Amber’s abuse was a response to Johnny’s or the other way around.

While her behaviors certainly suggest a Cluster B personality disorder, likely Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) if anything, it wouldn’t surprise me if Johnny had one as well. I read about his troubled childhood, so it’s possible that situation also caused a personality disorder, likely Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) if anything, or perhaps C-PTSD. If he does have NPD and she has BPD, it would go a long way to explaining their relationship, as there are no two people more toxic together than someone with NPD and someone with BPD. They often destroy each other.

Their relationship aside, gaslighting is real, and it’s important to be able to recognize that for yourself, especially if you find yourself questioning your sanity or versions of reality. It’s an insidious form of abuse, so sometimes it’s hard to see. I wrote a post on it 10 years ago on Caught in the Cogs. Excerpt below.


O. M. Grey at Aetherfest, 2011

My dear friend Jaymee Goh first introduced me to the term “Gaslighting,” and I’ve been fascinated with it ever since. It explains why phrases like “settle down” or “calm down” have the absolute opposite effect on me. It’s reminds me of past relationships, romantic, platonic and familial, dating back to the way my father spoke to my mother 37 years ago.

Other examples:

“You’re overreacting.”

“You always want to talk.”

“You’re just being too sensitive.”

“You’re looking at it all wrong.”

Even more malicious is the wo/man who tells their spouse/SO they’re imagining things to cover up an affair. But Gaslighting also occurs in other non-romantic relationships, too.  It can happen from a boss at work. Your doctor. Your friend. Anyone who uses these subtle manipulation techniques to make you think you’re crazy or doubt yourself. Narcissists excel at gaslighting, but one doesn’t have to be a narcissist to use it.

“Gaslighting is an insidious form of emotional abuse and manipulation that is difficult to recognize and even harder to break free from. That’s because it plays into one of our worst fears – of being abandoned – and many of our deepest needs: to be understood, appreciated, and loved. The abuser is usually a very insecure person. He has a need to put others down in an attempt to make himself feel better. He must be seen as right at all times.” (The Gaslight Effect)*

Read the full post at Caught in the Cogs, but please comment here, as it sometimes take me weeks or longer to receive notifications from that blog.

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