When Amber Heard first accused her then-husband, Johnny Depp, of domestic violence, support groups and survivors were shocked but supportive. However, during the trial, the sentiment changed. Specialist counsellor Emma Davey of MyTraumaTherapy.co.uk, who is herself a survivor of narcissistic abuse, runs a 25k-strong Facebook Group (Victims of Narcissistic Abuse Support Group) that helps victims. In a recent poll of members-only 4% said they believed that Johnny Depp was the primary abuser and not the victim.
What made them and the experts come to that conclusion?
Emma, who counsels up to 8 victims of narcissistic abuse a day explains; “Widespread ignorance of narcissistic abuse effectively abuses victims again. Non-specialist counsellors, and support organisations who don’t understand the nature of narcissistic abuse, will often believe the highly effective manipulation tactics of abusers. I’ve seen abusers successfully turn the authorities, and even the victim’s friends and family, against them. I’ve seen victims, who’ve suffered horrific abuse, then lose their children to their abuser in court.”
It is time that society was better educated on narcissism. The nature of abuse, and even the phrases that abusers use, are remarkably consistent. Heard exposed herself to real victims and many of my clients found her testimony triggering.”
What were the ‘tells’ in the Johnny Depp trial that convinced the experts and victims? What are the characteristics of a narcissist?
- Narcissists lie continuously, even over the smallest of things. You will never get the truth from a narcissist. The evidence, that Heard had not donated the money to charity, was very telling. Most people at this point would admit that they had anticipated the truth, and intended to donate. Instead Heard tried to gaslight the jury by claiming that ‘pledged’ and ‘donated’ meant the same thing. She also lied about her ’bruise kit’, initially claiming to her lawyers that she used a product that wasn’t even available at the time.
- A narcissist will never admit when they’re wrong. To them, everybody else is the problem, and so they shift the blame onto others. We saw that in court. Whereas Depp admitted to his many failings, Heard had excuses for everything and blamed everyone else. One phrase that narcissists use when they’ve behaved particularly badly is; “You made me do that.” It was a phrase that Heard used in one of the tapes. For many victims that were the end of any doubts over who was the abuser.
- Narcissists have no empathy, it’s not part of their makeup. It makes it very difficult for them to fake emotion. This was something that was exposed by Heard’s acting coach, when she said Heard was not able to cry and we then saw that on the stand. She tried hard to look distressed, but no tears came, and if there was an objection, all emotion immediately left her face as if a director had shouted ‘cut’.
- A narcissist needs to control you. A key part of the control is to isolate the victim from their support network. Depp encouraged Heard to surround herself with friends and family. When the victim tries to break free, the narcissist will start a campaign to destroy them. Even after the verdict Heard is continuing her campaign against Depp. She’s angry that he’s broken free of her influence. She’s even claiming she still loves him; experts call that ‘hoovering’. By contrast, Depp has gone back to his old life.
- Victims of narcissists remain frightened of their abuser (even years later). They can’t even bear to look at their abuser, as they find it very distressing, and it can trigger PTSD. Courts will often allow victims to be screened from abusers for this reason. Abusers will argue for the screens to be taken down as they hope to intimidate their victims. Depp avoided eye contact in court, whereas Heard continued to stare at him and even complained he wouldn’t look at her. She also gave him a very large knife. You don’t give a man you’re terrified of such a weapon.
- A narcissist will destroy your self-worth. A vulnerable person is easier to control and manipulate than someone strong. We saw a lot of evidence of Heard trying to undermine Depp and just one retort from Depp. Heard took unflattering photos to knock away at Depp’s confidence. She claimed to be trying to help him get clean, but the evidence was that she was taking drugs and drinking heavily herself. The tape of Heard mocking Depp’s career and his sister’s testimony (supported by a Dior representative) that Heard mocked the idea that Depp had the class and style to represent Dior are all very typical of a narcissist. Many victims struggled even to listen to the tapes of Heard, as the language was the same as used by their abusers, so it was very triggering.
- Narcissists are that way from childhood. An abuser doesn’t suddenly become abusive, they are that way with all their relationships. Depp’s ex-partners have come out in support of him. Heard has a previous arrest for domestic violence and there is a recording of her sister being questioned about being assaulted by her.
- Narcissists cheat. Narcissists need the ego boost of other lovers and they don’t care about hurting their partner. There is no clear evidence that Heard had multiple lovers while married to Depp.
- A narcissist will eventually make you snap. Everyone has a breaking point; it is the time when the torture of the abuse gets too much to bear and victims will then respond by what is known as reactive abuse. There are many different forms this can take. Some will self-harm to the point of suicide, and some will even murder their abuser, having snapped after a lifetime of abuse. These victims often confess to the crime and are peaceful before and after. In less extreme cases the victim will comfort themselves by imagining the death of the abuser in some graphic detail. If the victim still has a support network they may voice this to close friends or family. We saw that with Depp. Some of his e-mails and texts would appear disgusting and misogynistic to an outsider, but they are a common, and less extreme, response to the daily torture of abuse. Many views this reactive abuse as a form of abuse and, for that reason, just under a third of our members said that they believed that both partners were abusive. However, these are probably victims who’ve not yet reached their breaking point.
Emma concluded: “I’ve been violently assaulted, and I see people, daily, who have been subject to domestic abuse. Minor bruising can be covered with make-up. A serious assault, such as that described, can’t be. It’s an insult to survivors to suggest the marks are ‘minor’. Eyes swell up to the point of closing and can’t be made to look normal with ice. The injuries look horrific for several days. You need to go to the hospital. The only person to sustain an injury that needed hospital treatment was Depp.
Male victims are less common but I do counsel many who’ve suffered just as badly at the hands of female abusers. Quite frankly it’s an insult to ALL victims to suggest, as Heard’s lawyers and some ‘support’ groups do, that the verdict makes it more difficult for victims to speak out. The case has increased understanding of the nature of abuse and the fact it is not gendered specific. The victims I speak to welcome the verdict. It is time that society was better educated.”
About The Author
Emma Davey is an award-winning trauma counsellor and founder of MyTraumaTheray.co.uk which specialises in supporting victims of narcissistic abuse. She is BACP Accredited.
Emma is also the founder of the Victims of Narcissistic Abuse Support Group on Facebook, which has over 25k members.
The poll took place at the end of June 2022 and asked members of the Group: Who do you think the abuser was out of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp?
- 62% responded Amber Heard
- 31% responded Both
- 4% responded Johnny Depp
- Some felt it was impossible to tell
Emma is herself a survivor of narcissistic abuse and now counsels up to eight victims a day. She is the winner of the Mental Health Awards 2022 for Most Compassionate Narcissistic Abuse Provider
Photo by RODNAE Productions: