The Juice & the Squeeze
The Depp vs. Heard Trial Is Not Just a Public Train Wreck …
It’s also a case study on toxic relationships.
Spring 2022 has seen a hit on our collective productivity. Yes, it’s partly due to our post-pandemic fatigue, anxiety over international conflicts, and anguish over the endless gun violence. But there is something entirely unrelated that has been distracting and consuming us: the Depp-Heard legal saga playing out within the Fairfax, Virginia courtroom, which also involves pretty entertaining fanfare outside the courtroom (including a daily dose of emotional support Alpacas).
As of this blog post, after weeks of mud-slinging testimony, thousands of nastygram texts, and a rare Kate Moss cameo, the defamation trial has come to an end. Now the entire nation is breathlessly awaiting the outcome as if we have a personal stake in this and CourtTV even beams a jury deliberation clock as if it’s a countdown towards Y2K.
While the legal issues seem pretty straightforward – basically, was there any truth in the allegations of abuse? – the more vexing, if not slightly nihilistic, issue is what is the bigger takeaway of this hot mess?
Depending on who you ask, it’s a referendum on the #MeToo movement, the excess of celebrity culture, a commentary on social media bullying, or even protection of free speech.
While all of these have some validity, we have a slightly less controversial conclusion. Regardless of whether you’re a diehard #JusticeforJohnnyDepp or #JusticeForAmberHeard ambassador – there seems to be nothing in between unless you’re Elon Musk – we can all agree that theirs is a case study of a toxic relationship.
Though most of us will never have to relive our painful relationship moments in a public forum, toxic relationships are no less damaging when they’re experienced privately.
So if nothing else, Johnny and Amber have reminded us which explosive patterns to spot early and avoid at all costs in a relationship.
Toxic relationships rarely start out as a hot-mess-express. Quite the opposite. They tend to begin on a very high note, which becomes the consummate north star when things hit a low point.
The initial stage of many toxic relationships, including Depp-Heard’s, is often marked by an intense courtship dubbed “Love Bombing”. Love bombing is characterized by grand gestures and excessive attention. Recall Amber’s testimony of how Johnny sent her extravagant gifts and whisked her away on whirlwind adventures at the outset of their courtship. On the flip side, Johnny recalled the effusive adulation that Amber bestowed upon him when they first began to date.
Anyone is capable of love bombing, but it’s most often a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder. If you need an example of what love bombing by a narcissist looks like in action, watch Netflix’s documentary “Tinder Swindler”, whose protaganist is a classic narcissist who uses love bombing as a way to lure women into a Ponzi-like scheme to support his lavish lifestyle.
While it lasts, love bombing clearly feels incredible (who doesn’t like to be showered with gifts and attention??). But the thing is, much like any intense moments, love bombing doesn’t last. Once the narcissist-love bomber feels that they have control over the partner, they tend to either shut off or mistreat their partner. That same person who was just idolizing you can switch to devaluating you on a dime.
Point-blank, love bombing is a form of psychological manipulation. If you realize the person you’re with is love bombing, you should do what you can to safely remove yourself from a potentially toxic situation and seek support systems outside of the relationship.
Another element of the Depp-Heard relationship that’s emblematic of a noxious relationship is the practice of “gaslighting”. Gaslighting refers to the act of undermining another person’s reality by denying facts, the environment around them, or their feelings.
The phrase originated from a 1938 mystery thriller by Patrick Hamilton called Gas Light, adopted into a movie starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. In the film, the husband (Boyer) manipulates his trusting wife (Berman) into believing she can no longer trust her perceptions of reality.
The most common tactic by the gaslighter is to make their partner believe that what’s happening isn’t really happening at all (or rationalizing it as something else). During the Depp-Heard Trial, we heard a disturbing recording where Amber is blatantly denying that she “punched” Johnny even though she seems to acknowledge physically assaulting him in the same breath.
Gaslighting often develops or builds on an existing power dynamic. For gaslighters, the technique is a way to control the moment in a relationship, to stop the conflict, and to feel “in charge” again. Scarily, the gaslighter may not even know he is doing anything strategic or manipulative, they may merely lack self-awareness.
Gaslighting can lead a person who’s been gaslit to feel like their feelings aren’t valid or even real—which can make it even harder for them to leave the relationship or seek help when needed.
Pulling yourself out of a gaslighting power dynamic can be brutally hard. But it is possible. The antidote to gaslighting is maintaining emotional awareness and to create boundaries.
This one seems obvious but can be difficult to spot whilst you’re in the middle of it. For example, your partner may be wondering where you are all the time or gets irritated or jealous when you’re spending time with someone that can be deemed a romantic rival.
The Depp-Heard testimony revealed countless instances where both parties acted with jealousy, revealed a lack of trust, and exhibited a need for control. Johnny felt insecure with Amber’s work and co-stars; conversely, Amber admitted to feelings of jealousy and insecurity regarding Johnny’s success.
It’s important not to conflate controlling tactics with love and care. It’s also important to call out and course-correct this behavior, and, most importantly, to walk away where behavior is unlikely or does not change.
Oftentimes, people who have left toxic relationships find themselves unable to fully recover because they’re afraid of getting hurt again. But healing is possible: talk to a therapist, surround yourself with a supportive community, and channel your efforts into things that make you feel fulfilled and happy. There is light at the end of this tunnel.
Sadly, there are no winners when it comes to the Depp-Heard romantic relationship. But regardless of the legal outcome, we hope that both Amber and Johnny can heal and learn from their painful experiences with each other.