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Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard - How Did Love Turn Into Hate

Linda enjoys analyzing current events and exploring lessons learned from an emotional and behavioral perspective.

The Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trial has drawn a lot of attention. Everyone has an opinion on who is the hero and who is the monster. There are many more on Team Depp than on Team Heard, with a lot of negativity and vitriol on both sides. However, it is also clear that the relationship started with a hot kiss that then developed into a deep love. Both Depp and Heard described the start of their relationship as magical, they both wrote in a love journal, there were many texts about love from both sides, and a special knife gift with the inscription "hasta la muerte" (until death).

How then did this love turn into a severed fingertip, vengeance poop, ugly texts, and serious allegations of abuse?

Johnny Depp at a ceremony for Penélope Cruz to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Johnny Depp at a ceremony for Penélope Cruz to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

How Did Love Turn into Hate?

In her closing statement, Depp's lawyer Camille Vasquez described Amber Heard as - "... a deeply troubled person, violently afraid of abandonment". My mother also has a deep fear of abandonment, which she passed on to me, so it is a feeling that I am quite familiar with.

In fact, fear of abandonment is a common fear that all of us have experienced. When we love someone, we naturally fear losing them. The greater the love, the greater the fear of loss or abandonment. When this fear of abandonment sweeps us away, we may become jealous, angry, controlling, and abusive.

Amber Heard is not the only one who suffers from fear of abandonment. Ellen Barkin described Johnny Depp as "a jealous man, controlling ...". In my own romantic relationships, I have also experienced this type of jealousy, and I have tried to control my partner in various ways. The results were quite detrimental to our bond. Like Johnny Depp, I too had a controlling mother, so fear of abandonment can occur in a variety of relationships, not just romantic ones.

Fear of Abandonment

When controlled by the fear of losing a loved one, we may unconsciously respond in three key ways - fight (engagement), flight (avoidance), or freeze (submission).

  • Those who choose to engage may try to control their partner. They may try to monopolize their time, what they do, how they act, what they eat, say, or wear. They may seek out backup partners in case they lose their current one.
  • Those who choose to avoid may try to limit their love. They may find most people to be unworthy of their love or have little trust in others. When faced with abandonment, they may choose to end the relationship first, before they are publicly rejected.
  • Those who choose to submit may try to placate their partner. They may engage in approval seeking behaviors, adopt their partner's point of view, and otherwise try to appease their partner by acceding to their opinions and demands.

In my experience, the situation is fluid, and we may unconsciously switch between different defense strategies. We see many of these behaviors in the Depp-Heard trial, and if we are truthful with ourselves, we may also see these behaviors in our own relationships. Unfortunately, these unconscious strategies are almost always maladaptive, and frequently lead us to ruin, as we also see in the Depp-Heard trial.

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The Destructive Cycle of Fear

From various audio recordings and testimony, it becomes clear that Amber Heard's fear of abandonment gets triggered unconsciously in a variety of instances, for example -

  • When she was asked to sign a post-nuptial agreement,
  • When Depp chose to spend time with others during group events,
  • When he arrived late on planned functions, and more.

Once this fear gets triggered, it quickly becomes blame and then anger. This causes Depp to try to withdraw from the situation, thereby triggering more fears of abandonment, which leads to more anger, more confrontation, withdrawal, and so on. Very quickly, this cycle of fear can become destructive and abusive. It can be self-destructive as well as destructive to those around us. While trying to withdraw, we may physically withdraw into different locations (5 bathrooms and two bedrooms), or we may withdraw mentally through alcohol and drugs.

There was clearly anger from both sides, and both of them verbally attacked each other quite viciously on some of the texts and audio encounters. When we are swept away by anger and fear, our actions are no longer conscious or rational. In fact, we are often unaware of the underlying fears that triggered our destructive actions. If we were truly aware, we would not act in such a self-destructive way nor would we be destructive to our loved ones. That would be irrational.

Unconditional Love

This story is tragic because what started out as a deep love ended with a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering on both sides. While parts of the story are sensational and sometimes extreme, the pattern of love, fear of abandonment, and cycle of destructive action is unfortunately quite common. When we love someone, we naturally fear losing them. The greater the love, the greater the fear. This has certainly been my experience throughout my life.

The key to stepping out of this destructive cycle is to bring that fear into conscious awareness. Once we become aware of the underlying fears that drive us, we can start to recognize our destructive actions for what they are. We can start to see that we cannot control others. Trying to do so will only push them away from us, thereby leading to the abandonment that we so fear. Seeking out backup partners will not alleviate the pain of loss, but will precipitate a break-up instead.

When I started to face my fears of loss and abandonment, my relationship with my partner improved significantly. We now have freer communication, a lot less blame, fewer arguments, and more freedom.

True Meaning of Love

When we examine love deeply, we see that it does not require that we own or possess the object of our affection. In fact, we cannot fully own or possess another being. Trying to do so will only lead to ruin and a lot of unnecessary suffering, as was depicted in the trial.

We can continue to love someone even though they may not be physically present. I have lost many loved ones due to break-ups or death. I miss them dearly, feel sadness, as well as emotional pain. However, instead of avoiding the pain, I stay with it. Underneath the fear, underneath the pain, I feel great love and gratitude for having known them.

This is unconditional love; love without being controlled by the fear of loss. By facing what we fear, the pain of loss, and building resilience towards it, we are no longer controlled by it. In this way, we free ourselves to love deeply and limitlessly.

There are two kinds of suffering. There is the suffering you run away from, which follows you everywhere. And there is the suffering you face directly, and so become free.
~~[Ajahn Chah]

© 2022 Linda Wright

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