What It’s Like to be Falsely Accused of Abuse
By now, we all know about the crimes committed by Elizabeth Holmes and Ghislaine Maxwell. We also know how many lies they told, including lies falsely blaming other people for crimes like abuse.
I don’t know why Holmes and Maxwell did these things. But I do know another woman, my adult daughter, who lies about people this way. The reason is that she has psychopathy.
My daughter has lied about many people, including me, from the time she was in grade school. She has accused 11 people of abusing her in various ways that I know of. I’m sure there are more. One of her most revolting lies is that I emotionally abused her. It’s women like her, and like Holmes and Maxwell, who are the reason we can’t automatically believe all women, no matter who they are or what they do.
I know that real abuse happens all the time, and it’s terrible. People abuse their partners. Parents abuse their children. These things happen. So of course if a child says a parent abused them or someone says their partner abused them, it needs to be checked out. But when no evidence of abuse can be found, and evidence mounts that the accuser could be making a false claim, the possibility that the accuser isn’t telling the truth needs to be considered, too. Because we also know that people sometimes lie.
That’s why I felt very conflicted watching the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp trial. I’m not interested in either Amber Heard or Johnny Depp or their obviously troubled relationship. I haven’t seen any of Depp’s movies and I am no Depp fan. The first time I heard about the allegations that Depp abused Heard, I was in Japan looking up at a giant billboard poster of Depp in his pirate garb and I remember thinking: Ew. I am turned off by his personal choices and style–his vulgarity, his documented drug abuse, hotel room-smashing, and private island-owning. Again: Ew. And I think men still have too much power, even in 2022, particularly wealthy, older men in relationships with younger women.
But I do care deeply about people being falsely accused of abuse. I know how awful it can be. So the trial got my attention. Regardless of what really happened between Depp and Heard, I am glad that this trial brought attention to the fact that it’s possible to be falsely accused of abuse.
Some people wonder why anyone would falsely accuse someone of abuse. In the case of my daughter it’s because she has psychopathy, which is a personality disorder. People with psychopathy are callous and uncaring, and they sometimes lie or use any other tool they can find to get what they want. My daughter loves being the center of attention, and she loves to be outrageous and shocking. So if she can be the center of attention by shocking and outraging people, then, from her point of view, this is even better. My daughter also loves to be powerful and in control. It’s because the world–rightfully–takes claims of abuse so seriously that people with psychopathy sometimes lie about abuse. It’s a very effective way to blackmail, threaten, or punish people.
I can’t state the exact things my daughter said here, as she might recognize them. But her usual modus operandi was not to make claims about specific outrageous things I had done. Instead, she generally left it very vague. She just said, to me and to others, that I emotionally abused her. She has repeatedly said that my mostly reasonable, or at the worst flustered and ineffective, parenting requests constituted emotional abuse.
For example, a few times I asked that she write me an apology letter for various difficult behaviors. I was at my wit’s end as to how to discipline her since she didn’t care at all if I disapproved of things she did. Instead, she wrote two letters (well, emails). One said that I had emotionally abused her. When I opened that email I felt terrorized, sad and angry. Terrorized by the viciousness of what she wrote, sad about the fact that my daughter was like this, and angry that I was forced to endure this horrible treatment for so many years.
The other email was to our family therapist. It said that I, as well as others, had emotionally abused her. Although the therapist didn’t seem to believe I abused my daughter, she didn’t seem to feel that the false accusations of abuse against me constituted my daughter emotionally abusing me either. But I definitely experienced the false accusations of abuse as a form of emotional abuse.
The idea that any child, of any age, is always honest and accurate about what they experienced with their parents is absurd. Of course, some children are dishonest about their parents. And the widely-disseminated myth that parents always get what they deserve from their children is fantasy thinking. Just like people don’t always get what they deserve anywhere else in life. You get what you get from your kids. And some people, like me, get unlucky. If your child has a personality disorder like psychopathy, what you get will be shaped by that. They might tell a lot of lies about you.
Just because something is very often true, doesn’t mean it always is. I think it’s important to keep two different things in mind: Abuse happens, and it is terrible. And most people would never lie about it, and it should always be investigated. But that doesn’t mean no one would ever lie about it. Some people have personality disorders that result in them lying about many things, including abuse.
Even if false accusations of parental abuse or intimate partner violence are very rare, they do happen. Some percentage of those accusations are purposefully dishonest. Manipulative people take advantage of other people’s assumptions of honesty to manipulate. This is true for manipulative men, and it’s true for manipulative women and manipulative children too.
I am the afraid-to-be-public figure, representing the unlucky mothers and fathers who have experienced child-to-parent emotional abuse.
May we one day be comfortable showing our faces.