Life Advice



Barton Goldsmith: Reactive abuse

Barton Goldsmith, Tribune News Service on

Published in Dating Advice

I just received an advertisement for a new app that allows you to make anonymous harassment reports in just three minutes over the internet, and that seems like a reactive abuser's dream. Reactive abusers are people who abuse other people by accusing them of abuse, and in our current culture, it has become all too common. It is also a way that some people are making a lot of money.

The most recent "gone viral" example is the one of Amy Cooper who called 911 because a black man asked her politely to leash her dog (as per park rules). She went totally off on him and called 911 telling the operator (and his cell cam) that she would say he was threatening her life!

That is an example of how people react without thinking based on a false set of ideas that, if crossed, triggers them into reactive abuse. In this case, the man's cell phone saved him; others have not been so lucky.

Today, just an accusation of any kind of abuse is a career/marriage/life ender, and it no longer has to be done personally. Internet abuse (like revenge porn) is very popular. But in Amy's case, it deservingly backfired. She lost not only her job but her rescue dog, who was being abused during her altercation and was later taken back by the organization. And I think she got off easy.

Using false accusations to get your way, make a buck, win custody, or get hits on social media is a form of abuse and a crime, and people who perpetrate this action need to be brought to justice. Unfortunately, their numbers are still growing.

This is because many people can be motivated to do awful things and take on the victim role if there is a payoff. That can be money or revenge or just purely sadistic pleasure. They get into it and start to believe their own lies about being harmed in some way, and they can be very convincing. I have worked in Hollywood a long time and have never seen better acting than in a courtroom.

It is as though we have been given permission to be our worst selves, and all that matters is how good we can tell a lie, pretend to cry, and find deep pockets to help us heal our wounds.

Once falsely accused of abuse, someone may find themselves in jail or in a courtroom as a result, and the emotional toll can be incalculable. This gives the reactive abuser a lot of power. Many will hold this over the person they are abusing for a long time, so they can feel what they think is power of some kind. Is this part of the new normal? It just boggles the mind.


Yes, there is a lot of physical, emotional, and psychological abuse going on, and no abuse is OK. None. Bad people do need to be brought to justice and stopped, but let's make sure we know who the bad ones really are.

Most real abuse actually goes unreported or is underreported. If you have been abused, report it, tell a friend, go to the police, and get a lawyer and a therapist. I believe that the person who hurt you deserves to be severely punished. But if you are using a lie to get even, make money, or just to get attention, understand that this choice is pure evil. Period.


(Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of "The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time." Follow his daily insights on Twitter at @BartonGoldsmith, or email him at

(c)2020 Barton Goldsmith

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