Ever Been DARVO’d?

By: Michael Toohey, Psy.D. | September 8, 2023

DARVO is an acronym that stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverses roles of Victim (you) & Offender (them). It is a manipulation technique used by individuals who are abusive, narcissistic, or who engage in other types of wrongdoing. The objective of this strategy is to shift the focus away from the offender by attacking the actual victim.

When victim and perpetrator are switched, the offender now receives sympathy, demands your compassion, and can avoid the consequences of their behaviors. The people most likely to engage in DARVO can be narcissistic abusers, abusive parents, abusive bosses, and those who use the gaslighting technique. This can happen in committed relationships, friendships, and in the workplace.

The intent of a person DARVO-ing is to deny, minimize, and justify their actions by blaming the victim.

The Acronym: DARVO

1. Deny

The first step happens when the abuser denies their wrongdoing. They completely refuse to believe that any element of the abuse happened in the manner by which they are accused. It doesn’t matter the type of abuse, either. It can be sexual misconduct, emotional/physical abuse, or any other type of problematic behavior. They remain firm that it never happened.

Denials are typically clear and simple, and may sound like:

  • “I never did that”
  • “You’re lying”
  • “That situation never happened”
  • “I would never do anything like that, I’m not that kind of person”

2. Attack

Now that the denial is made, the offender turns offensive and attacks the person pointing out their bad behavior. They question the actual victim’s motivation, mental health, stability, honesty, intelligence, actions, and morality. The point of the attack is to demean and disparage the victim, which puts them off balance. It can really make a person feel like their head is spinning!

Attacks may sound like this (and notice the first word of each sentence):

  • “You’re crazy”
  • “You’re lying”
  • “You’re not well”
  • “You’re an addict”
  • “You wanted this”
  • “You never said ‘no’”
  • “You always make things up to try to make me look bad”

3. Reverse Victim & Offender

Next, the perpetrator tries to switch roles with the actual victim, to avoid responsibility for their behaviors, and to try to persuade that they are the actual victim in the interaction. A person who DARVO’s often relies more on feelings than on facts. The point of DARVO is to allow the abuse to continue.

Effects of DARVO

The purpose of DARVO-ing is to silence the victim through confusion, invalidation, and intimidation. Manipulation of the source of the bad behavior keeps the cycle of abuse continuing. Being DARVO’d causes self-doubt: it causes the victim to question if the event occurred, if they are overreacting, or even if the event was their fault.

When the victim blames themselves, it can distort their self-image and cause them to doubt their own memory. Shame, embarrassment, and guilt often follow. Consequently, the person may hesitate in seeking help and support.

Pushing Back Against DARVO

Though not easy, combating DARVO is possible. Recognizing and naming DARVO is a powerful antidote because it decreases its effectiveness. People who are aware of DARVO are less likely to doubt themselves.

If you are being abused, seek safety. Let those who support you know what happened as soon as you are able. Record the incident, so that if you start to doubt yourself, you can refer to what you’ve written or recorded. There is no shame in being abused or harmed!

Expect the Expected

Once you hear the denial, you know what comes next: the attack.

Attacks come very quickly. An abuser will play on your insecurities or regrets. After the attack, expect an attempt at role reversal. There is a natural tendency to try to explain the incident to the abuser in a different way, in an attempt to be understood.

Despite your best efforts your abuser will not acknowledge, nor take responsibility for what happened. They will not see it from your point of view, no matter how hard you try. Instead, remember who you are! Stick to your truth about what happened and simply repeat what you know – be a broken record about it!

DARVO is a terrible type of manipulation and toxic behavior. It’s insidious, damaging, and abusive.

Therapy’s Role in Healing from Abuse

If you recognize that you are or have been DARVO’d, please consider seeking professional mental health treatment. This can help address the abuse, shame, doubt, and isolation that follows. Working to find the right therapist is likely easier than you think. At Therapy Changes, we have a Client Care Coordinator who will connect you with a therapist who is a good match for helping you cope with the issues involved in DARVO. You don’t have to go through this alone – help is available. Contact Us now to learn more about how therapy can help and to schedule your initial appointment.



Photo by Louis Galvez on Unsplash

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