DARVO is an acronym standing for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender, and is a form of gaslighting that all abusers use. It is fairly self-explanatory, and shows the steps the abuser takes whenever they are called on their behaviour.

The first step of DARVO is to Deny. “I didn’t do it.” They can use classic gaslighting tricks such as, “You’re imagining it,” or “You always take everything up wrong,” or a simple flat denial. The details may vary, but the denial is a key element of it.

The second step of DARVO is to Attack. This attack can be related to your original complaint, or something completely different to distract you.

So, as an example of an attack relating to your complaint, if you were calling them on how they caused a scene in the restaurant on your birthday, they might turn on you, saying something like, “Well, the service was so slow and you weren’t doing anything about it, and all your guests were getting fed up.”

An example of an irrelevant attack is a real one from my own life: My own father once went on the attack by telling me that he didn’t like the tone of my voicemail message.

And the third step of DARVO is to Reverse Victim and Offender.

In this step they make you the offender, and themselves the victim. In my restaurant example above, they might go on to say, “You’re always having a go at me, and I’m just trying to help make your birthday a success but nothing pleases you, and you’re so unreasonable, and you’re giving out to me even when I was trying to help.”

Tears can feature here too, as they sob how mean you are to them and they were just helping.

As ever with this narcissistic dynamic, the details can vary, but the pattern is the same. And you are left reeling, completely confused about the reality of it all: both the facts of the case in the case of the Denial, and the rightness of your position in the case of Reverse Victim and Offender.

The narcissist can often call in other people too, to agree with them, and as narcissists are good at drawing webs of people around them, through triangulation, and often have people scared of offending them, this can work well too, leaving you even more isolated and confused.

The fact is that a narcissist will never ever calmly consider that they might have been wrong, and discuss it rationally. Instead they will go straight on the attack and defend themselves with all they have got. DARVO is one of their tools of choice.

The concept of DARVO comes from Jennifer Freyd. More information here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jennifer_Freyd

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