“I didn’t do that. You’re misinterpreting. You always overreact and make me look like a bad person.”

“That never happened - I was joking! I can’t believe you think I would do that. You’re the one acting crazy.”

“Is that really what happened, or are you just looking for attention? We don’t believe a person like him would do that.”

Unfortunately, many of us have experienced gaslighting conversations similar to these. You approach someone about their behavior, they turn it around on you and you walk away doubting yourself and feeling bad. Gaslighting is used as a mean of keeping victims from speaking out. When confronted with wrongdoing, the perpetrator has tactics up their sleeve to disarm the victim and confuse them. The victim feels helpless and unsure of themselves, and too often this leads to devastating consequences for the victim while the perpetrator avoids responsibility. 

But there is a way to defeat gaslighters and hold them to account. You can learn their tactics and prepare to defend yourself against them. One commonly used tactic is DARVO.

What is DARVO?

DARVO is an acronym for Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. It refers to a three-part strategy used by gaslighters in response to being confronted for their bad behavior or wrongdoing. First, the perpetrator denies the incident occurred. Then, they attack the victim’s credibility – often accusing the victim of committing the wrongdoing. Third, they reverse the roles of the victim and perpetrator – insisting that they themselves are actually the victim!

The goal of DARVO is to confuse the victim so that they will back down and the perpetrator thus avoids any responsibility for their actions. It causes the victim to question their own reality while the perpetrator paints a picture of a less harmful version of the situation. It is commonly used by abusers to deny the victim’s reality and make the victim appear to be at least partly responsible for the abuse. And if all else fails, the abuser will feign memory loss – they simply can’t remember, they question the victim’s ability to remember, and sabotages their story.

In a study on the use of DARVO tactics in domestic violence cases, over 80% of the perpetrators interviewed responded with a minimization of the incident – “the situation got blown way out of proportion” or “the police made [the] incident sound much worse than it actually was.” Over half of the perpetrators blamed the victim. By denying the seriousness of the situation and accusing the victim, they try to avoid being held accountable for the incident.

This is a common reaction to accusations of sexual abuse. For example, when interviewed about the accusations against him of abusing underage girls, singer R. Kelly denied it happened, said the accusers were liars out to ruin his career, and then said he is a victim because of his ‘big heart.’

DARVO doesn’t just happen in personal relationships. It can enter the workplace or be used as a tactic to disrupt your life by an outside force. On a larger scale it is used by institutions like the police, churches, and governments.

When DARVO is Used by Institutions

Police charge rape victims with lying. The Catholic church covers up abuse by its priests. Gender harassment in schools is tolerated, because “boys will be boys.” Governments fail to protect their citizens from the threat of Covid-19 by minimizing the dangers and reporting false information. Whistle-blowers are traumatized by the emotional manipulation of employers.

These are all incidences of institutional DARVO - when institutions harm the people who are depending on them.

For example, a nurse who reports misconduct believes they are a valued staff member and thus their complaint will be taken seriously. When the opposite happens – their complaint is minimized, they are ostracized by coworkers and management – it results in cognitive dissonance, confusion and doubt. The institution has used the classic DARVO technique to cover up what has happened, put a different spin on the story and place the focus on the victim’s inadequacies, all while avoiding accepting any responsibility.

Signs of institutional DARVO include things like inadequate response to complaints, delaying tactics, dismissing the incident as a “gray area” or miscommunication, being advised to “just move on,” mishandling the case or even reprimanding the victim or advising them to take stress leave. All of these tactics deny the victim’s reality and deflect the blame, causing further harm to the victim.

Effects of DARVO

Lives are destroyed by the people who use DARVO. Victims of DARVO experience anxiety, blame themselves, and feel they are going crazy - some are even driven to suicide.

But it’s not only the victims who are affected. Studies show that when a perpetrator uses DARVO tactics, the observers are also influenced. This is of particular concern when it comes to court hearings. DARVO leads observers to view the victim as more responsible, while the perpetrator is seen as less responsible. This puts some of the blame back on to the victim. It further victimizes the accuser and can result in lighter punishments for the accused.

How to Protect Yourself

Education reduces the power of gaslighters. The same study that showed that observers are influenced by a perpetrator’s use of DARVO also showed that when the observer has previous knowledge of DARVO, the effect is lessened. Being able to identify DARVO and call it out can effectively reduce its impact.

If you find yourself a victim of DARVO, whether by an individual or an institution, it’s critical that you stick to your truth.

  • Be persistent in stating your case and do not let anyone else sway you.
  • Keeping a journal can help you identify when someone is using DARVO tactics against you.
  • Document your interactions with the individual or institution by keeping copies of all written communication – texts, emails, legal documents.
  • Gather proof of your reputation and character.

Your words alone will not influence a gaslighter. They feed off of your reactions and will have a comeback to any way in which you try to convince them they are wrong. You need solid proof that can withstand DARVO tactics in the public eye if it should come to that.

Reputation Guardian provides a safe, secure place to keep everything that pertains to your reputation protected from people who want to manipulate it. Anything from credit reports, letters of reference and testimonials, to evidence of helping others can be included. Whatever will prove your good character, Reputation Guardian will protect it like gold so that you have a solid defense to confidently back yourself when it comes to malicious attacks.