One Way to Disarm Gaslighters: Understand DARVO

One Way to Disarm Gaslighters: Understand DARVO

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These days I feel newly empowered as a sexual assault survivor. I?m in a different and better place now despite my disabling PTSD. Despite the severe gaslighting I was raised with, or maybe because of it, I?ve become a person who cannot be swayed from my own truth. I?m grateful for this opportunity to share one of the best secrets I?ve ever learned in that pursuit: DARVO.

DARVO is an acronym for a response observed in many guilty people when accused of misconduct. It stands for Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim-Offender. DARVO is a clear and simple pattern that you will see everywhere once you learn to identify it, like the Fibonacci sequence of aggressors.

From the Wikipedia page:

DARVO is an acronym used to describe a common strategy of abusers: deny the abuse, then attack the victim for attempting to make them accountable for their offense, thereby reversing victim and offender. ?

Psychologist Jennifer Freyd writes:

?I have observed that actual abusers threaten, bully and make a nightmare for anyone who holds them accountable or asks them to change their abusive behavior. This attack, intended to chill and terrify, typically includes threats of law suits, overt and covert attacks on the whistle-blower?s credibility, and so on. The attack will often take the form of focusing on ridiculing the person who attempts to hold the offender accountable. [?]

[T]he offender rapidly creates the impression that the abuser is the wronged one, while the victim or concerned observer is the offender. Figure and ground are completely reversed. [?] The offender is on the offense and the person attempting to hold the offender accountable is put on the defense.[17]

I?m a survivor of child trafficking, and have written a book about that experience and the emotional abuse it entailed. More information about my background and personal knowledge of gaslighting and how to cope with it can be found on my personal blog at

I?d like to use my intimate familiarity with sociopathic mind games ? now that I?ve worked my way out of them ? to give you some news you can use. Once I learned about DARVO it became much easier for me to see the truth no matter how heated the conversation.

Gaslighters, those who respond with DARVO when confronted about bad behavior, feed on your self-doubt. Even people who start out quite sure of themselves, if mistreated enough, become mentally and emotionally malleable. The more you?ve been attacked, whether physically, sexually, or emotionally, the easier it is for other people to destabilize you going forward. This is especially true if they use similar tactics to prior abusers, until you work through your issues about it as I do. It?s the old, what doesn?t kill you makes you stronger.

Therefore my first recommendation is a reminder that knowledge is power. One thing I have observed among gaslighters is that their first line of attack when presented with someone else?s needs is, ?It?s all about you, as always.? The Denial of your objection is understood within the response. Then your motivations, and you personally, are Attacked with an allusion to narcissism, and you can see how we?re almost halfway through DARVO. So the most helpful first step I took was to do an online Narcissistic Personality Inventory. This free test will give you not only your score, but explain how narcissistic you are in relation to others. It even shows you how you scored in each of the categories, manipulation, exploitation, need for attention, etc.

Once you know what your own actual narcissism index score is, you are much more self-aware and thus self-empowered.Because I know that about myself, that I score lower than average in narcissistic traits ? and even which specific areas ? I know that I am not behaving in a narcissistic way no matter what the gaslighter says. I retest myself occasionally and now average 4 to 6, still significantly lower than average.

The first time I took the Narcissism Personality Index, because of the severity of my emotional abuse and the corresponding low self-esteem, I scored a 1. Literally only 1. I marked that I liked getting attention, because I am a writer and want people to read my words. The average narcissism score is thought to be around 12 to 15, with celebrities averaging 18 to 19. So I was at an extreme societal disadvantage walking around with a narcissism index of 1. I became severely codependent in response to narcissistic abuse, in other words.

My definition of codependence the counterpart to narcissism, prioritizing the needs of others over my own needs. And that is precisely what the other person wants when they DARVO. When they Reverse Victim and Offender, the conversation shifts from the accuser?s needs back to the offender?s alleged right to not be falsely accused. You must understand that people who DARVO also do it when properly accused.DARVO is a confirmation of guilt in one who refuses to be held accountable.

The Wikipedia page quoted above only lists one example of DARVO, R Kelly?s response to Gayle King?s questions about sexual abuse. Here are three other high-quality examples to help familiarize you with this common abusive game.

  1. ?All of these liars will be sued.? Even after the videotaped confession to routinely grabbing women without consent, Donald Trump claimed that he would be suing all of his accusers after the election. This was pure DARVO, as evidenced by the fact that in reality he?s not suing any of them other than countersuing the ones who are suing him. DARVO is about continuing to get whatever you want. The truth is an automatic victim.
  2. After Anita Hill?s testimony at his confirmation hearings, Clarence Thomas complained that he was the subject of ?a high-tech lynching.? As the victims of actual lynching were innocent people, the Denial of Hill?s accusations is implicit, along with the direct reference to an inherently racist personal Attack. The denial, attack, and reverse of victim and offender were all included in that one concise statement, full DARVO. As I see it if anyone was metaphorically lynched it was Anita Hill. She was put through hell, and then dismissed after telling the truth. He was appointed to the Supreme Court.
  3. DARVO may be a smart career move for advancement within the judiciary. When confronted with Christine Blasey Ford?s accusations of attempted rape, Brett Kavanaugh appeared visually distraught, with his face contorted and his voice breaking. He appeared to sob without any actual tears. He claimed that his entire life ? his career, reputation, home, marriage, and family ? had all been permanently and irrevocably destroyed. Like Clarence Thomas being ?lynched? right onto the Supreme Court, actually none of that was true. Brett Kavanaugh is currently a Supreme Court justice with a lifetime appointment, the pinnacle of any attorney?s career. He is still married with two children and free to drink beer.

Aside from the obvious DARVO described above, I heard one sex crimes judge comment that the way Kavanaugh turned Amy Klobuchar?s questions back on her, overstepping the clear boundaries of authority, would convince her that Kavanaugh was guilty of the instant crimes. The fact of that DARVO-adjacent behavior would, without any other evidence or testimony, convince her as a judge that he was guilty of the crimes with which he was charged.

With the above information well in hand you are ready to disarm those who would trample your boundaries. Live well in the daylight.


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