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Unmasking DARVO: Understanding the Manipulative Tactic in Relationships

In the complex dynamics of relationships, particularly those that are unhealthy or abusive, there's a manipulative strategy known as DARVO that often goes unnoticed. DARVO stands for Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender, and it's a common tactic used by abusers to escape accountability and maintain control. Let's break down this concept in layman's terms to help you recognize and protect yourself from this harmful behaviour.

What is DARVO?

DARVO is a three-part manoeuvre that some individuals use to deflect blame and maintain a facade of innocence when they're called out for harmful behaviour. It's a psychological sleight of hand that can leave victims confused and doubting their own experiences.


The first step is denial. The abuser outright denies any wrongdoing, often with such conviction that it can make the victim question their own memory or perception of events.


Next comes the attack. The abuser launches a counter-offensive against the victim's character and credibility, aiming to undermine their reputation and make them less believable to others.

Reverse Victim and Offender

Finally, the abuser flips the script, reversing the roles of victim and offender. They portray themselves as the one who has been wronged, effectively gaslighting the victim into believing they are the perpetrator.

The Impact of DARVO

DARVO can be incredibly damaging to a person's mental health. It can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and self-blame, as victims may start to believe they are at fault for the abuse. This tactic is not just limited to intimate relationships; it can occur in professional settings and everyday interactions.

Recognising DARVO

It's often difficult for victims to recognise DARVO when they're in the midst of it. However, learning about this tactic and its signs can help individuals identify when it's occurring. Some signs include:

  • Consistent denial of responsibility by the abuser.

  • Personal attacks aimed at undermining the victim's self-worth.

  • A reversal of roles, with the abuser claiming to be the victim.

Protecting Yourself from DARVO

If you suspect you're experiencing DARVO, there are steps you can take to protect yourself:

  • Record or make note of occurrences, including dates and times .

  • Set clear boundaries for what you will accept and what you will not tolerate .

  • Speak with a mental health professional.

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