Abuse & Neglect Abuse Effects Healing

DARVO: What It Is & How to Deal with It

DARVO | Hopeful Panda

If you have a narcissistic, abusive, or toxic parent, DARVO, which stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender, is likely something you’ve experienced before.

Whenever I confronted my mother about her abusive or toxic behavior, she’d found a way to deny it, turn it around on me, and make it seem like I’m the abusive one.

“I did no such thing. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’re such a compulsive liar, always making up stuff!”

“You call me abusive yet you’re the one that’s been abusing me for years!”

Does this scenario seem familiar? If so, then you’ve been a victim of a manipulative tactic known as DARVO.

This post will explore the concept of DARVO, its harmful effects, and how you can deal with it and begin healing.

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What is DARVO?

DARVO is a manipulative tactic used by people when they feel threatened or are confronted by criticisms or complaints about their actions.

It allows the perpetrator to avoid responsibility, silence the victim, maintain power and control, and preserve their own self-image.

It is a form of emotional abuse, gaslighting, and playing the victim.

While DARVO can technically be used by anyone, it is most frequently used by narcissistic, abusive, and manipulative people.

The Three Stages of DARVO

There are three stages of DARVO: 1) Deny, 2) Attack, and 3) Reverse Victim and Offender.

DARVO can make the victim feel confused, guilty, doubtful, or ashamed. On top of that, it can make it harder for the victim to assert their own rights and boundaries.

However, recognizing the tactic can help you respond to it more effectively and find ways to move forward and begin healing.

1. Deny

DARVO may emerge if and when you confront your abusive parent about their toxic, manipulative, abusive, or hurtful actions.

And the action you confront them about can range from something serious, such as calling them out for being abusive, to something minor like “Did you touch my stuff?”.

In DARVO, your parent will deny their harmful behavior or downplay or minimize its severity in response to your accusations and confrontation.

  • “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
  • “It was just a joke.”
  • “I didn’t mean it that way.”

The intent of denial is to completely reject any responsibility and refuse to acknowledge that they did anything wrong to you.

By denying their actions, your abusive parent hopes to create doubt in you and undermine your credibility.

2. Attack

With DARVO, the abusive parent not only defends themselves, but they go on the offensive.

They would attack your credibility, motivations, or character because how dare you confront them about their behavior.

They would attack by making counter-accusations or by claiming that you’re exaggerating or lying.

Or they’d even resort to verbal abuse such as belittling, shaming, humiliating, and name-calling.

  • “You’re such a liar.”
  • “What kind of person accuses their own mother about something like that?”
  • “You’re blowing things way out of proportion.”

The intention behind the attack is to protect their fragile ego while discrediting and undermining you.

By attacking you, your parent can divert attention from their own actions and flaws. It’s also a way for them to maintain power and control.

This is also a form of blame-shifting and projection, which are covered in an earlier post about Narcissistic Abuse Tactics.

3. Reverse Victim and Offender

In the final stage, your abusive parent twists the narrative and distorts the facts.

They reverse the roles to portray themselves as the victim and you as the abuser or perpetrator in the situation.

They do this to manipulate your emotions, exploit your vulnerabilities, and garner sympathy from others.

  • “I can’t believe you would make up stuff just to hurt me.”
  • “How dare you try to make me feel bad. That’s abusive.”
  • “You did this on purpose so I’d look bad.”

By reversing victim and offender, your abusive parent regains control over the narrative and turns the focus away from their own actions.

So they get to position themselves as the ones being mistreated, allowing them to further evade any accountability.

DARVO - Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender | Hopeful Panda

Effects of DARVO

DARVO is a highly manipulative and insidious abuse tactic.

It can have profound negative effects on the individuals it’s used on.

Invalidation & Gaslighting

DARVO invalidates the victim’s actual experiences, undermines their credibility, leaves them feeling powerless, and perpetuates a cycle of victim-blaming.

When your abusive parent denies any of their mistreatment towards you, attacks your character, and plays the victim, it instills doubt and confusion in you.

You may question whether you’re actually experiencing abuse. You wonder if it’s really just your fault. And you wonder whether you’re overreacting or being dramatic.

You may frequently doubt your own perceptions, memories, and reality.

You may also have the tendency to blame yourself when something goes wrong or for future abuse you may experience.

Reinforces power imbalances

DARVO perpetuates existing power imbalances in the parent-child relationship.

When your abusive parent attacks and reverses victimhood, they maintain power and control while disempowering you.

It reinforces the toxic dynamic where your parent feels entitled to their behavior while you feel trapped and unable to challenge or escape the abuse.

Relationship problems

DARVO erodes trust – within yourself and within others.

As a result, you may find it challenging to trust others in future relationships. This may make it difficult to form or maintain a healthy relationship.

You may also struggle with being emotionally vulnerable or have trouble voicing or asserting your needs.

You fear that your experiences and feelings will be met with denial, attack, and further victimization once again.

Unfortunately, you may also be more susceptible to manipulation and coercion from future partners, unknowingly ending up in another abusive relationship.

However, learning about DARVO and how to deal with it can hopefully help you recognize when it might be happening in other relationships and know how you can protect yourself.

Low self-esteem & self-worth

Children who regularly experience DARVO and other forms of gaslighting from their parents experience a lack of or extremely low self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Gaslighting can be deeply damaging to a person’s sense of self. It erodes their confidence and makes them question their own sanity.

And DARVO magnifies this manipulation by distorting the facts, rewriting narratives, and portraying the abuser as the victim.

Difficulty seeking support

Because of the reversal of victim and offender roles, victims may find it difficult to seek validation and support from others.

When trying to seek help from outsiders, you may frequently come across disbelief or skepticism. This further compounds your sense of isolation and powerlessness.

When my partner called the cops on my mother and her boyfriend for making death threats and more, the cops sided with my mother because she DARVO'ed the hell out of the whole situation.

She denied any wrongdoing by acting confused about how we can do such a thing and said she's been nothing but nice to us, letting us live in "her" house.

Then, she turned everything around on my partner and me. She cried her crocodile tears, claimed that we were the ones who were abusing and harassing her, and threw out a bunch of other accusations.

So the cops completely took her side, told us to "grow up", threatened to have us arrested, and encouraged my mother to file a report against my partner for harassment even though he was the one who called for help.

If you want to read more, the whole story is covered here.

So, unfortunately, DARVO is not just unbelievably effective at making victims question themselves. It can also be really effective at making others doubt the victim and take the perpetrator’s side.

How to Deal with DARVO

Like with any abuse tactic, the first step is to be able to recognize and identify the signs.

Once you recognize your parent or someone else using DARVO on you, remind yourself what their intention is – to manipulate your emotions and make you doubt yourself.

Here are some methods you can utilize when experiencing DARVO.

Stay calm

Your parents DARVO to manipulate you and make you doubt yourself.

Try not to let them get to you, or at least, try not to show them that they are.

Keep a record

Having a record of your parent’s abusive behavior and any evidence to support that claim can help you defend yourself if the situation escalates.

It’s also something to turn to whenever you start doubting your memories or experiences.

Try not to internalize their words

Remind yourself that they are only trying to avoid accountability and maintain power.

Everything they say about you is just projection, deflection, and blame-shifting.

Validate yourself

You ARE being abused and they ARE trying to deflect responsibility and turn it around on you.

They can deny, attack, and reverse all they want, but you know the TRUTH.

Reach out

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or confused, reach out to someone you trust for support. They can provide validation and reassurance.

Set boundaries

Try to set boundaries with your parent if possible. Stick to them and enforce them.

Refrain from pointless arguments

Attempting to argue with them or defend yourself just gives them a reason to attack you further.

Remind yourself that talking to them is like talking to a brick wall.

Limit or cut contact

If possible, consider limited or no contact. The best way to deal with abuse is to disengage from it altogether.

If that’s not an option, try to make an excuse to leave or walk away from the situation.

Use the gray rock method

If leaving the situation or going limited or no contact isn’t an option, all you can do is probably utilize the gray rock method until you are away from them.

Keep your interactions brief and superficial. Don’t show any emotions. Ignore them or simply respond using short phrases, sounds, or gestures.

Related: 16 Ways to Deal with a Narcissistic Parent

Moving Forward & Healing from DARVO

Experiencing DARVO can be demoralizing, invalidating, and crazy-making.

Learning about DARVO can help you take back control and start moving onward.

Once you can recognize and properly deal with DARVO, you have taken back control!

Then, you can move forward and begin healing from its damage.

Here are some things you can do that can help you begin healing:

In the end, DARVO is an insidious manipulation tactic that will take time to heal from.

So please give yourself the patience, self-compassion, and kindness you missed out on as you move forward.

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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with an abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.

I am always trying to better understand and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda. Learn more here.

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