• Katie Korzen

Gaslighting That Wounds

I’ve recently learned of the gaslighting term DARVO, it stands for:

Deny. Attack. Reverse. Victim. Offender.

Narcissists and addicts use this tactic because it works like a charm. Its a very simple strategy that makes the other person appear to be the perpetrator instead of the victim that they truly are. It works well for a lot of reasons…

It distracts the victim away from the fact that they need to get away from their perpetrator. It keeps them feeling like they are the perpetrator so there is no need to flee. Narcissists and addicts use this to keep you hanging on to make you believe that they are the victim. It’s almost impossible to detect when its been done to you because it is perpetrated on you in such a casual way and usually over long periods of time. The only way you would know how to protect yourself from it is to already be aware of its inner workings.

First they deny anything that you know in your present experience that is happening for you. If you question them about how their behavior is impacting your experience they deny it til the cows come home (which I’m guessing most of us don’t own any cows). Its basically a more sophisticated version of deny, deny, deny.

They will usually respond to your pointing out their behavior by telling you that you must be imagining things. They want to make you believe that you must be trying to pin something on them. It must be you that is trying to get them, for some unknown reason. Which is a subtle tactic to make you believe that you have a paranoia problem. Or they will say something like “I can’t believe you would think that I would do something like that!” Once again this implies that you have a trust problem and its your problem not something that they could possibly be doing that is impacting you and your life.

This reversal is so shocking that it usually leaves you dumbfounded. Feeling like “what the hell just happened.” You will probably say some thing like this to yourself, ‘I need to sit down and think about this for a while, how did I get blamed again? It all happened so fast!?!?!’

The attack part of it is really an extension of the Deny part where the perpetrator tells the victim subtly or directly that there is something wrong with you! They attack your character, your approach to telling them about their behavior…really they use anything they can to attack you at this point. Over time they get very skilled at looking for what traumatizes you the most so that they can slash you down to size and make a clean get away.

Then comes the most climatic part of the strategy, the Reversal. Now the perpetrator sees that your memory and your objective has begun to be lost or at the very least fuzzy. They see that you no longer have a complete hold on the reality that you started out with when you were questioning a behavior or action that impacted you negatively. Once they see that this is happening to you they know they are going to make it out of this conflict as the victim, which is their goal.

Now they move into the victim role. They will try to get you to rescue them, or withdraw as if they need to protect themselves. This also is very effective for them which is why they continue to use this strategy as often as needed. Once they are firmly planted in the victim role then they watch as the true victim/partner moves into the supporter/rescuer/perpetrator role.

The final stage is that you are now, seemingly, of your own volition crowned the offender. The perpetrator is no longer the perpetrator you are. The DARVO strategy is complete when you feel compelled to console the perpetrator for insulting them or mistrusting them in the first place and if you don’t relent then you know there will be an even greater attack on you, so you concede. The journey has left you befuddled, astounded and on the opposite side of the issue than when you started.

This shifting of focus from the addicts behavior to the victims is a classic narcissistic tactic and it is devastating for partners. There are practically no words to describe how demeaning and cruel this can feel when someone you love so much doesn’t value your experience and disrespects you in such a way that leaves you feeling like a traumatized fool. Why would someone you love want to do this to you? They have put their addiction first but they want you to believe that you are first to them. They have a wall of shame they use to protect themselves and its a rare perpetrator that will hold themselves accountable for using this strategy on someone they love.

If you feel you are being DARVO’ed by your partner seek help as soon as possible. This will not go away someday. I know we all would like to believe that time is a kind of healer but the truth is that we have to take steps to honor boundaries that protect us from DARVO and other narcissistic strategies.

DARVO is emotional and psychological abuse and it can only be stopped by the person that is the victim caught in its clutches. Only you can reach out for the help you need to end the impact of these damaging cycles!

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