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Gaslighting That Wounds

Updated: Jan 17, 2022

I’ve recently learned the gaslighting term DARVO. It stands for:

Deny. Attack. Reverse. Victim. Offender.

Narcissists and addicts use this tactic because it works like a charm. It’s 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, keeping them feeling like they are the perpetrator so there is no need to flee.

Narcissists and addicts use this to keep you hanging on. It’s almost impossible to detect when it’s been done to you because it is preformed in such a casual way and usually over long periods. 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 refute it till the cows come home. It's a more sophisticated version of deny, deny, deny.

They will usually respond to you 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. The goal of this subtle tactic is to make you believe that you have a paranoia problem, by making remarks 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 it’s your problem, rather than something that they are doing that is impacting you and your life.

This reversal is so shocking that it usually leaves you dumbfounded. Thinking something like: “what the hell just happened?” or “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 begins when the perpetrator tells the victim subtly or directly that there is something wrong with you. They attack your character, and/or your approach when you talk to them about their behavior… 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 getaway.

Then comes the most climactic part of the strategy: reversal. Now the perpetrator sees that your memory and your objective are beginning to dwindle. They see that you no longer have a complete hold on the reality that you started 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.

Once the perpetrator is firmly stationed in the victim role, they will try to get you to rescue them or (as if they need to protect themselves) withdraw from you. 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.

Shifting 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.

Why would someone you love want to do this to you?

Although you may want to expose their behavior, do not try to educate a narcissist. They have a wall of shame they use to protect themselves and it’s rare that a perpetrator will hold themselves accountable for using this strategy on someone they love.

If you feel that 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 in truth, we need to create 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 caught in its clutches. Only you can reach out for the help you need in order to end the impact of these damaging cycles.

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