Be Careful of the DARVO Manipulation Tactic

According to marriage and family therapist Dr. Darlene Lancer, most emotional abuse goes unnoticed and unreported. And although it is an often overlooked form of abuse, that doesn’t make it any less harmful or serious than physical abuse. 

Dr. Lancer defines emotional abuse as behavior that is purposely derogatory, controlling, punishing, or manipulative towards another person. Both men and women can be victims of emotional abuse, explains Dr. Lancer, but unfortunately, many don’t even realize when it’s happening to them. 

One of the reasons why emotional abuse is so hard to recognize is because abusers will often blame their victims to deflect their wrongdoings  — a common gaslighting and manipulation tactic called DARVO that you should be careful of!

What is DARVO? 

The term DARVO was first coined and studied in 1997 by the University of Oregon psychology professor Jennifer Joy Freyd, founder and president of the Center for Institutional Courage. She defines DARVO as a psychological manipulation tactic that generates self-doubt and mistrust, and exploits a lack of awareness in victims and those around them. It stands for:

  • D – Deny responsibility
  • A – Attack
  • R – Roles become reversed between the
  • V – (True) victim and the
  • O – Offender

Freyd first witnessed DARVO in instances of sexual assault, wherein those accused would often attack the victim’s credibility and outright deny the allegations against them, making the public distrust the victims. In her 2017 study together with fellow psychology professor Eileen Zubriggen, Freyd found that victims of DARVO often end up blaming themselves and “self-silencing.”

But DARVO can happen in friendships, family relationships, and even institutional dynamics (e.g., workplace relationships), too. Fortunately, educating ourselves about DARVO makes it significantly less effective, helps us hold the true perpetrators accountable, and stop their cycle of emotional abuse. 

DARVO in Action

According to Amanda Kippert, editor in chief of the victims and survivors of domestic violence resource database, the three-step method of DARVO manipulation can look something like this: 

  • Deny – Abusers will vehemently deny what they did and gaslight their victims into thinking that they’re just making a big deal out of nothing.
  • Attack – Abusers will then attack the victim’s credibility by bringing up anything in the past that they can use against them (“This is so like you, remember when…”) or questioning their victim’s mental stability, values, and motivations (“Are you in your right state of mind? I can’t believe the things you’re saying! Why are you doing this to me?”).
  • Reverse Victim and Offender – At this point, most victims will often become stunned into silence and confusion. They may even begin to believe what the abuser is telling them, which the abuser will likely take as an opportunity to manipulate the narrative further. They will make themselves out to be the victim (“I’m so hurt and betrayed that you could even think that about me! What kind of person accuses a loved one of that?”) and guilt the true victim for even speaking up about it in the first place. And in doing so, they overshadow what the victim was even trying to open up about and force the true victim to defend themselves to the abuser and others instead of getting the help and support they need. 

Tips for Coping & Recovering from DARVO

Psychotherapist and trauma recovery specialist Dr. Heather Kent says that emotional abuse such as DARVO manipulation can be ery difficult to recognize when you’re on the receiveing end of it, and often, it takes someone from the outside to help you realize what’s actually happening and how it’s not okay. The solution, Dr. Kent says, is to gain more awareness and get out of that situation as soon as possible. 

Proessional counselor and trauma-focused CBT therapist Eric Patterson also encourages and empowers victims to resist DARVO by: recording the story to reaffirm their perspective; finding a safe space to heal from emotional distress and seeking support from loved ones; recognizing and countering their attacks and role reversal. Education, Patterson says, is key to improved mental health and emotional wellness for victims of emotional abuse, manipulation, and toxic behaviors. 

So, what are your thoughts on this video? Did any of the things we talked about here make you realize you might have been emotionally abused and manipulated by someone? If so, don’t hesitate to seek help from loved ones and reach out to a mental healthcare professional today. And always remember, Psych2Goers: You matter!


Leave your vote

1 point
Upvote Downvote

Total votes: 3

Upvotes: 2

Upvotes percentage: 66.666667%

Downvotes: 1

Downvotes percentage: 33.333333%

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hey there!

Forgot password?

Forgot your password?

Enter your account data and we will send you a link to reset your password.

Your password reset link appears to be invalid or expired.


Processing files…