One of the most powerful and dirty weapons of a narcissist is the DARVO defense, which almost always works when it comes to them trying to portray themselves as the victim. But what exactly is the DARVO Defense?
When a man is a narcissist, he’ll do anything to come out on top. Even if it means willingly playing the victim by using a defensive manipulation technique called “DARVO” — something Brett Kavanaugh recently did during his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
What Is DARVO?
Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, coined this acronym to describe one typical “reaction perpetrators of wrongdoing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior.”
“DARVO,” she explains, “stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender,” the pattern through which an abuser seamlessly shifts focus away from their own behavior to that of their accuser.
Judge Kavanaugh’s initially calm disavowal (the denial) quickly turned to fury (the attack), then to tears (the reversal), along with self-righteous indignation (becoming the victim) as he bemoaned how his life was ruined by those leveling the charges (now the offenders). That claim appears to be a slight exaggeration since he now sits on the Supreme Court.
President Trump employed his own DARVO when he not only defended Kavanaugh but reminded us of how he himself had been unjustly accused of sexual indiscretions by “four or five” women, apparently rounding the number of accusers down. A lot.
You may have even seen the DARVO defense up close and personal in your own relationships. It can start when you ask a simple question. You soon see that what you thought was a reasonable query is turning into a conflict.
It becomes apparent that your partner believes you are accusing him of something completely outrageous. There’s a lot of back and forth as the conversation gets heated. It turns out, it was your fault all along. You know the drill.
Here’s How DARVO Works
You see a text on his phone. It’s from a woman. It’s not someone you know. It sounds flirtatious. You ask about it.
He calmly tells you some nonsense about who the woman is, denying that anything troublesome is going on. You ask a follow-up question or two.
He starts getting angry. Then he works himself up into a froth, yelling about how you never trust him. He points out how ungrateful you are for everything he does for you.
He escalates by telling you what a clingy, pathetic nag you’ve become. And, by the way, you’re paranoid — always thinking he’s up to something. He thought you were special, but maybe he was wrong about you.
If you keep on making your case for why any sane person would naturally be a hair suspicious, he gets tearful.
Here’s where the “reversal” comes in.
It might be a whiny: “How could you think so poorly of me?”
Or it could be hangdog, “I don’t know what else I can do to prove my love to you.”
Or maybe it’s a frantic, “I’ve spent so much of my life with you … I don’t want to not see my kids every morning … Why are you trying to ruin my life?”
See how he’s cleverly made himself the victim?
Once you’re faced with his tears, if you’re like most women hanging out with a narcissistic guy like this, you start feeling sorry for him. He knows you will and counts on it.
Now, you have effectively become the offender.
You have made him cry. He may be crying with no actual tears, but he’ll quizzically point out that he has always been unable to cry real tears. And if you don’t give in the first time, after a few go-rounds of the anger, accusations, tears, and self-pity, you’re going to cave.
Of course, you don’t want him to have wasted time with you. Of course, you don’t want him to be separated from his kids. Of course, you should be more trusting.
Because he’s a real trustworthy guy … Or is he?
When you suspect a man is using DARVO tactics, look closely to determine if these are crocodile tears being shed by a man with narcissistic traits.
Here Are 5 Ways To Spot A Narcissist Who Uses A DARVO Defense To Turn Himself Into The Victim
1. He lies.
Maybe you haven’t seen the “big” lie, but perhaps there have been small ones. You find yourself explaining to friends, perplexed, “He lies when there’s no reason to lie.” You may have seen him lie to others or exaggerate the truth to make himself look better.
He might even lie to make you, or his children, look better. That’s because you are a reflection on him and the better you look, the better he looks. Does grandiosity ring a bell?
2. He’s vain.
How he looks, both literally and figuratively, can be a big deal to a man with a heavy dose of narcissism. With an annoying sense of entitlement, he may spend more money on his hair and clothing than you do. And he’ll come up with a seemingly logical reason for why that’s the case.
His children are also reflections on him, so he may be super concerned about how well they do on any and every metric that can be used to compare them with others. He may pretend with friends and co-workers that you two are really in an equal partnership, or even that you’re the one wearing the pants in the family. But it doesn’t feel that way to you.
Don’t be fooled — it’s just vanity in disguise. He wants the relationship to look good to others.
3. He demands you do things his way.
Although he asks your opinion, it seems like he must have things his way. From the kids’ bedtime to where you go out for dinner, he can become angry when you express what you want. You end up backing off, telling yourself it’s not that important.
You are astounded at the ease with which he gets people to do things for him. He always gets the upgrade when he flies, the loaner when the car is being serviced, and the lowest possible price in a negotiation. This is because people can sense that it’s more trouble to fight him than to give in. Just like you do.
4. He manipulates your feelings.
Although you enjoy it when he buys you gifts, it seems like you can never be grateful enough or offer enough praise to satisfy him. You start to feel like an ingrate. See the reversal there?
You begin to wonder if there’s something wrong with you. Are you not adoring enough? He has always pegged you as the special woman, perfect for him (because he’s so special). Maybe you’re not so special?
Instead of feeling bad about yourself, perhaps you can see his arrogance and complete lack of empathy for your feelings.
5. He turns things around on you.
Does he turn things around on you? The DARVO defense is rife with “what about-isms.”
There was the guy who, caught cheating on his wife, asked her, “What about you sneaking cigarettes after you told me you quit? What about your dishonesty?”
While this is a false equivalence, it can be difficult to argue the point with someone who is always right. If you present any hint of negative feedback — “I thought you were going to take out the trash” — no matter how small, the DARVO cycle begins.
“Why is the trash so important?” he responds. You have made a big deal out of nothing. You are obviously not adoring enough. You are clearly the offender here.
If these things are starting to sound familiar, you’re probably with a narcissist who will DARVO you to death if you allow it.
Narcissism occurs on a continuum.
There are slightly narcissistic people. These are people who think they might be the smartest person in the room. They can be annoying, but also fairly harmless. You can make a case to a person like this that a 7:00 bedtime for a 10-year-old really doesn’t make sense and lay out the points so he might eventually agree.
Sometimes, he’ll remind you what an inconvenience it is — that it was your idea and that, whenever possible, you are the one who must be inconvenienced by it, not him. This is a narcissist you can probably work with.
At the other end of the continuum are the narcissists who “know” they’re always the smartest person in the room. Their needs override the needs of everyone in their orbit. You cannot discuss a change in the 7:00 bedtime with him because it’s an inconvenience for him that will not be tolerated under any circumstances.
Don’t be fooled by his crocodile tears; the true narcissist doesn’t really need you. Since he is probably charming and engaging, he’ll quickly replace you with a more compliant, adoring substitute.
At this extreme end of the narcissism continuum, you are not going to gain any traction with your clearly argued points or with reason.
Unless you want to spend your life feeling like a victim and with someone who only sees you as an accuser, it’s time for you to reverse things and free yourself of his manipulative DARVO defenses. Reverse course and run for the hills.
Written by Judith Titin Originally appeared on Yourtango Printed with permission from the author