And makes you the bad guy.
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, PhD, 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?