Narcissists and others who are emotionally abusive often use DARVO as a tactic:
D – Deny
A – Attack
R – Reverse Roles of
V – Victim and
O – Offender (the abuser)
The offender projects his own behavior on his victim, making the victim the supposed offender, thus reversing roles. When he does that, he can attack his victim and deny any responsibility for his own bad behavior. Narcissists are particularly adept at playing the victim and projecting their own traits on others.
Jerry and Lisa
Jerry had a quickly triggered temper. The smallest thing could set him off. He was enjoying a few beers while watching his favorite football team on TV. His girlfriend, Lisa, was in the kitchen, making smoothies. When she turned on the blender, the TV was hard for Jerry to hear. He confronted her in the kitchen by smashing the blender and splashing its contents everywhere, screaming all the while.
Lisa knew from experience to stand back, stay out of the way, and wait until the storm abated. But this time something in Jerry unleashed even greater fury and he pulled Lisa out of the corner by her hair and whacked her across her face, sending blood spurting in an arc through the air.
“You only think of yourself!” he screamed, as she cowered in terror. Of course, he was projecting his own behavior onto her. The fact is, he only thought of himself. “I was trying to watch my game, and you ruined it with your noise.”
Jerry denied responsibility for his actions and attacked Lisa. “You made me do this! It’s your fault.” Lisa continued to tremble in silent fear, blood stains on her blouse. Jerry took in the scene. “You’re a mess. Clean yourself up. And clean up this kitchen!” He stormed back into the living room and turned up the volume on his game.
When Lisa recovered, she confronted Jerry. “You hurt me, Jerry.” But narcissists, when held accountable, refuse to take responsibility. Jerry insisted she was making a mountain out of a molehill, and said, “You had a bloody nose.” This was his way of trying to deny the harm he caused and mitigate the seriousness of his attack. He was consciously manipulating her, pretending that he was not abusive. Jerry could be so skilled at this, making repeated assertions that she was exaggerating. Lisa began to doubt her own self, wondering if what she that she knew to be true was really true.
Maybe she was too sensitive, as Jerry insisted. Lisa had suffered trauma at the hands of someone who was supposed to love her. Someone she thought she could trust. She depended on Jerry as a partner, and she depended on sharing a place to live with him. She didn’t want to upset the applecart. But more than that, she didn’t want to admit she had found herself in a terrible situation through her own choice. She fell into denial about Jerry’s abuse in order to maintain their relationship and to continue living with him.
Dealing with DARVO
What should Lisa do? For now, she has put a band aid on her relationship with Jerry. But mental and physical abuse cannot be tolerated, and Lisa knows in her heart of hearts that she has to move on. This can be a long and difficult process, but one that is worth going through to free herself of Jerry. Her first job is to set boundaries, to make it clear she is not responsible for Jerry’s behavior, and to build her own confidence. She will need it to free herself of Jerry.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact