Decoding and Defending: How to Respond to DARVO Tactics


Decoding DARVO

Ever been in a conversation where someone quickly flips the script, making you feel like the bad guy? If so, you might have encountered DARVO. This acronym stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. It’s a defense strategy often employed by people who are confronted with their wrongdoings, and instead of accepting responsibility, they deflect blame. But fear not! Here's how to recognize and respond to this tricky tactic.

Understanding DARVO

DARVO can be both subtle and overt. It typically follows a pattern:

  • Deny: The person denies the behavior or fact. "I never said that!" or "That never happened."
  • Attack: They might become aggressive, challenging your credibility. "You're always making things up!"
  • Reverse Victim and Offender: The individual portrays themselves as the victim and paints you as the offender. "You're trying to make me look bad!"

Researchers, like Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D., from the University of Oregon, highlight that this tactic is commonly used in situations of wrongdoing, especially where power dynamics are involved.

Recognizing the Signs

confusing conversations

One of the first steps in responding to DARVO is recognizing when it's happening. Here are some red flags:

  • Quick to Shift Blame: The conversation rapidly moves from their behavior to your reaction.
  • Over-the-top Emotion: Their emotional response feels out of proportion to the topic at hand.
  • Confusing Conversations: You start feeling lost or questioning your memory and perspective.

Responding to DARVO

  • Stay Calm: It's easy to get emotional, but staying calm ensures you don't play into their tactics. Deep breaths, everyone!
  • Ground Yourself: If you're feeling confused, revisit the main point of the conversation. For example: "The main issue I wanted to discuss was..."
  • Set Boundaries: If the person keeps diverting, set a boundary. "I'd like to stay on this topic. We can discuss other issues later."
  • Avoid Justifying: You don't need to defend your feelings or perspectives. It's okay to say, "This is how I feel" without providing a laundry list of reasons.
  • Seek Mediation: If necessary, involve a neutral third party who can keep the conversation on track.

Protecting Yourself from DARVO

Living in a world where communication is key, it’s imperative to recognize and protect oneself from tactics that can erode one's confidence and distort reality. DARVO, given its insidious nature, can be particularly damaging. Let’s delve deeper into measures to shield yourself from this manipulative tactic.

  • Educate Yourself

Understanding the Mechanism: While we've mentioned that knowing about DARVO is paramount, it's also beneficial to delve deeper. Consider reading articles, attending webinars, or workshops that elucidate this behavior. By comprehending its intricacies, you'll be better equipped to spot it.

Stay Updated: Psychological defense tactics evolve, and so should our knowledge. Regularly revisiting and updating your understanding ensures you remain a step ahead.

  • Trust Your Instincts

Inner Alarm Bells: We've all felt that niggling sense of doubt or discomfort in certain conversations. This is your intuition signaling that something's not right. Do not dismiss it. Instead, pause and assess.

Journaling: Document instances where you felt a conversation took a DARVO turn. Over time, you'll discern patterns in behavior, making it easier to anticipate and counteract.

  • Seek Support

Connect with Like-minded Individuals: There are online forums and support groups where people share their DARVO experiences. Joining such groups can provide solace and practical advice.

Professional Guidance: A counselor or therapist, familiar with DARVO, can provide tools and strategies to handle such interactions. They offer a safe space to discuss and dissect experiences, helping rebuild any eroded self-confidence.

  • Assertive Communication

Learn the Art: Being assertive doesn't mean being aggressive. It’s about stating your feelings and boundaries clearly. Workshops or books on assertive communication can be beneficial.

Practice Scenarios: With a friend or mentor, role-play potential DARVO situations. This practice can make you feel more prepared and confident in real-life scenarios.

  • Mindfulness and Meditation

Stay Grounded: These practices help you stay centered during stressful interactions. When you're grounded, you're less likely to be swayed by manipulative tactics.

Emotional Regulation: Meditation especially can aid in managing emotions, preventing reactive responses that DARVO instigators bank on.

  • Distance When Necessary

It's Okay to Step Back: If someone consistently uses DARVO, and it's affecting your mental well-being, it's okay to distance yourself. You have every right to prioritize your mental health.


DARVO can be disorienting, but remember, it's not about you - it's a defense mechanism. By staying informed and grounded, you can navigate these conversations confidently, ensuring your voice is heard and your feelings respected.


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