What is DARVO in Narcissism?

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WHAT IS DARVO in narcissism?

To answer this question, we must first deconstruct the word narcissism, strip away the distortions of popular psychology, and understand it in its original context.

Narcissism is a word used to describe self-idealization. All human beings have a propensity to assign value to themselves. In fact, in and of itself, narcissism is not an inherently negative trait. On the contrary, a normal or healthy amount of narcissism is necessary for our mental health.

One of the keys to understanding narcissism is recognizing that it exists on a continuum. Problems arise when narcissism is excessive. Likewise, when it is deficient, it can pose a different set of challenges.

Excessive narcissism can inflate the ego to the extent that it generates a sense of superiority that eclipses one’s ability to value others. The most extreme expression of this trait is narcissistic personality disorder, also known as NPD.

The inability to see the value in other people can be an obstacle to treating others with respect and dignity. It fails to inhibit the individual’s aggression and relies on a plethora of primitive defense mechanisms to preserve the bloated state of the ego. For this reason, it is sometimes called malignant narcissism.

It is in the fertile soil of this brand of narcissism that DARVO can occur. DARVO is an acronym that stands for:

  •  Deny
  • Attack
  • Reverse
  • Victim, and 
  • Offender.

Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, coined the term DARVO 1997 to describe a defensive tactic commonly used by manipulators to avoid being held to account by scapegoating the person they harmed.

She explains:

“The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim – or the whistleblower – into an alleged offender.”

What is DARVO in narcissism? It is one of the most extreme forms of gaslighting commonly used by highly narcissistic people and NPDs to preserve their idealized image of themselves. 


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DARVO: Deny, Attack, Reverse, Victim and Offender

DARVO: Deny, Attack, Reverse, Victim and Offender

DARVO IS AN INITIALISM that stands for Deny, Attack, Reverse, Victim, and OffenderIt is used to describe a defensive manipulation tactic used by one person to avoid being held accountable for their acts of aggression toward another person. It is an extreme form of gaslighting behavior that can be perpetrated by an individual or group. In the latter instance it is referred to as institutional DARVO.

Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D. first conceptualized DARVO in an article she published in 1997. Dr. Freyd, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, explains that perpetrators of DARVO

  • Deny their behavior
  • Attack the person who is confronting them, and 
  • Reverse the roles of
  • Victim and
  • Offender.

According to Dr. Freyd, the DARVO tactic can be used by people who inflict harm on others as well as the bystanders who support them. Sometimes the purpose of DARVO is to minimize a transgression, and at other times it is used to deny that the transgression ever took place.

The DARVO tactic can be a means used in the process of scapegoating. It changes the focus from the misdeeds of the true culprit and emphasizes real or invented shortcomings of the person they harmed.

For example, a perpetrator breaks the law by assaulting another person but minimizes their crime by claiming that they were the actually victim by framing the victim-survivors acts of resistance as the actual assault. Thus, they make it appear as if they are the victim and the actual victim-survivor is the perpetrator.

Dr. Freyd explains:

“This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of ‘falsely accused’ and attacks the accuser’s credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.”

DARVO often relies on cultrual biases and people’s propensity to discrimination. It is most successful in the context of systemic oppression, i.e. racism, sexism, etcetera.


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