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Reposted with permission of Hafnia.

It's important to know what DARVO is and how it's used as a tool to bully people into silence/complicity in bad behavior.

DARVO is an acronym. It stands for:

Deny Attack Reverse Victim and Offender.

It is a technique that is used by abusive people to cover up their abuse.

It is incredibly common. Knowing how to spot it is key.

There are a lot of famous examples of this. Brett Kavanagh. Matt Lauer. R. Kelly. Some people refer to it as “playing the victim”, but it's more complex than that, and a lot of the time, especially in situations where it's not high-profile people involved, it gets used successfully.

When called out on bad behavior, someone will DENY that they did it: “I never said that, you can't prove it, I meant [x] not [y]…”

They will attempt to change the narrative.

Usually, this doesn't work, because people have proof, or it's extremely plausible that this happened. Think like, “this person has a history of bad behavior and it's believable that they'd do this.”

At this point, they will double down and begin attacking their victim. Sometimes it looks like attacking their credibility, sometimes it's their character, and sometimes it's simply saying, “well, they have also done this and I have intangible 'proof'”.

Once *any attention* is paid to the attack, they will begin reversing the victim and the offender in the situation. In day-to-day interactions, it can be hard to tell who is actually at fault, and this is often extremely successful.


“They're only calling me out because [something that ties to the previous personal attack].”

Something like: “They're only calling me racist because they're queerphobic! I once overheard them call [NAME] [slur]!”

The focus then shifts back to the whistleblower, and now their behavior is under a great degree of scrutiny from the community. Any/everything they have done is under the microscope, and suddenly they have to defend themselves from unrelated probes into their past and personal life.

Annnnnnnnd the original abusive person gets off more or less scot-free. They now have plausible deniability next time they are called out.

In many cases, they end up building up supporters, because people see them being “attacked” (rightfully called out for doing things that are harmful or dangerous to the community), and want to step up and defend them, because they have triangulated themselves such that they are successfully read as being a victim each time.

It is *insidious*. It is extremely common, especially in smaller communities. *You have to be aware of how to stop it*.

Whenever you see conflict between two people who are asking you to “pick sides”, you have to stop and ask yourself:

-Who brought the original accusation? -Was that accusation grounded in reality (that is to say, it is something that makes sense and was not completely out of left field)? -How did the person who was accused respond? What was *their* take on it? Were they apologetic and humble, or did they attack the other person and convince their friends to close ranks?

Also consider:

-Who is being positioned as the victim? Do they have a history of BEING the victim? Does their “victimhood” only seem to arise whenever there is conflict (i.e. they are not being bullied per se, they are bringing up that they are a victim when someone mentions credible concerns regarding their behavior)?

Finally, think about:

-Does the victim have a history of alienating people? Consider this: abusers can be charming and seem incredibly kind and charismatic, but they can't maintain that facade at all times, and many people will see through their shit and simply stop talking to them without giving in to this narrative. We're not talking about, “they're hard to get along with and it's clear why people wouldn't like them”, but “they seem nice, I don't know why people attack them so often”

Once you know how to spot it, you gotta know how to stop it.

Honestly? The only way to win is not to play.

But if you gotta – if you are being forced to “pick sides” in some never-ending ridiculous conflict…and it's important to you that you DO pick a side…

Ask yourself the questions.

Figure out who is employing this technique. It's rare, but sometimes BOTH sides will, and they'll BOTH flip back and forth on who is the “victim” in the equation.

Where you can, *shine light on the original accusation*. Abusive people get out of accountability for their behavior by bringing up things that are *not relevant to the discussion at hand*, sometimes misrepresenting them.

Focus on what the original accusation was.

Do not give in to the temptation to debate the semantics of whether or not the whistleblower is at fault.

Recenter the narrative and make it about the original abusive act.

Point out that the person who is being called out for bad behavior is trying to rugsweep by using DARVO as a tactic.

Focus on what was originally done, not something that is long in the past or not relevant to the topic at hand.

Let's go over an example, shall we?

John has been sexually harassing Jane at work. Jane is uncomfortable and finally snaps at John, calling him an asshole, before reporting him to HR.

It's Jane's word against John's.

Jane tells HR what happened. John is allowed to defend himself.

John focuses on how Jane is “difficult to work with” and has snapped at John before, something that's noted in her personnel file.

John posits that Jane is under a lot of stress and “taking it out on him.”

HR *has* to pick a side – they can't *not*. John also has notes in his personnel file, but Jane is flustered and doesn't bring this up immediately.

How should HR handle this?

-Focus on the *first* event. This is about John harassing Jane, not about whether or not Jane is pleasant to work with. -Practice active listening and speak with Jane one on one, away from John, to get details. -Speak with John, and prevent him from talking about Jane's past behavior in his recounting.

By focusing on the initial event and not allowing the other person to bring up things that have happened in the past, you will learn a few things right away:

1). The whistle blower's story is unlikely to change substantially when they are asked about what happened. They may add or subtract details, because memory is fuzzy, but the heart of it will stay the same. 2). The story told by the accused will change rapidly, depending on what they think the listener wants to hear.

3). The accused is going to try *every tactic they can think of* to keep the listener from “turning” on them, including bringing up the past, attacking the character of the person who does the accusing with nebulous attacks, restoring to strawman arguments – *everything*. 4). When the accused doesn't think that they have a chance of winning you over, they will label you a “toxic” person and begin to attack you as well.

5). At this point, it is on you to let other people know what the situation is and what the accused is trying to do. You have to keep the focus on *their* behavior, and support their victim – the ACTUAL victim.

If you can do this, congratulations, you're on your way to building a healthy community.\


If you are the whistleblower, and this happens to you, please note that you are not alone. It is a *common* tactic, laughably common.

There is not a lot you can do, but there are a few things.

There's another useful acronym here – JADE. Justify, Argue, Defend, Explain.

The temptation is to think that you're dealing with a reasonable human being, and they'll listen to you and take what you say in good faith, but…they won't.

Don't Justify what you did. They will twist it and use it against you.

Don't Argue – this feeds their victim complex.

Don't Defend – it makes you look guilty, and they will absolutely latch onto that.

Don't Explain – there is no explanation you can give that will make them stop being an asshole.

Repeat what you have said, with evidence if you have it, make sure other people have the full story, and let 'em know about DARVO if you are comfortable doing so. Then bow out.

Does it suck? Oh yeah, ABSOLUTELY.

Does it hurt? You betcha.

But simply refusing to engage and walking away is the healthiest thing you can do, even though it sucks.

Again, the only way to win is not to play.

You did a good thing, telling your truth and bringing their bad behavior to light.

Eventually, other people will see that.

In the meantime, hey.

I believe you.

If you are reading this and feel like parts of it are extremely uncomfortable, good news: you can make a conscious choice to change your behavior.

If you feel ashamed of how you have been acting, realize this: growing up in an abusive household means that the coping strategies you learn are abusive. It is *on you* to realize that they do not bring you happiness and do the work to relearn them. You can start by identifying what you do and making an effort to stop it.

There is no shame in saying, “I'm sorry, I didn't know, I will do better next time” and simply *withdrawing*.

You do not have to fight back.

You do not have to escalate things.

It's okay to be wrong, and it's okay to admit to it. Growing and learning are part of life.

If you're reading this and going, “But I AM always the victim, people are evil and no one realizes it until they come for me!”, consider that unless you are the protagonist in a YA novel, it is more likely that everything is shades of gray and that you are perpetuating this cycle, whether you want to or not, and also consider how to break free of it.

Therapy is a help if you can afford it, but if not, there are a lot of self-help books out there to aid you in learning how to do better.

That's it, really. That's all there is to it.

darvo/ · Last modified: 2020/10/08 22:03 by radioangel