Originating in the 1990s from Dr. Jennifer J. Freyd’s studies, DARVO encapsulates a sequence: Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. This framework describes how those facing accusations often evade responsibility, challenge their accusers, and recast themselves as the wronged party.


DARVO stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. This behavioral sequence is often employed as a psychological shield against accusations, where an individual, when confronted, not only refutes the claim but actively repositions themselves within the narrative to escape accountability.

Origin and Context

Introduced by Dr. Jennifer J. Freyd in the 1990s, the term is rooted in her research on betrayal trauma, abuse, and interpersonal violence. It reflects observed behaviors of individuals attempting to evade responsibility when accused.

Detailed Breakdown

  • Deny: The wrongdoing or behavior is immediately refuted.
  • Attack: Doubt is cast on the accuser by questioning their character, truthfulness, or sanity.
  • Reverse Victim and Offender: The accused reframes the narrative, asserting that they, not the accuser, are the actual victim.

Key Characteristics

  • Psychological Manipulation & Narrative Control: Beyond the actions themselves, DARVO seeks to redirect the narrative, disorient victims, and retain power.
  • Power Dynamics: Typically, DARVO is a tactic employed by those in positions of power, such as in hierarchical settings like workplaces or in relationships with clear power imbalances, serving as a means to maintain dominance and control.
  • Implications for the Victim: Victims are not just disbelieved; they often face amplified self-doubt, anxiety, and a distorted sense of reality due to the tactic.
  • Ubiquity Across Contexts: DARVO’s adaptability makes it a prevalent tactic across varied settings, from personal disputes to public confrontations.

Illustrative Examples

  • In Personal Relationships: When confronted about infidelity, an individual might deny the affair, accuse their partner of paranoia, and claim emotional distress from constant suspicion.
  • In Public Scandals: A public figure, when charged with corruption, could vehemently deny any malfeasance, discredit investigative journalists, and assert they are being unfairly targeted due to their status or beliefs.

Practical Implications

Recognizing DARVO is crucial across various domains. In legal settings, it aids in dissecting witness testimonies. In therapy, it helps therapists understand the dynamics at play, especially in cases of reported abuse or betrayal.

Connections with Broader Concepts

  • Gaslighting: DARVO bears similarities to gaslighting, both aiming to make the victim question their own perceptions or memories.
  • Defensive Attribution Hypothesis: DARVO emerges as a heightened defense response when individuals, especially those in power, feel cornered or threatened.