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Reverse DARVO For Combating Gaslighting and Emotional Abuse

gaslighting and reverse DARVO
Table of Contents

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation and emotional abuse in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, or sanity. It is often employed by individuals who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) or other personality disorders.

Gaslighting involves specific tactics designed to make you question your own perception of reality. The gaslighter uses persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying to delegitimize the victim’s belief in their own recollection or reactions. This can lead to the victim’s diminished trust in their own judgment and reality, often leading to feelings of confusion and low self-esteem.

Gaslighting can occur in various types of relationships, including in romantic relationships, friendships, with a family member, and even in workplace relationships. This form of psychological and emotional manipulation has devastating effects on a person’s mental and emotional well-being.

Understanding Gaslighting

a hand with strings inside a person's head representing gaslighting and manipulation

The term gaslighting includes overt and covert attacks, that consist of denying or trivializing your experiences and emotions, distorting facts or events, and manipulating you into doubting your own memory or judgment. Gaslighting can take on other forms including medical gaslighting, institutional gaslighting, and workplace bullying. Certain people are more susceptible to workplace bullying and gaslighting.

The gaslighter aims to exert control and power over you by making you feel confused, disoriented, and unsure of your own reality. This can lead to mental health issues and a decline in self-esteem and self-confidence, as the person begins to doubt their own perceptions and experiences.

The gaslighter typically avoids taking responsibility for their hurtful behaviors and instead blames the person, further undermining their sense of self-worth. The person may begin to question their own sanity, feeling trapped and unable to gain perspective or trust their own thoughts and feelings. This cycle of abuse can be devastating and can have a negative impact on the victim’s mental health and may exacerbate mental illness.

Recognizing Gaslighting Tactics

The term gaslighting encompasses various specific behaviors employed by manipulative individuals. These behaviors include lying, DARVO (Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender), blame shifting, deflecting, minimizing, denying, belittling, crying, projecting, causing confusion, pretending, and typically includes threats. Let’s explore some of these tactics in more detail:


Lying and deception are core components of gaslighting, as the manipulator fabricates or distorts the truth to manipulate the the victim’s perception of reality. Lying is the act of knowingly stating something false. Deceiving is broader and includes any act that misleads, such as lying or omitting information. Omitting information is a specific form of deception where essential facts are intentionally left out to create a false impression. Lying involves an active falsehood, deceiving can include both direct lies and more subtle means of misleading, and omitting information relies on what is not said to mislead.

Blame Shifting

Blame shifting involves shifting responsibility for one’s actions onto others, making them feel guilty or at fault. Instead of accepting responsibility, they accuse the victim of causing the problem. This tactic confuses the victim, leading them to question their judgment and often accept blame for issues that aren’t their fault. It also includes deflecting, derailing, and minimizing. Deflecting occurs when the gaslighter diverts attention away from their actions or behavior by focusing on unrelated issues or bringing up past events. Minimizing involves downplaying or dismissing the impact of the your experiences, making you feel as though your concerns are insignificant.


Projecting is a behavior where the gaslighter accuses others of exactly what they are doing themselves, attempting to shift blame and confuse you. Projection is a defense mechanism where an individual attributes their own unacceptable feelings, thoughts, motives, or behaviors to another person. For example, an emotionally abusive person might accuse their partner of being controlling when, in reality, it is they who are exhibiting controlling behavior. This not only deflects responsibility but can also make the victim doubt their own perceptions and feelings.

Projective Identification takes projection a step further. It’s a process where not only are unwanted feelings and thoughts projected onto another person, but the individual also attempts to manipulate the other person into actually exhibiting those projected traits. The victim, under enough pressure, might unconsciously start to adopt the projected behaviors, further entangling them in the abuser’s distorted reality.

Both of these mechanisms can be instrumental in emotional abuse by creating a confusing and destabilizing environment. They undermine the victim’s self-confidence, distort their reality, and can lead to a loss of identity and a sense of powerlessness. 


Another aspect of gaslighting is evading, which involves the gaslighter employing tactics to deflect, avoid answering questions, keep things vague, or conveniently forget details. The gaslighter purposefully evades direct engagement or accountability, making it challenging for you to hold them responsible for their actions.

This evasive behavior further adds to the victim’s confusion, as the gaslighter intentionally avoids providing clear answers or taking ownership of their behavior. Recognizing these evasive behaviors is crucial for individuals to protect themselves from manipulation and maintain their sense of clarity and self-worth.

Love Bombing

Love bombing is a manipulative tactic where the offender rapidly creates an intense emotional bond by showering the person with excessive attention, affection, and compliments. Mirroring and pretending play a role in making the person feel deeply understood. The manipulator tells them whatever they want to hear to exploit vulnerabilities and create a trauma bond, trapping them in a cycle of emotional dependence and control.

Pretending is another aspect of gaslighting, where the manipulator puts on a false persona or acts as if certain events or conversations never occurred. This increases the victim’s confusion, resulting in cognitive dissonance and eroding their trust in their own memories and experiences.


Triangulation is a manipulative tactic used by gaslighters to create conflict and control within relationships. It involves bringing a third person into the dynamic, often through gossip or comparison, to sow seeds of doubt and competition between the other parties. When combined with gaslighting, where the narcissist denies or distorts reality to undermine the victim’s perception, triangulation intensifies the emotional abuse, leaving the victims questioning their sanity and reality.

Word Salad

Narcissistic word salad is a term often used to describe a communication tactic where a person, typically someone exhibiting narcissistic traits, speaks in a confusing and incoherent manner. This technique can involve a mix of over-complicated phrases, tangential thoughts, unrelated ideas, or even deliberate falsehoods. The intention is often to obfuscate, manipulate, or control a conversation. It can leave the listener feeling disoriented and unable to pinpoint the truth, thus making it easier for the narcissistic individual to maintain control or divert attention from their behavior.

Resisting Gaslighting

When you’re able to see each of these different behaviors independently, recognize them, label them, and confront them, you become able to see right through a manipulative person. People are often confused about how to recognize these specific behaviors and how to identify whether someone is knowingly engaging in gaslighting.

When confronted, gaslighters may not always admit that they’re gaslighting. It’s necessary to recognize and call out specific behaviors, not merely accuse the person of gaslighting. Pinpointing the exact actions in the moment is the only way to catch a gaslighter and make them see what they’re doing. This insight builds a resistance to gaslighting.

This resistance only develops with practice in recognizing and confronting these behaviors. It’s necessary to take the time to understand the individual components that make up gaslighting in order to empower yourself to see through the manipulation and protect yourself from its effects. It’s not about simply recognizing the broad concept of gaslighting; it’s about understanding the nuanced tactics that gaslighters employ and developing the tools to resist them.

What Is DARVO?

DARVO is an acronym that stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. It describes a manipulative tactic often used by abusers to avoid accepting responsibility for their actions and shift the blame onto their victims.

DARVO can be employed by perpetrators, including individuals with personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. DARVO is a strategy commonly used by sexual offenders and actual abusers who engage in domestic violence as a tool to evade accountability.

However, it is important to note that DARVO can be used by anyone engaging in abusive behavior, regardless of their diagnosis. Anyone can experience gaslighting, including from partners, family members, colleagues, or individuals in positions of power. Gender research suggests that women are more vulnerable to experience gaslighting, DARVO, and institutional betrayal.

Let’s explore each component of DARVO in more detail:


Denying is a tactic where the gaslighter flat-out denies the occurrence of certain events or dismisses the validity of the victim’s emotions. Abusers employing DARVO deny their actions, the impact of their behavior, or even the existence of abuse altogether. They may dismiss or minimize your experiences and emotions. By denying their actions, abusers attempt to create doubt and confusion, making it harder for you to hold them accountable.

For example, if one partner confronts the other about infidelity, the accused might respond, “I never met that person. You’re imagining things.”


In the attack stage of DARVO, abusers target your credibility, character, or motives. They may resort to insults, threats, gaslighting, or manipulation to discredit your account of the situation. By attacking you, the gaslighter seeks to undermine your credibility and intimidate you into silence.

For example, the accused might say, “You’re always so jealous and insecure. You’re trying to control me by making up these lies.”

Reverse Victim and Offender:

defending against emotional manipulation with reverse DARVO

Abusers using DARVO reverse the roles, portraying themselves as the victim and the actual victim as the offender. They may claim that they are being unfairly accused or that the victim provoked the abuse. This involves shifting the blame onto external factors or the victims themselves.might claim,

For example, the gaslighter may say “You’re the one who’s ruining our relationship by not trusting me. You’re making me feel trapped and persecuted!”

By making the person believe that they are the actual cause of the abuse, that they are at fault, and that only by changing their behaviors can they avoid the abuse, the abuser maintains control over the victim. This manipulation keeps the victim trapped in the abusive dynamic, constantly striving to improve and try harder to return to the love bombing phase that existed in the beginning of the relationship. Crying may be used by the gaslighter as a means to evoke sympathy or make you question your own perception of the situation.

The primary goal of DARVO is to avoid accepting responsibility for one’s actions and discredit the victim’s account of the abuse. DARVO aims to create a disturbing dynamic where the victim is made to feel like the perpetrator, while the abuser portrays themselves as the victim. Using covert strategies they completely reversed the situation.

DARVO and Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome

Through reversing the roles and manipulating the victim’s emotions, the perpetrator flips the situation, causing the victim to take on the responsibility of caring for and spending a long time apologizing to the gaslighter. This manipulation can lead the person to feel guilt, remorse, and a sense of obligation to fix the situation, creating a type of Stockholm syndrome.

Playing the victim role is a powerful technique used by abusers to exploit the empathy of others. By portraying themselves as victims, they push those around them to concede, submit, apologize, and work harder to please the perpetrator. This perpetuates the power and control the abuser has over the victim.

People engage in DARVO because it gives them power and control over others. Through evading responsibility, causing confusion, and avoiding the shame associated with their harmful behavior, they maintain an upper hand in the relationship or situation. Denying their abusive behavior allows them to protect their self-image as a good person and preserve a sense of superiority.

DARVO Echosim and Pseudo Identity

DARVO negatively impacts mental health and in severe cases may lead to echoism and pseudo identity. The victim internalizes the false narrative that they are the perpetrator and that the problems in the relationship are their fault. They convince themselves that they are the cause of their own mistreatment, leading to them losing their identity and increasing feelings of self-blame, low self-esteem, and self-doubt.

This distorted perception makes them develop a pseudo identity as a coping mechanism, which makes them more susceptible to control and manipulation by the abuser. The victim’s mental health suffers as they experience confusion, anxiety, depression, and a diminished sense of self-worth. They may experience symptoms of dissociation and derealization, causing them to question their own reality and lose sight of their own needs and boundaries.

When the perpetrator denies the abusive behavior, attacks the credibility or character of the victim, and reverses the roles to portray themselves as the victim and the actual victim as the offender, it creates confusion, doubt, and a sense of powerlessness in their victims. This manipulation tactic effectively undermines the victim’s credibility and sense of reality, making it more difficult for them to seek support or justice.

DARVO reinforces the cycle of abuse by allowing the perpetrator to maintain power and control over the other person. This cycle escalates as they become more isolated, dependent on the abuser, and doubt their own experiences. They may develop a trauma bond with their abuser, feeling dependent on them to relieve the guilt and shame they feel about the situation. This dependency makes it even more challenging for them to seek help, find support, or leave the abusive situation.

Emotional Abuse and DARVO

Emotional abuse is a deeply harmful and insidious form of mistreatment that can have devastating effects on individuals’ mental and emotional well-being. Unlike physical or sexual abuse, emotional manipulation is often covert and can be difficult to identify, making it even more damaging as it erodes a person’s self-esteem and sense of identity.

Two common tactics commonly employed by emotional abusers are gaslighting and DARVO. When confronted about their harmful behavior, abusive individuals may deny any wrongdoing, attack the person, and then turn the situation around to portray themselves as the ones being wronged or victimized.

Emotional manipulation can be particularly devastating when it occurs within parent-child relationships. Abusive parents may use emotional manipulation and control to exert power over their children, leaving lasting emotional scars resulting in the child being vulnerable to echoistic tendencies, pseudo identify, and complex PTSD.

DARVO, Gaslighting, and Reactive Abuse

DARVO and reactive abuseReverse victim offender perpetuates reactive abuse by manipulating the victim into taking on the role of the offender. When the abuser successfully reverses the roles, the victim may feel compelled to defend themselves or react in ways that are uncharacteristic of their true nature.

This reactive abuse is a direct response to the victim’s heightened emotional state caused by the gaslighting and manipulation. By provoking the victim and making them question their own reality, the abuser fuels the cycle of abuse, reinforcing the belief that the victim is the one at fault. This manipulation tactic further damages the victim’s self-esteem, creating a vicious cycle where reactive abuse becomes a pattern and the victim is trapped in an unhealthy dynamic.

Playing the victim role is a powerful technique used by abusers to exploit the empathy of others. Portraying themselves as victims allows them to exert control over those around them. This dynamic pulls the actual victim to concede, submit, apologize, and work harder to please the perpetrator. This perpetuates the power and control the abuser has over the victim.

Gaslighting Effects On Mental Health

effects of gaslighting and DARVO on mental health

DARVO negatively impacts the victim’s mental health. The victim internalizes the false narrative that they are the perpetrator and that the problems in the relationship or abuse are their fault. They convince themselves that they are the cause of their own mistreatment, leading to feelings of self-blame, derealization, low self-esteem, and self-doubt.

This distorted perception makes them more susceptible to control and manipulation by the abuser. The victim’s mental health suffers as they experience confusion, anxiety, depression, and a diminished sense of self-worth. They may question their own reality and lose sight of their own needs and boundaries.

When the perpetrator denies the abusive behavior, attacks the credibility or character of the victim, and reverses the roles to portray themselves as the victim and the actual victim as the offender, it creates confusion, doubt, and a sense of powerlessness in their victims. This manipulation tactic effectively undermines the victim’s credibility and sense of reality, making it more difficult for them to seek support or justice.

DARVO reinforces the cycle of abuse by allowing the perpetrator to maintain power and control over the victim. This cycle escalates as they become more isolated, dependent on the abuser, and doubt their own experiences. They may develop a trauma bond with their abuser, feeling dependent on them to relieve the guilt and shame they feel about the abuse. This dependency makes it even more challenging for them to seek help, find support, or leave the abusive situation.

How To Protect Yourself from DARVO:

To protect oneself against DARVO, it is crucial to be aware of the manipulative tactics and understand the underlying dynamics. Victims should educate themselves about DARVO and other manipulation tactics used by abusers. Recognizing and calling out the abusive behaviors, standing up for one’s version of reality, and establishing and enforcing boundaries are essential steps.

Educate Yourself

Education is key. Take the initiative to educate yourself about DARVO and other manipulation tactics used by abusers. Learn about the dynamics of abusive relationships and familiarize yourself with the signs of abuse. This knowledge will empower you to recognize when DARVO is being used against you, allowing you to take appropriate action.

Furthermore, educating yourself on nonviolent communication is highly beneficial. Developing a strong understanding of healthy communication will give you a clear sense of what respectful interactions look like. This knowledge will enable you to identify manipulative strategies more effectively, giving you the power to stand up for yourself and assert your boundaries.

Reading books about narcissism

Reading about emotional abuse and covert manipulation is an incredibly beneficial tool for victims of gaslighting. These books provide insights into the intentional actions of abusers and the harm they inflict. Confronting the difficult truth that the abuse was intentional from the start can be challenging, but accepting this reality is a necessary step towards breaking free from the abusive cycle.

Additionally, these books shed light on reactive abuse, where you may respond in ways that are uncharacteristic of your true self due to provocation and triggers from the gaslighter. Understanding reactive abuse helps you recognize that you are not the one causing harm and reduces feelings of guilt and self-blame.

Seek Support

Experiencing gaslighting can result in feelings of extreme confusion, self-doubt, and a diminished sense of self-esteem. You may feel powerless and find it difficult to break free from the cycle of abuse. If you recognize these gaslighting behaviors in your relationships it’s imperative to seek support, whether it be from friends, family, or professional help.

Building a support network is essential. Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or professionals who can provide emotional support and guidance. Having a strong support system will validate your experiences and counteract the effects of DARVO.

It’s essential, however, to exercise caution when seeking mental health support. If you’re considering working with a licensed therapist, it’s extremely important to find a therapist who specializes in treating emotional and psychological abuse. Ensure that the therapist you choose understands narcissism, particularly covert abuse. Unfortunately, some therapists may unintentionally perpetuate abuse or lack the necessary understanding to provide effective guidance.

Document Everything

Documentation is a critical step in protecting yourself against DARVO. Keep a detailed record of abusive incidents, noting dates, times, and descriptions. If permitted by your state or country’s laws, consider documenting incidents through recordings or videos. This documentation serves as evidence of the abuse, validating your experiences and providing a tangible record of what you have endured. It can be invaluable if legal action or intervention becomes necessary.

Reverse DARVO To Defend Against Gaslighting

To combat gaslighting and DARVO, I have developed a strategy called Reverse-DARVO, which aims to help individuals defend themselves effectively.

Reverse-DARVO involves the following steps:

1.    Detach and distance from the story: Practice detached empathy by distancing yourself from your own narratives and emotions. This helps you stay grounded and less reactive.

2.    Assert: Clearly and confidently express your needs and boundaries. State your position without becoming defensive or aggressive.

3.    Request: Make a specific request to address the situation or meet your needs. Clearly communicate what you expect from the other person.

4.    Validate yourself: Label and validate your own feelings, needs, and experiences. Understand that your perspective and emotions are valid, regardless of how the other person may try to manipulate or invalidate them.

5.    Observe: Pay attention to the response of the other person. Assess whether they are willing to actively participate in resolving the situation and meeting your needs, or if they have an alternate agenda that may not align with de-escalation or resolution.

Following these steps can help you maintain a non-reactive stance and prevent yourself from engaging in reactive abuse. This approach helps you uphold your values and avoid strengthening the trauma bond in the relationship. It promotes self-empowerment, healthy boundaries, and the cultivation of detached empathy when interacting with manipulative individuals.

Learn Nonviolent Communication

learning nonviolent communication to defend against gaslighting

Practicing reverse DARVO and incorporating nonviolent communication techniques can help you cultivate detached empathy. Nonviolent communication provides a framework and structure for healthy communication, enabling you to detect abusive and manipulative behaviors more effectively. Understanding the function and purpose of these behaviors helps you gain the tools to combat manipulation and gaslighting.

Nonviolent communication emphasizes the importance of expressing your needs, feelings, and boundaries in a clear and assertive manner, while also actively listening to the other person’s perspective. The clearer and more focused you are in your communication with the Gaslighter, the more obvious their manipulation strategies appear.

Understanding the formula for nonviolent communication gives you a framework to stay grounded and clear in the moment, without falling prey to gaslighting tactics that can confuse or disorient you. This not only lets you perceive the manipulative behaviors more distinctly but also empowers you to call them out on the spot, identifying each tactic and its subtle variations. This process help you develop detached empathy, allowing you to observe the situation without personalizing it or getting emotionally reactive.

Cultivate Detached Empathy

Detached empathy is a practice that allows you to observe other people’s behaviors from a detached and curious distance. It involves adopting a mindset where you don’t take their actions personally, but rather view them objectively. Detached empathy helps you to notice and learn about the type of person someone is, their patterns of behavior, and the underlying motives behind their actions.

Cultivating detached empathy helps you create a mental space where you can observe and understand the manipulative tactics and dynamics at play without becoming emotionally entangled. This practice enables you to maintain a sense of clarity and objectivity, which is necessary when dealing with manipulative individuals.

Through the combination of nonviolent communication and detached empathy, you develop a heightened awareness of manipulative behaviors, gain insights into their intentions, and are better equipped to respond in a self-empowered and assertive manner. These skills provide a solid foundation for recognizing and addressing abusive behaviors, helping you maintain your emotional well-being and protect yourself from further harm.


It’s never the your fault for experiencing gaslighting. Recognizing the power dynamics at play and utilizing reverse DARVO can help you reclaim your strength and your voice. By insisting to be held accountable and refusing to accept manipulative tactics, you can create safer and healthier relationships built on trust, respect, and authenticity. Reverse DARVO is an effective technique to combat and defend against gaslighting and emotional manipulation. By detaching from the narrative, asserting boundaries, making specific requests, validating oneself, and observing the response of the gaslighter, you can reclaim your power and protect your mental health.

The Bay Area CBT Center

At The Bay Area CBT Center, led by top-notch psychologists in San Francisco, CA, we specialize in complex trauma therapy, focusing on individuals who have experienced narcissistic abuse. Our team of Bay Area therapists is dedicated to helping these individuals understand and heal from the impact of such abuse on their relationships and personal growth.

Our skilled psychologists, including marriage therapists in San Francisco and counselors in California, provide tailored complex trauma therapy and counseling in San Francisco. This therapy is designed to assist in healing from the effects of narcissistic abuse, emphasizing the development of effective communication skills and strategies to manage and reduce conflicts arising from past abusive experiences.

To further support this healing journey, we offer group therapy retreats and workshops, specifically geared towards those recovering from narcissistic abuse and complex trauma. These group settings, led by experienced Bay Area therapists, provide a supportive and understanding environment where individuals can share experiences and learn from others who have faced similar challenges.

In addition to our in-person services, we provide online counseling in California, ensuring accessible care for those who may not be able to attend sessions in person. As leading psychotherapists in the Bay Area, our commitment is to offer comprehensive and empathetic support, helping individuals rebuild stronger, healthier relationships and regain a sense of self after experiencing narcissistic abuse and complex trauma.

Frequently Asked Questions

Evidence-based therapy involves interventions that are scientifically proven to be effective for particular issues. In this approach, a strong partnership based on trust and collaboration is formed between you and your therapist. Within this supportive and unbiased environment, you can freely express yourself without fear of judgment. Over a series of sessions, you and your therapist will work together to address obstacles and set goals aimed at personal growth and fulfillment. This method ensures that the techniques and strategies used are not only supportive but also empirically validated to help you achieve your therapeutic goals.

The Bay Area CBT Center provides therapy services for everyone, from children to adults, and welcomes individuals, couples, and groups. We help with various concerns like anxiety, depression, trauma, relationship issues, and behavior challenges. We value diversity and cultural differences, offering personalized and culturally sensitive care to each client.

Studies show that the bond between you and your therapist, known as the therapeutic alliance, is a key factor in treatment success. This alliance is characterized by the strength of your relationship and how well you both agree on treatment goals. Research indicates that individuals with a solid therapeutic alliance experience better treatment outcomes including greater productivity at work, more satisfying relationships, improved stress management, and decreased engagement in risky behaviors.

You can expect a 15-30 minute phone call with our care coordinator, who is extensively trained in ensuring the perfect match for you. During this conversation, our matching expert will collaborate with you to understand your therapy needs, preferences, and scheduling availability. This discussion builds upon the information you provided during sign-up and offers an opportunity for you to address any personal questions or concerns you may have about therapy or our services at The Bay Area CBT Center. Following your conversation, we’ll pair you with the therapist who best aligns with your needs, goals, and preferences.

At your matching appointment, we will match you with a therapist specifically chosen for you and schedule your first session. Depending on your availability, you can expect to meet your therapist anywhere from one day to a week after this appointment.

Our approach to therapy includes a flexible hybrid model, blending both online and face-to-face sessions. This option is perfect for clients situated close to our clinics in the Bay Area who prefer the flexibility of choosing between virtual consultations or meeting their therapist in person. Our aim with hybrid care is to ensure every client is matched with the ideal therapist and therapy environment, be it from the convenience of your own home or in one of our clinics.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we accept PPO insurance plans that allow you to use out-of-network providers. This means if your insurance plan is a PPO and it includes mental health benefits, you could get back some or all of the money you pay for our services, depending on what your insurance company allows. When you see one of our therapists, they’ll give you a superbill. You can send this superbill to your insurance company to ask for reimbursement. If you’re not sure if your insurance covers services from providers not in their network, it’s a good idea to give them a call and check.

You may be eligible to have 60-80% of your costs covered by out-of-network benefits.

Also, if you have an FSA (Flexible Spending Account), you can usually use it to pay for individual counseling sessions. It’s wise to double-check with your FSA provider or talk to your accountant to make sure that counseling sessions are considered an allowed expense.

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