Shifting Blame: DARVO, Personality Disorders, and Restraining Order Abuse

Posted on February 1, 2014


“DARVO refers to a reaction that perpetrators of wrongdoing…display in response to being held accountable for their behavior. 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 into an alleged offender. This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of ‘falsely accused’ and attacks the accuser’s credibility or even blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.”

—Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D.

I discovered this quotation and the acronym it unpacks in Dr. Tara Palmatier’s “Presto, Change-o, DARVO: Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender,” one of the most validating explications of the motives of false accusers I’ve read. There’s nothing in it that I can’t identify with personally, and I’ve heard from many others who I know would respond similarly.

DARVO seems to be a combination of projection, denial, lying, blame-shifting, and gaslighting…. It also seems to be common behavior in most predators, bullies, high-conflict individuals, and/or abusive personality-disordered individuals.

Goaded by some instances of blame-shifting that screamed at me from the e-petition “Stop False Allegations of Domestic Violence,” I recently wrote about “Role Reversal: Using Restraining Orders to Conceal Misconduct and Displace Blame.” I even referred to Dr. Palmatier’s work in the post, not yet having come across the above-mentioned entry in her own blog, which incisively exposes the origins of false motives.

Dr. Palmatier is a psychologist who specializes in treating male victims of domestic violence and abuse, but the behaviors she elucidates aren’t gender-specific, and both male and female victims of blame-shifting will be edified by her revelations, among them “why many Narcissists, Borderlines, Histrionics, and Antisocials effectively employ smear-campaign and mobbing tactics when they target someone” (“By blaming others for everything that’s wrong in their lives, they keep the focus off the real problem: themselves”).

At least a few visitors are brought here daily by an evident interest in understanding the motives of personality-disordered individuals—usually their spouses, lovers, or exes—who’ve obtained restraining orders against them by fraud or otherwise abused them through the courts. If you’re such a reader, consider whether this sounds familiar:

The offender takes advantage of the confusion we have in our culture over the relationship between public provability and reality (and a legal system that has a certain history in this regard) in redefining reality. Future research may test the hypothesis that the offender may well come to believe in [his or her] innocence via this logic: if no one can be sure [s/he] is guilty then logically [s/he] is not guilty no matter what really occurred. The reality is thus defined by public proof, not by personal lived experience [quoting Dr. Freyd].

So thorough and laser-sighted is Dr. Palmatier’s topical treatment of “[a]busive, persuasive blamers [who] rely on the force of their emotions to sell their lies, half-truths, and distortions” that there’s little point in my repeatedly quoting it and adding my two cents, but I eagerly bring it to the attention of those who’ve been attacked through the courts by abusers who used them as scapegoats to mask their own misconduct.

Dr. Palmatier remarks, “This behavior is crazy-making if you are the target of it.” If you respond, Amen—and especially if you respond, F*ckin’ A!men—read this.

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