In today’s article, I’m covering something I haven’t discussed previously in my narcissism and bullying articles. The devious pattern that many bullies and abusers, including narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths, use to defer attention away from themselves and back onto their victims.

That process is called DARVO – Deny, Attack and Reverse Victim and Offender. When wielded by a workplace bully, DARVO becomes a formidable weapon for evading accountability and perpetuating a toxic environment.

I’ll be shedding light on DARVO in the workplace, exploring what it is and how it manifests, and providing examples of its appearance in professional settings.

To watch the extended YouTube version of this article, click here.

Defining DARVO

DARVO is a psychological defence strategy individuals use to deflect accountability and responsibility when confronted with misconduct allegations.

The acronym stands for:


The individual denies the wrongdoing or dismisses the allegations.


The individual counterattacks the accuser, shifting blame and responsibility.

Reverse Victim and Offender:

The individual may portray themselves as the victim, reversing the roles in the narrative.

DARVO In Practice

1. Deny

Examples in the Workplace: When faced with allegations of bullying behaviour, a workplace bully employing the “Deny” tactic may adamantly reject any wrongdoing.

For instance, if you report persistent belittling comments, the bully might dismiss the claims, asserting that their actions were merely harmless jokes or constructive criticism.

In another example, if you confront them yourself, they may use gaslighting tactics to divert attention away from themselves. Again, this is another reason why it’s critical to have evidence.

2. Attack

The Counterattack: In the workplace, a bullying colleague may shift into the “Attack” phase when confronted about their behaviour.

This could involve belittling you, questioning your competence, or even spreading rumours to tarnish your professional reputation.

The goal is to divert attention away from their actions by discrediting the person who raised concerns.

3. Reverse Victim and Offender

Portraying Themselves as Victims: Workplace bullies adept at DARVO often excel in portraying themselves as victims.

For instance, if confronted about their aggressive management style, a bully might assert that they are being unfairly targeted or that their high expectations are necessary for maintaining a high-performing team.

Examples of DARVO in Workplace Scenarios

1. Performance Review Discrepancies


A team member raises concerns about the supervisor’s inconsistent feedback and arbitrary expectations during a performance review. The supervisor denies any inconsistency, claiming that the team member is misinterpreting the feedback.


The supervisor counterattacks by questioning the team member’s work ethic, suggesting they are not committed to the team’s success.

Reverse Victim and Offender:

The supervisor portrays themselves as the victim, stating that they are working tirelessly to maintain high standards, and the team member’s lack of commitment is causing them undue stress.

2. Accusations of Micromanagement


An employee expresses concerns to HR about a manager’s excessive micromanagement. The manager denies micromanaging, asserting that they are simply ensuring quality control and adherence to deadlines.


The manager counterattacks by questioning the employee’s competence, implying that the employee’s work would be below par without close supervision.

Reverse Victim and Offender:

The manager portrays themselves as the victim of an undisciplined team, stating that their meticulous oversight is necessary to maintain productivity.

3. Complains of a Hostile Work Environment


Multiple employees report a hostile work environment due to a supervisor’s aggressive communication style. The supervisor denies any aggression, insisting that their direct approach is essential for achieving results.


The supervisor counterattacks by questioning the employees’ emotional resilience, suggesting they are too sensitive for a fast-paced work environment.

Reverse Victim and Offender:

The supervisor portrays themselves as the victim, claiming they are unfairly criticised for their leadership style, which they argue is necessary for the team’s success.

Recognising DARVO Red Flags in the Workplace

1.     Consistent Pattern of Denial

Repeated Rejection of Responsibility: A workplace bully using DARVO will consistently deny any wrongdoing and refuse to take responsibility for their actions.

If this denial is a recurring pattern, it’s a red flag.

2. Blaming and Shaming Tactics:

Shift of Blame: DARVO often involves shifting blame from the perpetrator to the victim.

If a colleague or boss consistently resorts to blaming and shaming tactics when confronted about their behaviour, they may be utilising DARVO.

3. Victimhood Narrative

Frequent Claims of Victimhood: Workplace bullies employing DARVO excel at painting themselves as victims.

If a colleague or boss frequently portrays themselves as the victim, especially in response to accusations, it could be indicative of manipulative behaviour.

4. Resistance to Constructive Feedback

Refusal to Acknowledge Issues: Individuals using DARVO typically resist acknowledging any issues or faults in their behaviour.

If a colleague consistently dismisses constructive feedback or refuses to engage in self-reflection, it may be a sign of DARVO.

5. Gaslighting Techniques:

Undermining Others’ Perceptions: Gaslighting, a common component of DARVO, involves undermining others’ perceptions.

If a colleague consistently challenges the reality or emotions of those who raise concerns, it may be a manipulative tactic.

I have a video on gaslighting, you can watch it here.

The Wrap-Up

Addressing DARVO in the workplace, whether you tackle it yourself or raise it with HR or more senior management, is essential for fostering a healthy and supportive professional environment.

By recognising the red flags of DARVO and its patterns, employing strategies for coping, and promoting accountability, individuals can empower themselves and others to navigate these challenging situations. More on how to do that in the next article.

Unmasking DARVO is a collective effort that empowers individuals to confront manipulative behaviours and promotes a culture of respect, collaboration, and professional growth.

DARVO is a complex and manipulative defence strategy that can significantly impact victims and perpetuate a cycle of harm. However, it doesn’t just happen in the workplace. I’ve adapted DARVO to fit a workplace setting, but the technique is equally used by bullies (especially narcissists) in personal relationships, too.

What Next?

In my next article/video, I’ll discuss ways of dealing with someone using DARVO, gaslighting, or other manipulative tactics, together with strategies for addressing the behaviour in the broader work context.

Again, to watch the extended YouTube version of this article, click here.

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