One of the more popular posts on this blog is a 2013 piece about how some workplace bullies try to claim victim status:
We’ve seen it countless times: Workplace bullies claiming to be the victims of workplace bullying. And the smartest aggressors often are experts at doing this.
There is no foolproof method to prevent bullies from alleging victim status, but at the very least we don’t want to help them make their case.
I referred to this as a “judo flip” of sorts that targets of workplace bullying should be wary of and strive to avoid.
I’ve been thinking about that post because twice during the past week, I’ve had people ask me whether the term “DARVO” may apply to workplace bullying situations. DARVO, as explained by psychology professor Jennifer Freyd (U. Oregon) on her very informative webpage (link here):
…refers to a reaction perpetrators of wrong doing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior. DARVO stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.” 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 — or the whistle blower — 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 and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.
Institutional DARVO occurs when the DARVO is committed by an institution (or with institutional complicity) as when police charge rape victims with lying. Institutional DARVO is a pernicious form of institutional betrayal.
Although I was vaguely familiar with DARVO from discussions about sexual and domestic abuse, I hadn’t associated it with workplace bullying. But it certainly fits: Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender is exactly what happens when workplace bullies paint themselves as victims rather than as abusers. I replied to these inquirers that I believe we’re talking about similar if not identical dynamics of abusers claiming to be victimized by false accusations of wrongdoing.
Indeed, DARVO can be an especially devastating tactic for workplace bullies who enjoy superior status over the target and thus are often in a stronger position to recruit allies and supporters among senior managers and executives. Before the targets know what has happened, the tables have been turned on them, and they are left to defend themselves in a way that only reinforces the original mistreatment.