Now that Labor Day is over, it’s time to get back down to business. Labor Day is, after all, sort of the symbolic end of summer, even if technically summer ends the third week of September. I love this time of year for a lot of reasons, but I especially love it for the weather. Although it’s typically still really hot where I come from, September means that cooler temperatures are coming. In Germany, that means cool, crisp days, sometimes with sunshine, and sometimes without. And since COVID-19 has made traveling and going out such a pain in the ass, I look forward to weather that makes me want to be a hermit. Home is where I do my best thinking and ruminating.
This morning, I’m thinking about a neat little trick abusive people do whenever people call them out for being the assholes that they are. This toxic technique is super common, although if you’re not expecting it, it can take you by surprise. I’m writing about DARVO, which I have written about before. It’s one of those “chestnut” topics that is always useful. The term was coined in 1997 by Dr. Jennifer Freyd at the University of Oregon. It was traditionally used in situations involving sex offenders, but it works quite nicely in other situations, too. In fact, in my other article about DARVO, I pointed out that Donald Trump regularly engages in DARVO. South Park even made a plot about it. Bill Clinton also engaged in a bit of DARVO back in the 1990s, when he was called out for his sexual dalliances with Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones. Remember? He famously said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman!” regarding 21 year old Lewinsky, who was later painted as a whore and became the butt of many horrible jokes for years.
So what is DARVO? It’s an acronym that stands for DENY, ATTACK, REVERSE VICTIM and OFFENDER. Say you’re in an abusive relationship. You’ve been on the receiving end of verbal harassment for years and you’re just about at the point of accepting that you “deserve” the harassment somehow. Your abuser is quite certain that he or she has you under control. But then a little spark of self-preservation sneaks in. You listen to your abuser’s latest rantings and think, “Wait a minute! This isn’t really all my fault! The abuser did this, not me.”
So you raise an objection. You can raise it in a quiet, non-confrontational way, or you can be more assertive or even aggressive about it. The abuser suddenly realizes that a light is being shined on their bad behavior. Their lightning fast reflexes at deflection cause them to come back at you.
They can’t risk having you call them out on their bad behavior, and they are neither mature enough nor responsible enough to take ownership of their actions, so they vehemently deny your claims. Then they start attacking you, often with whatever accusations you have made toward them. That’s where the REVERSE VICTIM and OFFENDER part comes in. Suddenly, just as you were starting to take some control of your life, you’re back in the role of defending yourself against the abusive person.
This scenario has happened to me a lot over the years. Fortunately, I’m not as attractive to abusers as some people are, but I’ve still had to deal with it. I think a lot of us have, on some level. Many people have even engaged in this technique themselves at one time or another, but the decent among us try not to make a habit out of it. It really is a dirty trick– completely unfair and demoralizing– and those who are weak and don’t stand up for themselves soon stop having the courage to speak up when they are being mistreated for fear that they’ll be the ones blamed.
When I met my husband, he was convinced that the failure of his first marriage was mostly his fault. As I got to know him, he started telling me the stories about what happened. The longer we knew each other, and the more I saw his good nature and extremely responsible character, I realized that he had been lied to and lied about to MANY people, even including people related to him. Unfortunately, his ex wife can be a convincing liar to those who don’t know her. She had people turning their backs on Bill, convinced that he is an abusive monster, even though most of them had never heard his side of the story. For a split second, she even had Bill’s own mother wondering if there was a grain of truth to her lies. Fortunately, Bill’s mom is very smart, compassionate, and kind, like her son is. She was the first to be on Bill’s side, advising him to divorce her.
Here’s what I know about Bill. Since we’ve been married– almost 18 years now– he has almost never raised his voice to me. He’s never even come close to raising a hand to me. He comes home every night when he’s not on a business trip. When he is on a business trip, he calls or emails and, in fact, he was faithful to his ex wife until the day their divorce was official. He has not missed paying a bill since we have been married, and when he has been responsible for doing or paying for something, he’s been quick to accept responsibility and do the right– and fair– thing.
Bill is widely known and well-respected in at least three military communities in Germany and one in Italy. When he had to change companies in 2017, he was the first one interviewed and hired for the company he works for now, and he would have been welcome to go work at any of the places he’s known in Europe. When we had to move in 2018 because his contractor job turned into a government position, Bill was specifically recruited by his current boss. He was also asked to become a government employee and stay on where he was working, but it would have meant accepting a lot less money for the work he was doing. He’s a valuable asset to his employer and is regarded as an excellent employee. He’s extremely easy to work with, hardworking, honest, and very well-liked.
However, just like Ex, someone has spread a different narrative about Bill. This person has falsely accused him (or really us) of all sorts of nefarious bullshit. Some of their claims are flat out ridiculous and easily debunked. This came about when Bill objected to being ripped off of a substantial amount of money. Their first approach was shaming us, with a little pinch of trying to make us feel sorry for them. When that didn’t work, there was denial, attacking, and bald faced lies. Somehow, my super responsible, kind, honest, fair-minded husband was being portrayed as an actual thief and vandal because this person felt entitled to rip him off and assumed that he wouldn’t object. Apparently, they forgot that war is literally Bill’s business. It’s how he makes a living.
We don’t actually miss the money, but we can’t, in good conscience, let them get away with stealing from us. Letting them take that money doesn’t just affect us; it affects other people, too. So we reported them and called in the law, which led to the DARVO attack. I’m now patiently waiting for justice, because I know we are in the right. But that doesn’t mean that the DARVO attack hasn’t left me stung and very angry.
I am angry on many levels and at several people who were involved in this situation. I am angry with myself for tolerating the abuse for as long as we did and for not going with my gut instinct, which told me to avoid these people in the first place. Trust me, I have learned a lesson. And I am angry at things beyond my control that are delaying our ability to move on from this fiasco and reclaim our lives.
I’d like to be able to write about this topic freely, but I can’t. Not yet. But there will come a day when I can.