Pattern of Abuse

Donald Trump Mastered DARVO, the Strategy of Abusers. We’re Still Suffering the Consequences.

Robert Stribley
4 min readFeb 12, 2021


President Garrison (who looks like Donald Trump) explains DARVO — Screen capture from an episode of South Park
The President explains DARVO — Screen capture from an episode of South Park

By the time he left office, Donald Trump’s record at attempting to overturn the election stood at 1 in 65 in the courts. The solitary case he won didn’t prove any election fraud or shenanigans in the 2020 election either. And yet tens of millions of Americans still believe he won the election. That’s a titanic triumph of disinformation.

The playbook is simple and Trump and many of his most avid supporters have mastered it. You can examine the dynamics from different angles. You can look at social media. You can examine the practice of Russian disinformation or dezinformatsiya. You can even look to the common characteristics of fascism and experience a chilling sense of recognition when you review the features Umberto Eco and others have articulated.

But one simple way of looking at Trump is simply as an abuser, since he bears all the traits a psychologist could rattle off to describe such a toxic personality. In fact, what Trump and his supporters are engaging in—even now—is classic abuser behavior, which adheres to a manipulation strategy wielded by spouse beaters and demagogues alike.

Developed by Professor Jennifer J. Freyd, PhD (University of Oregon), this framework is called DARVO, an acronym, which stands for:

1. Deny the behavior

2. Attack the confronting individual

3. Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender

My wife and I were watching an episode of the Canadian-American sci-fi series Travelers recently, which included an effective depiction of this. One of the main characters is a woman married to a cop, who stalks and beats her. When she moves to expose him, he turns the tables on her by accusing her of assaulting him and goes so far as to fake an assault record for her. Classic DARVO behavior.

But what we experienced the last 4 years is DARVO behavior on a national scale never seen before in the history of our country.

Professor Freyd agrees with this diagnosis. In fact, she maintains a webpage about DARVO, which includes a whipsmart clip from South Park showing a cartoon President Garrison (who looks…



Robert Stribley

Writer. Photographer. UXer. Creative Director. Interests: immigration, privacy, human rights, design. UX: Publicis Groupe. Teach: SVA. Aussie/American. He/him.