What Is Deflection? Psychology Explains This Defense Mechanism

Updated October 5, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Do you find yourself trying to hide the mistakes that you make or trying to push the blame for the things you do onto someone else? It could be to appear better than you are, which can be considered a narcissistic trait, or it could be simply a coping strategy that you've learned or developed over time. Or, maybe you know someone who seems to have no problems placing anxiety or guilt on you. They seem to just practice denial, denial, denial, rather than taking any responsibility. There are several reasons that people develop a habit of deflection, but let's take a closer look at just what it is and what it means.

Confused About Deflection Psychology As A Defense Mechanism?

What Is Deflection?

In general, the word deflection means that a person is passing something over to someone else in an attempt to draw the attention away from yourself. It is a psychological defense in which you deflect blame to others. When you were younger, you may have deflected the blame for a negative action by pointing out a different negative action your sibling did. This is to avoid having to deal with negative consequences. But, this behavior can be long term and can become a psychological defense mechanism that can damage healthy relationships. As you got older, you might have tried to pass the blame for a bad report to a different coworker. You may have tried to get out of looking bad by trying to say that it was someone else who did it. All of these things are examples of deflection. While deflection is a normal habit, it can become too frequent to be healthy. Online therapy can help you explore your relationship with deflection.

When Children Start Adapting the Deflection Defense Mechanism

Deflection could be something a person learns as a child and is internalized over time (known as internalizing behavior). This can be from repression. Repression, or repressed memories, are thought to be a cause of deflection. Regression is where someone gets stuck in immature thought patterns. According to Sigmund Freud, the creator of Freudian psychology, this is a defense mechanism in which you revert back to earlier developmental stages. This reaction leads to unhealthy psychological behaviors that can emotionally hurt others. Although you may not revert to the oral stage, you can get stuck in one of the other psychosexual development stages, according to Healthline.

Deflection could be something that you pick up later in life. Maybe you don't usually deflect blame but found yourself nervous about a specific situation and didn't want someone to be mad at you. There are several different reasons that you could (unconsciously or consciously) deflect. No matter why you do it, (which we'll talk about in a minute), it's important that you stop deflecting and start accepting the blame for your mistakes.

What is Projection?

The word deflection is commonly grouped with the term projection. Projection, like deflection, is where you place blame on others.  But, with projection, you place unwanted feelings onto others. These can be feelings of anxiety, guilt, shame, and other negative emotions. According to an article from Healthline, projecting is where you place your own behaviors on others. Their article uses the example of a cheating spouse who accuses their spouse of infidelity. Either way, someone who deflects or projects may have a super ego and struggle to accept reality. These defense mechanisms can be incredibly harmful to the people around you, and can lead to a toxic relationship.

Why Do We Deflect or Project?

No one wants to look or feel bad, right? We don't want people to think badly of us. We don't want them to think we're inept or that we make mistakes. We want them to think highly and to look up to us. As a result, we tend to look for ways to make ourselves look better. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to do that at all times in life. There are times when we will all make mistakes. There are times when we will all do something that requires punishment or negative repercussions. This is completely normal, and we shouldn’t develop harmful ego defenses to combat looking or feeling bad. Because, when we do, it can negatively affect the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of others.

For some, deflection is merely a coping mechanism to try and make sure people don't think less of them. It is purely one of the easiest ego defense mechanisms. They may not mean harm to anyone else by deflecting, and they don't necessarily want themselves to look perfect, but they want to avoid looking unintelligent. They deflect because they're trying to stay in someone's good graces or because they're nervous about what will happen if people believe that they made a big mistake. They may feel bad about the deflection if it causes someone else to get in trouble.

On the other hand, some people use deflection to make themselves look as good as possible and to make others look bad on purpose. In this way, deflection can be a narcissistic trait, and it can cause people to push blame on others to inflate their egos. These individuals tend not to care who they might hurt in the process of deflection as long as they make themselves look good. They want to make sure that no one ever sees them as being less than perfect.

The Importance Of Taking The Fall

No one likes to take the fall for something, but it's extremely important that we do just that. We need to be able to take the fall for things that we do or when we make a mistake in our lives. We need to be able to 'fess up' to the problems that occur in business, in relationships, and otherwise. Being able to do this shows a level of maturity, and even though it may result in punishment at the time, it's going to be better for everyone that's involved in the long run. But how?

When you admit to your faults, you're going to make yourself look better in the long run. It can be easy to turn to your habits of deflection, a psychological defense. But, no longer relying on learned defense mechanisms is a part of psychological growth. Yes, someone might be upset that you made that mistake. That can be difficult for you to experience, but it is also a necessary part of life.

Another benefit of taking the blame is that it's going to be faster to get to the root of the problem and resolve it. If you admit right away that you did something wrong, it's going to make it easier to find out what to do next. After all, you know exactly what you did or didn't do, and that means you likely know (or someone does) exactly what you should have done or not done. That puts the process of a solution into action right away.

For a narcissist, learning to admit to their faults and shortcomings is part of the process of overcoming this disorder. It's not easy, but it's an essential aspect of the process. It's going to allow them to push forward and keep building up the trust that they want from other people. After all, a narcissist wants people to think well of them, and that's only going to happen for real if they learn how to admit to their shortcomings as well as enjoying their accomplishments.

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