How Deflection Can Hurt Your Mental Health
The term "deflection" is commonly confused with similar concepts. It refers to a defense mechanism that’s closely related to—although distinct from—projection. It involves redirecting or “deflecting” blame for one’s own mistake onto someone else in an attempt to preserve one’s own self-image. With deflection, the individual is consciously aware that they’re truly the one at fault, which is not the case with projection. As with most psychological defense mechanisms, relying on deflection can have negative effects on one’s relationships and mental health, as we’ll explore below.
Common Underlying Themes Of Deflection
This type of defensiveness as a coping skill is commonly used to divert the focus or blame away from ourselves. While the manifestation of deflection can vary considerably, there are a couple of common themes that tend to be associated with this behavior. The first is denial. In psychology, denial refers to the avoidance of unacceptable or unpleasant thoughts or feelings. A person in denial is failing to recognize or accept apparent truths about a situation, or their feelings regarding a situation. The concept of denial is at the center of many maladaptive defense mechanisms, including deflection and projection.
Another common theme behind deflection is blaming others, or blame-shifting. Blame-shifting refers to "passing the buck", or finding any reason to justify the conclusion that another person is ultimately responsible for an undesired outcome rather than oneself. When shifting blame, an individual may be experiencing denial about their own level of personal responsibility and will deflect the unacceptable thought—that they are the reason for the failure or mistake—away by attributing the blame to someone else.
Unlike projection, deflection is a mostly conscious process. While it may feel second nature and as if it’s uncontrollable, the behavior itself is usually not what is difficult to manage. Instead, it’s typically the underlying cognitive processes—such as denial—that ultimately drive deflective behaviors and must be addressed in order for meaningful change to be possible. These underlying cognitive processes can be driven by a number of other factors that an individual would need to examine and address in order to change the behavior, such as perfectionism, low self-esteem, or a fear of abandonment.
An Example Of Deflection
Let’s take a look at an example to better understand what deflection looks like and how it works. Consider the case of Jamie, who is working on an important project for his employer. One day, he makes a critical error that significantly delays progress. Jamie's boss invites him to her office to discuss the mistake. Jamie knows the significance of his error, feels guilty for it, and is aware that it’s an uncommon error for someone of his experience level to make.
For many, such a meeting might be uncomfortable, but relatively straightforward: You might apologize, own up to your mistake, and take corrective action. However, let's assume that Jamie instead defaults to denial to avoid the unpleasant and unacceptable feeling of failure after making a significant error. As a result, he might automatically push back on the feedback. He might tell his boss that it’s actually the fault of the person who handed the project off to him, or that it’s the fault of his boss for putting pressure on him—both of which are untrue in this case. At the center of Jamie's arguments is the desire to deflect blame for his own mistake. His boss, unimpressed, writes up Jamie for his error as well as his lack of accountability.
The Potential Consequences Of Deflection
In a professional setting, such as in Jamie's case, deflection has some obvious consequences. Jamie's reputation among his coworkers, including his boss, will likely suffer. His desire to avoid blame has reduced his credibility and likely increased his overall stress at work due to worries about making future mistakes and the now-tense or untrusting relationships with colleagues. As a result, he could experience negative mental health effects.
Outside of work, deflection can take a toll on other types of relationships too, such as friendships and romantic partnerships. An individual refusing to ever take responsibility for their own mistakes and instead consciously choosing to blame their friend, partner, or another party can be tiresome for others to continually experience. It can wear down levels of trust, prevent honest communication and effective conflict resolution, and signal emotional immaturity. The conflict and tension that deflection can cause in relationships can lead to loneliness, isolation, and a limited support network as well as stress and anxiety, all of which can contribute to mental health challenges and even mental illness.
How To Overcome The Tendency To Deflect
Becoming aware of this tendency in yourself is typically the first step toward overcoming it. You might reflect on how you naturally react when someone approaches you with constructive criticism, or how you respond when a mistake or shortcoming you’re responsible for is brought to your attention. If you tend to default to deflection, you might ask yourself why. It could be perfectionism, for example, or low self-esteem that causes you to try and avoid accepting the fact that you made an error.
Next, you might practice rerouting your pattern of thinking in the moment next time you’re confronted with your own mistakes. You might take a few deep breaths before responding to help yourself think clearly rather than engaging in a knee-jerk reaction of deflecting. You might also think about the potential benefits of owning up to your slip-up, such as learning and growth, the respect of others, and healthier relationships. You can also remind yourself that making mistakes is normal and human, and that recognizing the value of failure and being open to opportunities to try again can actually improve future outcomes.
How Therapy Can Help
Although deflection is a conscious process, it may still be difficult to recognize and shift this behavior—especially if it’s been an individual’s default throughout their life. A therapist can support a person on their journey of becoming aware of any maladaptive defense mechanisms they may be using, recognizing the negative impacts on their life, addressing the underlying causes, and learning to break the habit over time.
Research suggests that most common therapy modalities can be delivered as effectively online as in person. If you’re interested in seeking a more cost-effective method of treatment, virtual therapy is an option to consider. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from anywhere you have an internet connection. Costs are comparable to the co-pays of most insurance plans, reducing the financial barriers to treatment for many.
Frequently Asked Questions About Deflection and Other Defense Mechanisms
What is deflection in conversation?
The definition of the word deflection in conversations is a psychological defense in which someone blames you for something they are at fault for. This defense mechanism may look like you bringing up that a person hurt your feelings. A deflective person would say, “Well maybe you’re too sensitive,” or, “It’s not my fault you are insecure.” Deflection can be incredibly hurtful, and it is not one of the positive defense mechanisms.
What does it mean when a person is deflecting?
Deflecting is a psychological defense mechanism that people use to take the blame off of themselves. When they are deflecting, they are trying to make themselves feel less bad for their wrongdoings. This likely happens due to past experiences of being in trouble for things. Or, it can be a sign of narcissistic behavior. No matter what the reason is, the habit of deflecting should be broken. This can be done t
through therapy and learning how to use healthy defense mechanisms.
Is deflection a defense mechanism?
In the definition of the word deflection, it is described as one of the many defense mechanisms. To use it in a sentence, when someone deflects, they are trying to feel less guilty, avoid negative consequences, and pass blame and fault onto others. It is a learned defense mechanism, typically starting from early childhood. Most people have heard children blame their siblings for something they did like lose a ball or object when it was actually the opposite. Usually, this behavior is diminished as the child enters other development stages. However, the habit doesn’t always go away when someone enters adulthood. This can be a serious problem and can have a large effect on their relationships.
How do you deal with deflection?
The best way to deal with deflection is to communicate how you feel by having a conversation. Point out that you feel the person is deflecting their fault onto you and that it is not appreciated. If they continue practicing this behavior through the course of your relationship that may be an indicator they are not going to change and it may be best to keep your distance, as this can be a very negative trait. Being friends with someone who deflects onto you can damage your mental health and self-esteem greatly. So, if they continue their harmful behaviors, consider distancing yourself.
How do you know if someone is deflecting?
You know someone is deflecting when they try to make you feel bad when they are the ones who did something wrong. There are many examples of this. Say someone hit you in a traffic accident and they say, “Well, you shouldn’t have been in the lane I wanted to be in!” This is one of many examples of deflection, as being in a lane is not wrong, but in their point of deflection, you being there caused the other person to do wrong.
What is the deflection formula?
In psychology, the deflection formula starts with the guilty being confronted about their wrongdoing. Then, the guilty person deflects their guilt onto the person accusing them or another person. They blame another person for their wrongdoing so they can avoid negative consequences.
How do you tell if someone is projecting onto you?
If someone is projecting, they will likely blame you for how they feel for what they do wrong. Has a boss ever told you that you are horrible and managing your schedule after showing up late to one meeting, but your boss is notoriously late? This is a form of projection.
How do you know when someone is projecting on you?
If you notice someone is insecure about something, and they try to make you feel bad for the same thing, they are likely projecting on you. They may not realize they are projecting on you, but they are, which can be incredibly hurtful. Just because someone doesn’t realize they are projecting, it doesn’t mean it’s alright.
What's it called when someone turns something around on you?
When someone turns something around on you, you can call this the word deflection. This is one of the many defense mechanisms in which they knowingly or unknowingly remove their guilt and place it on you. An example of this is someone making your feel bad even though they are clearly in the wrong.
What are the five common defense mechanisms?
Five common defense mechanisms are denial, deflection, sublimation, projection, and displacement. Denial is where someone denies they are guilty of wrongdoing. Denying can make someone feel better as they start to believe they aren’t actually guilty. Deflection, which is the defense mechanism discussed most in this article, is where someone places their guilt on others. Sublimation psychology is one of the most healthy defense mechanisms, in which the guilty person turns their wrongdoings into a positive. Projection, as mentioned above, is where someone attributes their own feelings to others. Lastly, displacement is where your mind shifts feelings towards objects.
Is projection a mental illness?
Projection is not considered a mental illness or a personality disorder. However, it can be the symptom of having a personality disorder. It is a symptom of narcissism, borderline personality disorder, and even psychopathy. However, just because you or someone you know have a tendency to project, it does not necessarily an indicator you have a personality disorder. The only way to know if you have a personality disorder is to see a licensed counselor and be diagnosed.
What are the 12 defense mechanisms?
According to Sigmund Freud, there are 12 defense mechanisms people use. One is sublimation. Sublimation is where someone experiences deviation and turns negative behavior into positive behavior. This is one of the many defense mechanisms that are typically positive. Another is compensation. Compensation is where someone focuses on their positive traits to override their negative traits or faults. Focusing on the positive is usually a good thing, as long as the behavior is not excessive. There is also ritual and undoing, in which someone creates rituals or habits to undo their negative behaviors. This can be positive as long as it is not obsessive as well, which can be seen as radicalization. Radicalization is where you take things to an extreme, which can make a positive defense mechanism negative.
There are many healthy defense mechanisms that help people feel less pain and make it through a difficult situation. However, there are some unhealthy defense mechanisms, such as displacement. Displacement is one of the most common defense mechanisms, and it is where someone takes their feelings and takes it out on another object or person. There is also denial, in which someone denies their wrongdoing. Then, there is projection, which is explained about as putting your feelings onto others. Clearly, this is one of the negative defense mechanisms.
Another negative and unhealthy defense mechanism is reaction formation. Reaction formation is where someone feels emotions and considers them to be unacceptable and wrong, so they act in the opposite way. Someone who deals with reaction formation may feel anxious or extremely sensitive on the inside, so they act as if they don’t care at all on the outside. Regression, as mentioned above, is where someone regresses to an earlier development stage. Then, repression is where you push down your feeling and emotions. The last of the negative defense mechanisms is projection, in which you see your negative traits in others.
There are defense mechanisms that can be positive or negative. One of the defense mechanisms that can be positive or negative is identification. This is where someone mimics the behavior of a role model, such as a parent. Another neutral defense mechanism is introjection. Introjection is where you cope and alter your feelings for approval. Sometimes, this has to be done, such as in a work setting where your boss is incredibly nit-picky when you drop the ball. But, this can also be negative if you bottle up your emotions and let them eat away at your self-esteem.
Rationalization, another neutral defense mechanism, is where you make excuses and justify your mistakes. There are times where this is called for, if you are explaining you are only human and are bound to make mistakes. However, if you make excuses for your mistakes and do not learn from them, this can be unhealthy.
What is the deflection limit?
In psychology, there is a limit for what someone can take when being deflected upon. A person can only take so much when around someone who deflects guilt upon them. However, this limit depends on the mental strength of the person. But, at some point, every person will get tired of getting blamed for someone else’s guilt. This can lead a person to no longer want to associate with the person as their behavior can be very exhausting.
What is the maximum deflection level?
The maximum deflection levels someone can take depends on the person. Those who are mentally and emotionally strong may be able to handle associating with someone who deflects. However, those will mental health vulnerabilities may not be able to handle it for very long. If at any point you are around someone who deflects, and you feel as though your self-esteem is at risk, it is best to take a step back and separate yourself. Although this can be difficult, it is worth it if it means saving your self-esteem.
What is a deflection test?
A deflection test in counseling is where you are tested for your defense mechanisms. They will ask you questions about your reactions and how you cope with wrongdoings. If you indicate to your counselor that you do practice deflection, they will work with you to get rid of the habit. This is vital so you can have happy and healthy relationships with other people.
How do you deal with someone who deflects?
A good way to deal with someone who has a tendency to deflect is to set up a “safety policy” for yourself. This “safety policy” should include keeping your insecurities to yourself, avoiding telling them your deepest secrets, and getting vulnerable with them. This will prevent them from deflecting their faults onto you. And, if they do deflect onto you, they will be less likely to make you insecure or lower your self-esteem, as they won’t know your secrets or insecurities. This is not to say you can’t get close to people who have faulty defense mechanisms, but just be careful about being 100 percent vulnerable with them.
Getting Professional Help
If you're struggling with deflection and you find yourself frequently trying to push the blame onto others, it may be a good idea for you to seek out professional help. There are different ways that mental help could affect the way that you deflect blame. After all, there's not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to any form of professional help, and that's true with a deflection as well.
A narcissist needs to learn how to stop deflecting to make themselves look better. They need to learn how stepping on other people is going to burn bridges. These people are generally quite insecure and require a great deal of praise and support to feel worthy.
On the other hand, someone who is not a narcissist may feel the same way about being unworthy, but they show it differently. These individuals want to fade into the background. They may not take the accolades for a positive event either because it's better to be unnoticed. But this is also a mental disorder that can be helped with therapy. By learning that they are worthy of attention and that being a person that makes mistakes is not going to make them 'less than' they're going to be able to progress in their life to a better extent.
Online Help With BetterHelp
If you're looking to get help with your deflection problems, then it's a great idea for you to seek out professional help. But getting professional help can be a problem for many people. Getting to appointments can be difficult. Walking into a therapist's office can feel stigmatizing. Even finding someone that you feel comfortable within your area can be extremely difficult. That's when you want to turn to online help. When you start looking at the options online, you're going to have a much better chance of getting the help that you want and without all the downsides.
BetterHelp is one way that you can get the help that you're looking for and it's one way that you can make sure you're prepared for absolutely anything. No matter if you live in New York City, or on a countryside county road, you can meet an amazing licensed counselor. You can stay in your own home for your session, and you get to make sure that you're getting help from someone that you're comfortable with.
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