What Is Deflection? Psychology Explains This Defense Mechanism

By: Samantha Dewitt

Updated July 15, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

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? Maybe you find yourself doing this to protect yourself or to control 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.

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What Is Deflection?

In general, deflection means that you're 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 activity by pointing out a different negative activity your sibling did. This is to avoid dealing with negative consequences. But, this behavior can be long term and can become a psychological defense mechanism. 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.

When Children Start Adapting the Deflection Defense Mechanism

Deflection could be something that you learn as a child and is internalized over time. This can be from repression. Repression, or repressed memories, are thought to be a cause of deflection. If you saw a parent deflect their behavior onto you or other family members, and you then practice deflection, it may be from regression. 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?

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.

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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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Frequently Asked Questions About Deflection and Other Defense Mechanisms

What is deflection in conversation?

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 a narcissistic behavior. No matter what the reason is, the habit deflecting should be broken. This can be done through therapy and learning how to use healthy defense mechanisms.

Is deflection a defense mechanism?

Deflection is one of the many defense mechanisms. When someone deflects, they are trying to feel less guilty, avoid negative consequences, and put the blame on others. It is a learned defense mechanism, typically starting from early childhood. Most people have heard children blame their siblings for something they did. 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. 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, it is best to keep your distance, as this is 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. 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 an example of deflection, as being in a lane is not wrong, but 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, they are practicing 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 a 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 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 mean 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 diverts negative behavior into positive. 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 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. 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 “privacy policy” for yourself. This “privacy 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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