Deflection is a defense mechanism that involves redirecting focus, blame, or criticism from oneself onto another person, in an attempt to preserve one’s self-image. This inclination toward shifting blame can be seen in anyone from young children to grown adults. In this article, we shall discuss deflection as a defense mechanism.
Deflection is a tactic where someone avoids criticism or blame by shifting the focus or responsibility onto something or someone else.
For instance, when you ask a child why they’re fighting with their friend, they may say “She started it.” Or, a colleague who turns in a report late may blame their internet connection, even though it’s working fine. Or, if you’re upset with your partner, they may turn the tables back on you and accuse you of being too sensitive instead.
Deflection is a psychological defense mechanism, which is essentially a way of protecting oneself from experiencing uncomfortable emotions like anxiety, pain, guilt, or distress, says Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of “Understanding Bipolar Disorder.”
Even though people assume deflection makes them look better, a 2015 study notes that those who deflect blame onto other factors seem much less believable and genuine than those who own their mistakes honestly.
In this article, we explore some examples of deflective behavior, reasons why people deflect, signs that someone is deflecting, as well as some strategies to help you cope with deflect.
Table of Contents
Examples of Deflective Behavior
Someone who deflects may choose to deflect blame back onto you, or onto other factors. Below, Dr. Daramus shares some examples of deflective behavior.
Deflecting the Blame Back Onto You
If you confront the person about something they’ve done, they might deflect by pointing out your flaws instead of taking responsibility for their own. This shifts the focus of the conversation onto you and lets them off the hook.
Some examples include:
- “Why are you making such a big deal out of this? Stop being dramatic.”
- “Why are you getting so upset about this? Don’t be so uptight. Learn how to chill.”
- “Why are you fighting with me about this? That’s so mean. You’re hurting my feelings.”
- “You’ve always known this is what I’m like. Why can’t you accept me for who I am?”
- “What about the time when you did X? I didn’t get mad at you for it.”
- “I had to do Y because you did X, so it’s really your fault.”
- “I didn’t tell you about this because you always overreact.”
Deflecting the Blame Onto Other Factors
On the other hand, the person may choose to deflect blame onto other factors, even though they were actually at fault.
Some examples include:
- “I couldn’t help it, I was late because of the traffic/rain.”
- “I couldn’t turn in my report before the deadline because the internet wasn’t working.”
- “I failed the test because my teacher was bad.”
Why Do People Deflect?
People deflect because they don’t want to feel bad about themselves or look bad in front of others. They don’t want people to think they’ve made a mistake or are at fault in any way. They want to be liked and looked up to. They don’t want to admit—even to themselves—that they may have done something wrong.
Deflection is about protecting one’s self-image instead of taking responsibility. If one feels guilty or inadequate about something they did, deflection pushes that feeling away by shifting the focus onto something else.
The mature thing to do when one makes a mistake is to admit it, take responsibility for it, and take steps to correct it.
Nevertheless, most of us deflect once in a while, but doing it often as a habit is not healthy, says Dr. Daramus.
Is Deflection a Form of Gaslighting or Abuse?
If someone deflects often, Dr. Daramus says it may be a pattern of behavior that amounts to:
- Gaslighting:2 Deflection can be a form of gaslighting because it attempts to distort reality.
- Narcissistic abuse:3 Deflection could also be a form of narcissistic abuse. A person with narcissistic traits may go to any lengths to seem as perfect as possible, including criticizing others who give them negative feedback.
- Emotional abuse: With emotional abuse, deflection can go both ways. Abusers may use deflection to attack victims instead of facing criticism. However, victims may also resort to deflection to avoid abuse.
How Can You Tell If Someone Is Deflecting?
According to Dr. Daramus, these are some signs that someone is deflecting:
- Making excuses for their shortcomings
- Refusing to take responsibility for their actions
- Not apologizing for their mistakes
- Calling you out for something, in response to being called out
- Make it your job to accept them, flaws and all, no matter how it affects you
How to Deal With Someone Who Deflects
Dr. Daramus recommends some strategies that can help you deal with someone who deflects:
- Stay focused on the issue: When they try to deflect, redirect back to the current problem. Stay focused on the issue and don’t let the conversation get sidetracked.
- Don’t get baited into responding to accusations: Deflection can be hard to recognize immediately. You may find yourself responding to accusations instead of recognizing that the person is deflecting. If you need time, take a few minutes to think before you respond.
- Don’t let them make it about your reaction: Think through your response and be careful about how you express your reaction, so you don’t give them a chance to make it about your reaction instead of their behavior.
- Share your feelings: Let them know how their behavior is affecting you. Use “I… ” statements instead of using “You…” statements, which will make them more defensive. So instead of saying “You don’t pay attention to what I’m saying,” say, “I enjoy talking to you about my day and it hurts me when you’re uninterested.”
- Focus on solutions: Instead of focusing on where to assign blame, focus on working together to find solutions. Let’s say your roommate ate your leftovers without asking. They deflect by pointing out that you’ve let them eat your food before. You let them know you don’t have any other dinner in the house. Right now, that might mean they share something of theirs or order you something, and long term, it might mean everyone labels their food.
In summary, deflection is a defense mechanism that people use to avoid looking or feeling bad. However, it’s an unhealthy and often immature behavior that can ultimately harm relationships a lot more than owning up to mistakes would.
I hope you find this article helpful.