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Deflection – Do You Tend to Blame Shift a Lot?

Deflection – Do You Tend to Blame Shift a Lot?

Updated on Aug 26, 2022 | Published on Apr 20, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Deflection - Meaning, Ways, Signs, Tactics, Examples & So Much More

Key Takeaways


  • Deflection is altering and sidetracking the blame and focus from oneself to others, just for the sake of protecting one’s self-image.
  • It is a defense mechanism that protects the ego or ‘self’ from negative consequences.
  • The person gets into a blame game to feel less guilty and shameful for his / her misdeeds.
  • A person is changing the course of a wrong action by blaming it on others.
  • Deflection can leave deep scars and broken hearts forever.

Do you see yourself trying to hide the issues that you create or trying to blame for the wrong things you do on someone else?

Are you trying to feel less culpable for your misdeeds by blaming others? If yes, then you’re using the defense mechanism called deflection.

So, you find yourself doing this to protect yourself or to manipulate someone else so that they are judged and you get saved in the way.

This blame game attitude can be considered a narcissistic or self-centered trait, or it could be simply a coping mechanism that you have adopted or developed over time.

In psychology, deflection doesn’t mean ignoring something. It is a process of manipulating someone else by projecting our wrong actions and unacceptable behaviors on them.

Continue further to know more about this harsh defense tool that can ruin your relationships forever.

Deflection – meaning

SUMMARY
Deflection is a psychological defense of shifting the blame or criticism of wrong actions on someone else. This is done to safeguard oneself from harm or facing the negative consequences of the actions.

You must have come across situations in life when someone tried to accuse you of some wrongdoing, and you tried to deflect blame onto them or to someone else related to the incident. 

This type of redirecting your emotions and negative feelings just to protect you from the negative outcome is a simple example of deflection.

Generally, what we see is that deflection means that you are passing or transferring something over to someone else to draw the attention away from you. 

It is a psychological defense in which you shift blame to others rather than accepting your faults. 

Hence we can get a clear view that deflection means to cause something to change direction or to cause someone to shift from a pre-planned purpose. 

It is one of the common defense mechanisms that are related to projection, first identified by Anna Freud.

In this type of defense mechanism, the individual attributes blame and unwanted feelings, beliefs, and motives to someone else.

The main purpose is to not accept the dark secrets of your nature. You are not accepting that you could be wrong in certain circumstances. Thus, you are feeling threatened from within.

For example, if you do not like someone, you may end up saying that the other person hates you, or dislikes you. In this way, you’re diverting the blame to them and keeping yourself clean and clear.

It could also be that maybe you have encountered others who seem to have no problems placing the guilt or blame on you. 

They seem to just practice avoidance of issues, rather than taking any responsibility for their actions. 

Sometimes there are possible reasons for which humans develop a habit of deflection. In most circumstances, deflection leads to avoidance or turning around the focus from oneself to someone else.

For example, children often deflect or redirect the focus and blame of some wrong deeds onto their friends, just to protect themselves from scolding from the teacher.


The psychology behind deflection

SUMMARY
When the person feels insecure and threatened by their misdeeds and wrongdoings, they tend to deflect their negative feelings onto others.

This is done in an attempt to shelter, guard, and defend the ‘self’ from taking responsibility and facing the negative outcome of the wrong act.

Sometimes, parents of naughty children try to avert and move away from the focus and criticism meant for their children to the other kids. 

They may consider the misdeeds of their children as harmless child stuff and may not like others accusing their children.

Deflection also occurs in adult relationships where an abusive partner may use gaslighting or emotional manipulation to deflect their negative feelings and faulty beliefs onto their partners.

People who deflect their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions are highly manipulative. Their aim is to have a clean self-image and social regard. 

In no way, they can harm their false ego by getting harmed or stuck in the groove of a blame attack from others.

Thus, deflection is a great tool to save one’s face. The psychology behind deflection is not hard to understand.

You are projecting the blame and attention to others because you are feeling blamed from within.

An unknown fear of facing an adverse consequence is haunting you day and night. Your ‘ego’ is under some threat. 

Thus, your vulnerable ‘self’ is looking out for ways to divert the focus of attention for the wrong action on other people.

Pointing a finger at others is easy. It serves two purposes. You can easily avoid the responsibility of what happened and secondly, you can protect yourself from facing the consequences.


Notable ways of deflection

Do you feel that you are one of the many individuals who’re good at deflecting their feelings and emotions? 

It may be because your mental state has difficulty accepting uncomfortable emotions or displaying your feelings freely.

So our mind makes it possible for you to typically cover your real emotions and thoughts.

Deflection is an example of giving an unpleasant responsibility to someone else with the fault that you have committed. You are just passing the buck to safeguard your back.

Deflection can be either directly pointing out someone for the mistake. For example,

  • “It wasn’t me. I have no idea how it happened. Your actions messed up things”
  • “I didn’t do it. Susan was to be pointed out for this”
  • “Why are you looking at me? I did nothing. If you want to say something, tell them. They are the ones who were talking bad things about you”
  • “Are you crazy? How can you ever think that I did this? No way. Those folks are to be blamed for this ill action”

Deflection can be a covert manipulation as well. It leads to partial blaming. If you seek someone’s sharing of the misdeed that happened you are trying to share the blame with them. 

You are trying to share responsibility and even blame others that they are also at fault.

This type of partial blaming mostly occurs with small children in classroom settings. They may try to project a feeling that whatever they did was by seeing others acting in similar ways.

For example, a child tearing papers and throwing them inside the classroom may blame their friends for the wrongdoing. 

They may say that they did the thing just because their friend also did it.

  • “I wasn’t the only child in class doing it. Others are also doing it intentionally.”
  • “Why are you telling this to me only? I am not the only one who did this. They also did this with me.”

10 signs of deflection

1. Not in touch with one’s true feelings

If an individual has difficulty in accepting his/her faults, they might be good at deflecting emotions under stressful circumstances.

 Their facial expressions are more like that of a stoic or expressionless person.

Although they might look cold, casual, and carefree, they are neither true to themselves nor their feelings. 

It is also quite natural that they could also see others having or accepting feelings as a sign of weakness. 

For a person who deflects, accepting negative emotions is highly threatening. They are insecure and feel vulnerable from within.

Thus, they defend themselves by not accepting feelings that are painful, hurting, or can harm their self-image in negative ways.

2. Lack of emotional expression

We cry when we are sad. So, in fact, everyone expresses sorrow in one way or another way, also we see that many individuals do not cry publicly.

Thus, those who are sensitive and shy may not display their emotions in public. These individuals can put up a smiling face while their insides are burning with pain, suffering, or rage.

Individuals who deflect their feelings will lack emotional expression. They will put the blame on others so that they can protect themselves from expressing emotions that are unpleasant.

Most people who point fingers at others tend to have innate fears. They feel uncomfortable expressing their true feelings for the fear of being judged or critically evaluated by others.

As a result, they find it easy to pinpoint the fault on others and remain clean in their own skin. 

3. Difficulty in making bonds

If you’ve ever had a relationship with someone who deflects a lot, you can perceive how hard it could be. Couples in long-lasting relationships share a lot of responsibilities, along with their feelings and emotions. 

But those who love deflecting emotions cannot maintain emotional needs in a relationship. If a conflict arises, they usually refuse to take responsibility and shift the blame to their mate. 

Deflecting partners manipulate others and move away from the attention of their partners. Whatever wrong things happen, they try to deflect and redirect the criticism to the partner.

Thus, these people emotionally blackmail others and get into separations, breakups, and divorces, very often in their lives.

4. Issues with Addictions

Keeping emotions bottled up is not good. You need to vent. People who deflect often refuse to take care of their feeling. It usually goes down into addictions. 

Several forms of bad habits are formed when we do a task regularly. These people resort to alcohol consumption, drugs, or web browsing.

Thus, having an addiction numbs emotions and destroys positive relationships. 

5. High-Stress Levels

Life without some stress isn’t normal as we would say. Survival can depend upon the innate stress response you have. 

However, excessive stress can hamper your well-being. People who suppress or deflect their emotions are at risk of pent-up emotions. 

Undue stress might produce anxiousness, and despair which further is not good for well-being.  

Apparently, the person appears good enough and does all their routine tasks normally, but they are actually suffering from high functioning anxiety. They are living in utmost fear.

Deflection robs the peace of mind. People who get into deflection regularly always hunt for others to shift blame for their unacceptable behaviors. Thus, they are never at peace with themselves.

6. Issues with sleep

Part of the strain of deflecting feelings is poor sleeping patterns. The deflecting person might be prone to sleep issues. 

As a consequence, they suffer brain fog and distorted thought patterns. If deflection turns into their new regular habit, it causes insomnia, fear, and excessive anxiety.

They may get busy finding out people from all walks of life who can shoulder their wrongdoings.

Since their moods are not in tune due to problems with sleep, they become more avoidant. They try to suppress their emotions or deflect them onto others. 

You can say a time comes when deflection becomes a habitual response done intentionally to protect the ego from taking any unpleasant feeling in its stride.

7. Gaslight others

People who bury their feelings usually are not comfortable with people who don’t. 

Consequently, they anticipate their partners or other people they know of to adjust to their cold and aloof state. If not, they could use gas-lighting as a tool for deflecting their true emotions.

8. Tendency to keep to themselves

Introverts generally like to be aloof. They could freely specify their emotions in solitude and do not believe in sharing with family and mates. 

We see that people who suppress their emotions usually need to be alone or in solitude. 

Even once they’re alone, they usually refuse to accept their emotional triggers. They go back into the whirling shadows of old regrets and emotions.

Most often they fail to accept their mistakes and try to deflect others. This is done to avoid negative consequences and feels less self-blamed for what had occurred.

9. Denial of feelings

People who deflect have many negative issues in life. One such issue involved with people who suppress or deflect feelings is denial. 

By denial, we mean denying the fact that mistakes or misdeeds ever occurred. Since they do not want to feel bad or be responsible for handling the issues, it is quite difficult for them to accept the truth. 

These people openly deny that they have any emotional breakouts and may shift the blame to someone else. 

People who fall into the groove of deflection resist acceptance. They think that denial is the only way to forefend and keep them safe from any negative effects or results that they might have to face.

10. Lack of Empathy

Deflectors are generally not evil people. You can see there are several of them who have merely trained themselves to not associate at an emotional level from an early age to not get hurt or be miserable. 

To other people, their outward appearance makes them look like they are cold and rough. An individual who suppresses or deflect their emotions generally lacks empathy and does things as they please. 

Being empathetic means linking your feelings which might cause guilt in them so they do not get involved in other individuals’ issues.


Why do people deflect? (Causes of deflection)

Now you know that deflection is avoiding the negative feelings, criticism, and blame, and putting it on another person. 

The synonyms of the word embody turning, deviating, divergence, and straying from problems that trigger negative emotional responses such as fear, insecurity, anger, etc.

The concept of deflection is a little deeper than just avoiding the problem. 

It is a deep, psychological problem that will indicate a character or temperament flaw. The behavior of the person can appear annoying to others. It can upset someone outright. 

Therefore why is there a need for individuals to deflect rather than own up to their faults?

Psychologically speaking, deflection is the major inability of someone to understand their inner processes in themselves. 

By this, we mean that they intensely scrutiny the partner’s thoughts, feelings, actions, or beliefs. These have no real basis but are negatively imagined. 

So, the deflecting partner understands how to deviate the eye far from their actions, feelings, and beliefs to the other person.

They simply project those negative feelings onto their partners without remorse or guilt.

Reasons for Deflection

People who use deflection do it to avoid one thing that’s bothering them or harmful to their self-confidence. 

Deflection can be unconscious or conscious where awareness is present. 

Some individuals deflect in a way that is quite obvious and others deflect in a manipulative way. So the people who use deflection are unable to accept painful events such as abusive relationships or trauma.

Some people who use deflection might even have personality traits to induce blame in order or may have any forms of disorders of personality. 

You need to understand that somebody with these traits can do everything in their power to lift their hollow ego and blame others to save themselves.

These are mainly done by Narcissistic individuals who have a high sense of self-esteem. 

Deflection is a defense mechanism. Defense mechanisms are major coping styles people develop throughout their life as how to deal with difficult situations and emotional experiences. 

People who use deflection usually do not mean to purposely cause harm or damage to others. 

However, they need to safeguard or protect themselves from unpleasant experiences and stress. It is done to avoid looking incompetent or foolish.

Many people deflect because of the fear of losing their partner if he/she takes responsibility for the behavior or actions they committed. So they worry that accepting the mistakes might result in the loss of a loved one.

Humans mature as they develop. If there is a trauma in any stage of development it can affect our lives. 

So if a person has been emotionally abused or verbally abused in childhood, they may use psychological deflection to avoid a lot of mental and physical abuse.


What is the role of ego in psychological deflection?

We use defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from feelings of anxiety or guilt, which arise because we feel threatened, or because our id and superego become too demanding.

By Id we mean our deepest desires and the superego is the moral compass we have within us.

So ego-defense mechanisms are natural and normal. When they get out of proportion problems with mental health take place.

The important roles of deflection as a defense mechanism and safeguarding the ego are as follows:

1. Protect self-esteem

Humans tend to find flaws in others rather than keep a track of their flaws. As a result, they become more interested in other people’s business. 

The more negative things we can find about other people the better we feel about ourselves. 

Our Ego is the part of our mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity. 

So our sense of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-importance are all dependent on our ego.

 2. Temporary mood lifter

When people deflect regularly they start having negative effects. They perceive the world around them as threatening that can ruin their self-image.

Thus, they start believing that the causes of their mistakes are not related to their behavior or individual actions, but the external environment is always the one to blame.

The ego feels threatened and the need of the hour is to protect it from facing a negative consequence. So deflection operates as a handy tool. 

By using deflection, the person safeguards the ego from unpleasant experiences and the negative outcome of being blamed, criticized, or hurt in some way.


Psychological deflection in relationships

When people deflect, it can have bad and disturbing effects for all who are involved such as friends, family, and work colleagues. 

It can develop problems for the person using the deflection as well as other people as they are being blamed. 

Deflection can also affect people’s behavior with others.

Families and friends, who have experienced deflection feel that they are less valued, do not have a voice, and are confused about the conflict that is going on at home.

Slowly these people who have experienced deflection find themselves taking a backseat in the relationships so that they can avoid conflicts. 

Later the issue of trusting others develops. This is because they have been hurt badly in the past by their deflecting partners. 

Thus we can say that deflection has a bad impact on mental health and overall relationships of a person.

Family

When you try to do something for the family such as you are trying to surprise your parents with an anniversary gift.

You put in a lot of effort in finding out what you would give them, wrapping the gift, and lastly giving it to them. 

You see that they pretend to be appreciative of the present. As soon as you leave, they start discussing the gift in a bad way and say that you could have done better. 

Your siblings also commented negatively on the choice of gift and displayed frustration on the gift being of poor quality. 

Because of this, you are feeling down and upset. At the same time, they never once offered to help you with the effort taken to arrange the gift. 

All of the responsibilities were on you. So here we see deflection is often passive-aggressive and can be as subtle as this situation. 

Friendships

You have been quite close with your best friend. You share your deepest secrets and also provide a listening ear to your friend. One fine day you see your friend has suddenly changed her friend circle and avoids you. 

When you confront her she hits back at you saying you are not a great person to hang out with and she is criticizing you for being a bad friend. Maybe, she will blame you for something that you have not done.

Their behavior of not accepting responsibility for their actions and placing the blame on you is a clear sign that they are using deflection.

In workplace

In your workplace, you are given the responsibility to manage an event. You have been preparing with your co-worker together for months for the event and feel confident in your managerial skills. 

On the final day, you feel happy that you have established good work and people have acknowledged it.

But your boss grills you with unrelated flaws such as your dress was not good or your behavior was not appealing. 

Your co-worker quickly shifts sides and blames you for being a bad partner and you are the reason for the mess. 

You ask about why he said it was your fault when the entire event was handled by both of them. Instead of being honest, he says that you put more and you did everything and so it was yours. 

You find it difficult and upsetting to argue with him as he does not speak logically. This is an important key sign you may be dealing with someone using deflection.


Deflection examples

Some of the examples of deflection are as follows:

  • Altering the subject or topic of conversation quite often, especially if the behavior of the person is being questioned by others. People who deflect or divert the attention from themselves to others tend to redirect conversations to different things. They do not want to fall into false positions and thus avoid being in a trap.
  • Sometimes, deflection leads to complete denial. They will outwardly and shamelessly say that they have not done anything. They fear being caught, so they put the blame on others.
  • Gaslighting occurs in deflection where the person distorts reality and makes the other person feel awkward. The abuser uses subtle tricks of deflection to project their insecurities on the victim.

How to argue with someone who deflects?

Narcissists can easily become offended, often accusing their partner of being not worthy or selfish if they dare to do something on their own. 

For narcissistic people, the world should revolve around them. Hence it is good for you to know how to have a conversation with a narcissist.

1. Use comforting words

If you’re with a selfish person who deflects a lot, it is advisable to sympathize with their feelings and say things like “I am sorry to hurt you like this, I will be careful in the future.”

2. Arguing is not a solution

Since deflectors never admit fault, they hold you or anyone else accountable for any negative emotions they are feeling, and as a result, they portray themselves as being flawless.

3. Do not counter-attack

Deflecting individuals’ hate when you dare to defend yourself, thus it is important to stop the argument and shift focus to resolution.

4. Do not expect an apology

Deflecting people does not admit to any wrongdoing. Hence they do not apologize. 

So these selfish people won’t be comfortable with the concept of saying sorry to others to end an argument. Thus expecting an apology leads to disappointment.


Psychological deflection is more like a blame game that results from extreme self-love that’s usually done by narcissists. 

So narcissists want attention from others and if there is an issue, they will use others as their scapegoats. Thus, they manipulate others by shifting the blame and saving themselves from any harm.

Narcissistic people are those people who are self-centered, do not care for others’ feelings or emotions, and do not think that their behavior might affect people. The effect is mainly negative. 

They only think about themselves. Narcissism is a form of personality disorder. 

People with narcissistic traits try to hide their guilt by not accepting their faults and pointing them out to the people who have not done anything wrong.


Some tactics used by Narcissists to deflect 

Narcissists hold an inflated sense of self. This means their Ego feels full of pride and arrogance. 

They deflect and protect their ego whenever they feel threatened and endangered by others around them. They often use certain techniques to deflect their feelings in times of distress.

Whenever they feel like a failure, they project their negative feelings on others. They blame others because of the following three reasons –

  • They are fearful of something
  • Immaturity in accepting the responsibility for their actions
  • Past experiences of suffering make it hard for them to trust others.

Thus, they use certain tricks for deflection. They are as follows:

1. Narcissists invalidate others’ feelings quite often

You can see that deflecting narcissists label you to be always wrong. They are capable enough from the beginning to prove you are miserable and faulty. So they don’t validate your feelings.

2. Denial of facts

If you point out to a narcissist a problem or behavior which is incorrect, the narcissist refuses to accept it immediately. Hence they prove that you do not speak the truth and you’re trying to humiliate them in certain ways.

3. Center of attention

Narcissistic people use deflection to be the spotlight of attention. Their need for attention makes it easy for them to capture the topic discussed and manipulate it accordingly.

4. Become passive-aggressive

Deflecting narcissists make passive-aggressive comments to show their rage. 

They want their coldness to create such discomfort so that you stop discussing anything which triggers anger in them. This is how they avoid conflicts and go scot-free in every situation.

5. Teasing people

Narcissists to win can mock others, roll their eyes, or make nasty comments about others to have their way. They do not care even if they hurt others while teasing them.

6. Illogical debates

When narcissists are losing an argument they shift focus from the topic and start blackmailing you about the times they were helpful or make you take the guilt for the current situation.

Now you can understand that narcissists are good at manipulating you to do what they like and prefer. They can go to any extent such as blame-shifting, or blackmailing others to get their work done.

7. Compulsive lying

If you have ever come across a narcissist, you may have seen them telling lies without any shame. They are compulsive liars and can distort your sense of reality without you realizing it.

They will lie about what happened, and the fault was with you. In such a case, they will deflect the focus onto you. Narcissists are good at deflecting and shifting attention to others.

With subtle tricks, they successfully twist reality and make you appear foolish and helpless.


How to handle deflection?

It is stressful when you deal with people who deflect a lot. In relationships, it sometimes can become a burden.

So what can we do about it? Here are certain things you can do to deal effectively with deflectors.

We need to understand that we are humans. We have both good and bad traits in us.

Since we sometimes judge certain things as bad, we see mostly negative things. So we must see all people with a non-judgmental approach. 

  • We need to understand that our self-image comes from feelings of shame and also pride. If we cannot admit to guilt because it brings up trauma it is difficult for us to have good self-esteem. Hence we must accept flaws in ourselves and others. Only by this we can have a good self-image and make the relationships last.
  • We need to start facing our emotions. Emotions can be both positive and negative. Only by dealing with our pain, can we attend to the problems we are facing. So the pain is our only way of understanding what we feel internally. 
  • Being true to yourself is most important. When you pretend to be someone else, you have the constant desire to be proper or maintain a high self-image. This becomes taxing. Hence once you are true to your feelings and desires you can achieve good and healthy relationships.
  • When you are aware of the most painful areas of your life you will understand what is causing them. You can see the different excuses you have for the reason your relationship is strained or the reason the situation is bad. It is a good way to self-reflect so that the painful truth is realized and solutions are sought rather than deflected.      
  • Lastly, it is great to communicate your thoughts and emotions without holding back. So, when you are ready to communicate your new thoughts to your partner. This will lead to strong bonds in your relationship. This new communication pattern will help to stop you from escaping situations and thus will not cause further damage. This will help repair the damage earlier caused due to deflection.

The video link shared below explains the defense mechanism of deflection in a vivid way. Do check out.


Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’

Deflection is something that you learn during childhood. This develops and is internalized over time.

So you can also think that all our repressed childhood information and memories may be a cause of deflection. 

So when you see your family deflect their anger or blame onto you, you then develop a habit of using deflection. 

It can be transmitted due to the use of social media as well. This reaction leads to unhealthy mental behaviors that can emotionally upset others. 

Admitting your faults and stopping deflecting your feelings can relieve you from the burden of blaming others. You feel at peace with yourself and others. 

You may also take professional advice to help you in the process. Hence not relying on these defense mechanisms will help you lead a healthy life with fruitful relationships.

Article Sources


1. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/deflection
2. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/psychologists/what-is-deflection-psychology-explains-this-defense-mechanism/
3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deflection
4. https://www.learning-mind.com/psychological-deflection/

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