Deflection Meaning: Understanding This Defense Mechanism


Deflection is the act of deflecting attention, blame, or criticism from oneself in an effort to maintain one’s self-esteem and avoid having to deal with negative outcomes.

It can be used as a narcissistic abuse technique to avoid responsibility or as a reactive coping mechanism to avoid feelings of guilt and shame.

Whether we are aware of it or not, blaming others for our errors can have a negative effect on the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the people we care about.

To give you a better understanding of why people deflect emotions in relationships, we’ll explore the what, why, and how of deflecting.

What Is Deflection?

Deflection generally refers to the act of giving something to another person in an effort to divert attention from oneself. It is a psychological strategy where you shift responsibility to others. When you were younger, you might have diverted attention from a bad deed by bringing up a bad deed your sibling committed. This is being done to avoid dealing with negative thoughts. However, this behaviour has the potential to persist over time and develop into a psychological defence mechanism that harms healthy relationships. As you grew older, you might have attempted to shift responsibility for a poor report to another employee.

In a relationship, deflecting can give the impression that your partner is placing all the blame on you and trying to divert your attention from their actions.

Deflecting partners not only avoid taking accountability for their mistakes, but they can also invalidate your feelings by downplaying your emotional reaction to them. This may cause you to doubt your own judgment and suppress your emotions. While deflecting can be more obvious during a disagreement, it can also occur in any situation (such as a meeting, date, card game, etc.) and is frequently more difficult to spot.

What Are Some Ways Of Deflection?

1. Changing the subject

Deflecting, which happens when someone abruptly changes the subject after their behaviour is questioned, can happen frequently in an argument. To avoid having to take responsibility for their own actions, the deflector will refocus the conversation on something their target did wrong.

Examples of switching topics

“I only lied because you always react excessively.” “And hence, you are to blame.”

I don’t want to discuss this, particularly since you are also at fault.

“Oh, right? Well, when you did it a few months ago, I didn’t get upset.”

2. Gaslighting

When someone denies your opinions, emotions, and sense of reality as a whole, gaslighting has occurred. It might even make you feel as though you need to apologise for things that aren’t your fault, which might make you doubt your version of what happened.

Cases of gaslighting include:

“It’s not that big of a deal, so you shouldn’t feel bad,”

“That by no means occurred. All of it is in your head. Most likely, you dreamed it.”

Don’t quote me saying that; I didn’t say that.

3. Projection

Deflection and projection are frequently used interchangeably. Similar to deflection, projection involves assigning blame to other people. But when your project, you put your own negative emotions onto other people. These emotions include anxiety, guilt, shame, and other unfavourable feelings. An article from Healthline describes projecting as imposing one’s own behaviours on others. In either case, a person who projects or deflects might have a superego and have a hard time accepting reality. These protective mechanisms have the potential to be extremely damaging to those close to you and to create toxic relationships.

4. Attacking

Deflectors may become so angry and attack their victim in an effort to divert attention from themselves. Name-calling, criticism, mockery, making offensive or upsetting jokes, yelling, swearing, interrupting, and threatening behaviour are examples of this. A verbal attack can result in immediate emotional pain or discomfort, just like a physical assault can.

Attacking examples include:

“What do you think matters? You are a complete fool.”

“This relationship is over if you bring this subject up again.”

“It appears that you have put on weight; you ought to eat healthier.”

How Do We Handle Someone Who Uses Deflection?

Stand your ground. Being honest with yourself and accepting what you are going through is necessary before you can address the deflecting. Before you start to take action to regain control, you must express your feelings. Keep in mind that you are not accountable for your partner’s actions, but you can still support them if they are willing to admit their faults and make the necessary adjustments.

Establish boundaries. Make it clear that you won’t engage in pointless debates or ignore abusive language. For instance, if your partner won’t hear what you have to say or loses their cool, the conversation will end and you will leave the room.

Limit your exposure. If you can, spend time with those who love and support you by taking a break from your significant other for a few days or a few hours. Limiting your contact with the other person can give you time to reexamine your connection and decide what a healthy connection looks like.

End the relationship. You will probably need to part ways if there is no sign of improvement or if the relationship gets progressively worse. If you live with them, have children with them, or are otherwise dependent on them, it might be difficult or impossible to end things right away. In these situations, get in touch with a loved one you can trust to begin developing an exit strategy.

Building trust and maintaining healthy relationships with everyone you know, including your romantic partner, requires learning to admit your mistakes and failings.

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