Understanding Deflection in Psychology and Effective Ways to Respond

Understanding Deflection in Psychology and Effective Ways to Respond

Natalie Buchwald, LMHCKnow Your Self

By Natalie Buchwald, LMHC | Last Updated: June 15th, 2023
Reviewed by Steven Buchwald

Explore the concept of deflection in psychology and learn effective strategies to address this defense mechanism.

Deflection is a common psychological defense mechanism used to evade difficult conversations or uncomfortable situations. In this article, we will delve into the meaning of deflection, its impact on mental health, and provide strategies for responding when someone uses this coping mechanism.

Understanding Deflection in Psychology

Deflection is a defense mechanism characterized by redirecting a conversation away from a challenging topic or issue to something less emotionally charged. It can manifest in various ways, such as changing the subject, asking a question, making a joke, or even becoming defensive or aggressive.

Deflection is often associated with denial and blame-shifting, which involve evading unpleasant thoughts or feelings and attributing responsibility for undesired outcomes to others.

However, deflection differs from denial, as denial implies outright refusal to acknowledge a problem, whereas deflection merely redirects the conversation without necessarily denying the issue’s existence.

The Impact of Deflection on Mental Health

Deflection may result in a lack of connection and understanding in relationships, leading to misunderstandings, miscommunications, and feelings of isolation and loneliness, which can contribute to depression and anxiety.

Moreover, excessive reliance on deflection can hinder problem-solving, erode trust, and make deeper engagement challenging.

Why Do People Deflect?

Deflection typically arises from denial of true feelings or blame-shifting. People use deflection to dodge vulnerability, fearing judgment or criticism, or to maintain control in challenging situations. Deflection can also serve as a way to evade responsibility or place blame on others.

Deflection is often used in arguments as a way to shift focus away from oneself and onto another person or issue. People commonly divert the pressure from themselves by changing the subject, pointing out someone else’s flaws or presenting unrelated information to distract from the main issue at hand.

In some cases, deflection is purposefully used to manipulate others. Deflection has been combined with gaslighting, a manipulative tactic that involves making someone doubt their own perceptions, memories, or feelings. When deflection and gaslighting are used together, it can leave the targeted individual feeling confused and questioning their own reality, while the person using these tactics avoids responsibility and maintain control.

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Projection and Deflection: Two Common Defense Mechanisms

Projection and deflection are both defense mechanisms used to shield oneself from uncomfortable feelings or situations.

Projection involves attributing one’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors to someone else. For example, someone who is feeling guilty about cheating on a test may accuse their friend of doing the same thing, even if their friend is innocent. This allows the person to avoid confronting their own guilt and shame.

Deflection, on the other hand, involves avoiding talking about one’s own feelings or behavior by redirecting the conversation or attention elsewhere. For example, if someone is asked about their drinking habits, they may deflect by asking the other person about their own drinking habits, or by changing the subject entirely. This allows the person to avoid feeling vulnerable or exposed.

The Potential Consequences of Deflection

Deflection may result in reduced credibility, increased stress, damaged reputation, and negative effects on personal relationships. These consequences can lead to loneliness, isolation, limited support networks, and mental health challenges.

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Overcoming the Tendency to Deflect

To overcome the tendency to deflect, it’s essential to become aware of this behavior and contemplate why addressing the issue directly was uncomfortable.

Deflection might have become an ingrained habit, prompting a knee-jerk reaction.

Identify the feelings you are avoiding by deflecting, and take deep breaths to create space before responding to break the deflective habit.

Build resilience by increasing your tolerance for discomfort and practicing looking in to see how you truly feel prior to responding.

How to Respond to Someone Who Deflects

If someone in your life uses deflection as a defense mechanism, it can be frustrating and challenging to engage with them. Remember that deflection is often a sign that the person feels uncomfortable or afraid, and it’s not necessarily a reflection of their feelings about you or the situation.

Here are a few strategies to respond to deflection:

  • Practice active listening to understand the speaker’s message and identify when a conversation is being redirected.
  •  Remain calm and neutral. Avoid becoming defensive, accusatory, or critical in response to deflection.
  • Gently redirect the conversation back to the original topic, using open-ended questions to encourage the person to share their thoughts and feelings.
  • Validate the person’s feelings. Let the person know that you understand they may be feeling uncomfortable or vulnerable, and that it’s okay to have difficult conversations.
  • Set boundaries. If the person is deflecting in a way that is harmful or hurtful to you, it’s important to stand up for yourself and establish clear boundaries. Be assertive, not aggressive.
  • Be patient and persistent. Change takes time, and addressing deflection may require multiple attempts. Be patient and persistent when addressing difficult topics and guiding the conversation back to the issue at hand.
  • Encourage self-reflection. Discuss the reasons behind deflection and explore alternative coping mechanisms. This can help individuals better understand their behavior and work towards healthier communication strategies.
  • Offer support. Provide a listening ear, share resources, or suggest professional help if necessary, to help individuals address their deflection patterns.

In summary, understanding deflection in psychology and learning how to respond to it is vital for fostering healthy communication and relationships. By developing the skills to identify and manage deflection, encouraging open and honest communication, and offering support, we can work towards improved mental health and stronger connections with others.

Find Top-Rated Therapists

Breaking free from the defense mechanism of deflection can be challenging, but you don’t have to face this journey alone. Consider seeking help from compassionate therapists, like those at Manhattan Mental Health Counseling, who are experienced in assisting clients to overcome maladaptive defense mechanisms, address underlying causes and enhance overall well-being. Take the first step towards a more fulfilling life – contact us today by calling 212-960-8626 or by filling out our online contact form.