Psychology Deflection as a Defense Mechanism Learn why people deflect and how to deal with people who do it By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. Learn about our editorial process Updated on February 28, 2023 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Vladimir Vladimirov / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Examples Why People Deflect Is It Gaslighting or Abuse? How Can You Tell If Someone Is Deflecting? How to Deal 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 deflection. 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.” Signs of Manipulation in Relationships 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. Aimee Daramus, PsyD 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 on to something else. — Aimee Daramus, PsyD 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: Deflection can be a form of gaslighting, because it attempts to distort reality. Narcissistic abuse: 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. What Is a Toxic Relationship? 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 Making it your job to accept them, flaws and all, no matter how it affects you Why It's Important to Apologize in Relationships 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. How to Improve Your Relationships With Effective Communication Skills A Word From Verywell 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. How to Stop Being Defensive 3 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. David S, Hareli S, Hess U. The influence on perceptions of truthfulness of the emotional expressions shown when talking about failure. Eur J Psychol. 2015;11(1):125-138. doi:10.5964/ejop.v11i1.877 Kaler-Jones C, Briscoe KL, Moore CM, Ford JR. Yes, teaching and pedagogical practices matter: graduate students' of color stories in hybrid higher education/student affairs (HESA) graduate programs. Urban Rev. 2022;1-20. doi:10.1007/s11256-022-00645-2 Krusemark EA, Lee C, Newman JP. Narcissism dimensions differentially moderate selective attention to evaluative stimuli in incarcerated offenders. Personal Disord. 2015;6(1):12-21. doi:10.1037/per0000087 By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.