Deflection is a go-to defense mechanism that started in the Garden of Eden. Adam deflected onto Eve and Eve onto the snake. I’m not the bad guy here. He or she is the bad guy! In order to avoid unpleasant emotions or realities in our lives, we distract ourselves and others from the source of the difficulty. Instead, we change the conversation to something else entirely. For some of us, being thought of as the bad guy is the worst fate possible
Anyone with children sees this in action daily. If Mommy reprimands Jimmy for hitting his brother, Jimmy will use deflection to draw the attention from himself. Mommy, but Billy hit me first! In order to really understand deflection, we need to look at it from a logical standpoint before we can approach the emotional fallout that results. In college composition courses, I point out deflection as the logical fallacy it is.
Fallacies of distraction include the red herring and the appeal to ridicule. If I can introduce an entirely unrelated topic into the conversation or if I can mock the person making their case, I have successfully derailed their argument. I put them on the defensive and distracted them from the point they were trying to make. In politics, these tactics are pretty widespread and generally cause confusion in the audience and bickering among the talking heads on television.
But in personal life, relationships can become permanently ruptured by deflection. Abusers are often guilty of this tactic, but so can anyone who has ever needed to own up to a mistake or a problem. The two worst-case scenarios of distraction include gas-lighting and blame-shifting. I remember that one of the first major revelations I had that lead to my freedom from an abusive relationship was the recognition that I was not responsible for my ex-husband’s happiness.
The scene still plays out in my head occasionally because it heralded major changes in my emotional life. My ex sat on the stairs in his parent’s log cabin. He had just gone through one of his tirades. I looked at him and said I am not responsible for your happiness. You are. He paused for a moment. This statement threw a wrench in his monologue. He stared at me for a moment and then came the deflection. Maybe not, but are you responsible for my unhappiness? Shots fired, he turned his back to me and marched off as if he had won the fight. But in truth, he had just confirmed my suspicions. He could not or would not claim responsibility for his own life.
Deflection is a double-edged sword, however. A parent whose self-concept is fragile can often unwittingly emotionally and mentally abuse their child. Parenting is filled with failures. We get tired and busy. Sometimes we lose our temper or over-discipline for a minor infraction. Sometimes we just plain yell. And children react. A mature parent will recognize that one does apologize to their children relatively often, even if it is just for being preoccupied and not listening.
If instead of accepting the hit of not winning the parent of the year award, we focus our anxiety or shame on their reaction to our behavior, we invalidate their experience. Children’s emotional and mental experiences need to be validated for normal development. If they are not, damage is done. They will become adults who do not believe their feelings and do not listen to their gut. After all, their parents taught them that any negative emotions were to be feared and suppressed. The children become the stewards of their parents’ emotions instead of their own.
So how to deal with this devilish tactic before it creates havoc? That depends on who is deflecting.
Deflection scenario 1- Are you the deflector?
Are you often defensive? Do others perceive you as critical? Are you a chronic analyzer of other’s faults? You may be guilty of deflection. The heart of deflection is the avoidance of shame. When someone comes to us with a problem they have with us, our deep-seated shame issues are triggered. Distraction serves to keep us from confronting that core of shame. Another word for it is denial.
If you recognize yourself as someone who deflects regularly, then congratulations. You are already on the road to recovery. But you have some work to do. I found that for myself, teaching myself to experience my emotions without fear took some time. I confronted the shame and lack of self-worth and little by little, the Lord set me free from the lies. Accepting my faults, forgiving myself, and letting go of the shame has been a process, but I highly recommend it for anyone who is serious about their mental and emotional health.
Deflection scenario 2- Are your concerns regularly deflected by those in your life?
Married couples often practice deflection in their habitual fights. Habitual fights are the ones that we have over and over. Ostensibly, the fight appears to be about money or the in-laws. The real fight, however, is about validation. You never listen to me is the underlying issue more often than not. That may or may not be true, depending on who is saying it.
If you have a chronic problem that you want to address in your marriage, but your spouse continually comes back with a litany of your faults, you have a deflection issue. But here are some truths about what you can and cannot do within your relationships:
- You can call them out on their deflection. Keep the main point the main point.
- You can’t make them accept responsibility. Deflection is a flat out refusal to be accountable for one’s own actions.
- Your feelings are valid even if they do not recognize them.
- You can’t make them change.
If you are in a relationship with a chronic deflector, you have only a few options. I really recommend communicating your true feelings often. It may make your partner uncomfortable, but if something they are doing causes you pain, they need to know. Refuse changes in the subject at hand. Make a rule together about one topic at a time. His overspending is not the same topic as her constant lack of punctuality. The two faults are separate and must be dealt with as such. One behavior does not justify or invalidate the other.
Ultimately, turning away from deflection is to take the hard road towards growth. But don’t fool yourselves into thinking that denial saves you pain. It merely postpones the reckoning we all face in the sowing and reaping of our actions. The opposite of deflection is reflection. Self-awareness creates a path to wholeness while deflection fragments our relationships and our own souls.