What exactly is deflection? It is when someone try’s to avoid taking accountability for their own actions by putting someone else into the spot light. People often do this when they feel backed into a corner and like they have no other option left. The intention behind this is often to make themselves look better by throwing someone else under the bus. Usually when people do this they also compare themselves to the person they have just thrown under the bus. For example they may say somerjinr like “Yes I did x, y and z but Bella did ______ so you should actually be mad at her because she did something far worse than me.”
A lot of people do this without even realising because it is a common defence mechanism. There are however also many who do this in attempt to manipulate you into thinking that you are being unfair so that they can get away with their actions. It is when I am around people who do this consistently that I understand why people are willing to pay NASA $125,000 USD to go on a 6 hour getaway into space via ‘Neptune’. This is a hydrogen filled space balloon that nasa plans on sending 100,000 feet away from Earth.
Deflecting is harmful because it shows the person that is expressing their feelings that you do not truly respect them. This is because during a moment where you should be actively listening and holding an open space for them to express their emotions, you are too fixated on invalidating their experience. Social scientists refer to this as ‘motivated reasoning’. There can be 20 different people at the same event however all 20 could share a very different experience and that is ok.
Everyone has different perspectives even if they are sharing the same reality and that’s fine, you can only meet each other to the best of your abilities. Adrian Bardon dives into this further in his book called ‘The Truth About Denial’ where he concludes that each individual’s political, religious or ethnic identity influences their ability to accept the same reality. So if you have a different identity to your neighbour (which, you obviously would because we are all different and all have had unique experiences in life) then you will both be living through the same COVID-19 experience, but may share different views and encounters about the same reality. This is why people react instinctively and aggressively to knowledge which contradicts their perception and understanding of the world.
The act of ‘deflection’ can also stems from childhood when children are not taught to take accountability for their actions. You will find this ‘comparing’ pattern very common in childhood. This pattern continues into adulthood due to an inability to take accountability. An example of how this forms to begin with may be if children are smacked when doing something wrong. Being smacked abruptly without truly understanding what you have done wrong to deserve a punishment can be very confusing for children therefore they do not understand how to take accountability for their actions because they were never taught. If children are just smacked while off guard, this teaches them to associate doing something wrong with confusion, shame, fear, mistrust and anger. This is why when these children become adults they struggle to take accountability for their actions; it is because they cannot fathom facing that many negative emotions all at once.
In opposition however if a child is notified of what they did wrong and made to explain their own understanding of what they did wrong then they begin to learn about consequences for their own actions. They are taught to take accountability for this action and then know that they are being punished as a result. Whether it is grounding or time out it does not matter, but as long as there is a deeper understanding behind the consequence.
Paul Slovic, a psychologist from the University of Oregon with decades of experience concludes that humans can only express empathy to a certain amount of things at a time. He conducted a study where he showed people photos of an individual child that is suffering versus millions of children that are suffering. The research results found that humans are more likely to help sponsor a child if they only see one photo of that child because they feel that they are making a difference and can tap into a lot of empathy for that one child.
In comparison however when shown millions of children that are suffering humans are not willing to sponsor even one child because the amount of people suffering is in comprehendible. His findings conclude that this is because being faced with too many negative things at once invokes a feeling of numbness resulting in faded or collapsed levels of compassion. In other words the more negative things we have to try and confront, the more desensitised we become.
This same concept can be applied to taking accountability. If you have really offended someone and they are trying to hold you accountable for doing x, y and z then you may become desensitised to everything that you have done because the action you committed may provoke numerous negative feelings all at once. This means that you may shut down. While this is deeply embedded into our nature as humans, it does not leave any room for personal growth. This is because if we are not held accountable for our own actions then we will never learn how to improve for future situations. For example if you enjoy intentionally humiliating people in social settings to make yourself feel more “powerful” or look “humorous” and you chooses to ignore this feedback on your limitation, you may be limiting your own opportunities to flourish in social settings. This can have many future implications. For example in a professional context you may lack the social skills for networking and could then miss out on an important career opportunity. Another example may be that you may lack interpersonal skills required for close friendships so you may feel isolated which could result in feelings of loneliness and depression.
In opposition however, if you chose to tackle your problems head first by stepping out of your comfort zone, then you could see this feedback as an opportunity for growth and positive change. This is called taking accountability for your own actions. No matter how uncomfortable some situations may be at times, I find this a very useful skill to develop because more often than not it will broaden your perspective and benefit you in ways you never imagined.
You can develop this skill by becoming more mindful of your tone when you speak to people. Secondly, by gaining feedback about how your actions make other people feel if you notice that you are not getting the response you were seeking. For example if you made a joke about a certain topic and did not pull in as many laughs as you thought you would maybe you can seek feedback. It could be that your joke was insensitive in some way. When you feel that something is off then it is a good habit to get into seeking feedback however do not confuse this with seeking constant external validation for everything you do because this is detrimental to your own confidence. It is important to accept and approve of yourself so you do not need anyone else’s approval when it comes to every little move that you make. If you feel however that you have wronged someone then following up by seeking feedback is a great example of taking accountability for your own actions. You could also tell someone that they made you feel uncomfortable and that is why you have acted a certain way, and this is also showing accountability. There are many different ways to be held responsible for your own actions, choose the methods that work best for you so that you can grow and improve. This is the recipe to working towards being the best possible version of yourself.