Many ideas in the world are expressed as binaries—good and bad, black and white, truth and lie. Yet many concepts expressed in binaries often have a variety of options in the middle, creating a spectrum. Learning to be comfortable with the spectrum is an important part of development; however, in certain situations, people will hold onto the binary, particularly one side, and begin to view the other side as an enemy. This is known as siege mentality.
Siege mentality has become more apparent and more discussed as of late with the current political climate in the United States and many other countries. Understanding what siege mentality is, what causes it, and its effects on a personal and societal level can be beneficial for anyone trying to navigate life as we know it. This article will explore these questions and help create an understanding of siege mentality that can be applied whenever it is encountered.
What Siege Mentality Is:
Siege mentality is a term for the idea that one person is right, and everyone else in the world is out to get them. It creates a sense of defensiveness when a viewpoint is challenged. Those operating from a siege mentality will often bond with others who share a common viewpoint and will create groups that center around this shared idea. An important distinction between siege mentality and other deeply held beliefs is that it does not just hold onto a viewpoint with certainty, but it views the rest of the world as acting negatively toward them. Anyone who thinks differently than the shared or common idea is viewed as evil or acting with negative intent. Every action toward the group is viewed as an attack, and members of the group will often feel oppressed or isolated. It creates a very strong ‘us vs. them’ mentality that drives the group closer together and isolates them further from others.
Examples of Siege Mentality:
To better understand siege mentality, it can be helpful to work through some examples where the phenomenon may arise. There are several common issues or topics where this mentality may arise. These include:
- Politics: This is the most common example of what siege mentality may look like. Politics in the United States operate under a two-party system for the most part, and each party tends to view the other party as an oppressor and attacker. Current events being as they are, it has pushed the respective groups closer together and created a further divide between the parties.
- Religion: Some religions create a narrative of people outside of the religion that can give rise to siege mentality. This is common in extreme religious groups that are frequently considered cults, but it can arise as a subset of any religion. Importantly, it is only a siege mentality if the people that are in the religion are not being targeted and attacked by others.
- Sports: On a less serious note, siege mentality may find its way into sports and fans. It can be common for fans of a team to band together against anyone who is a fan of another team, especially a rival. Coaches will also use a form of siege mentality when working up their players to beat the other team.
Siege mentality results any time a person or a group of people unite around a similar idea and see any action taken in response to that idea as an attack.
Causes of Siege Mentality:
Because it is a sociological and psychological idea that has been studied, there are some theories for common causes of siege mentality. Siege mentality can be caused by a wide variety of factors, but some specific instances may drive a simple idea or thought from harmless into siege mentality. These common causes are:
- Perceived Persecution: A common cause of siege mentality is an action that the group perceives as persecution or maltreatment. This often occurs when the outside world takes an action against the group, typically in response to an action that the group has taken, but the group sees this action as mistreatment or persecution. An important note here is that there are often instances of real persecution, but siege mentality results when the group views a reasonable action as persecution.
- Isolation: When a group of people with a similar idea is isolated from the rest of the world, siege mentality will often start to set in. The more isolated that a group becomes, the more convinced they will become of their ideas and less able to reintegrate back into the larger society. This can happen within a community, or it can happen on a larger scale, such as whole countries isolating themselves from others.
- Shared Experiences: Another thing that can cause siege mentality is shared past experiences among group members that bind them together and further isolate them from the rest of the world and influence how they interact with society.
Some other instances and experiences may cause siege mentality; however, one or more of these factors is often a driving force behind the development of siege mentality.
The Effects of Siege Mentality:
Now that siege mentality can be recognized and the causes of it have been discussed, it is also important to understand the effects it can have on both a personal and societal level. Siege mentality can be damaging in both a personal sense and a societal sense, so it is important to notice the effects early on before they become more drastic. The most common effects of siege mentality include:
- Resistant to Outside Information: Because siege mentality creates a group that is pitted against another, the group can become resistant to outside information in such a way that they see any communication as having malicious or negative intent toward them. This results in refusing to accept any news or information from anyone outside the group.
- Negative Feelings Toward Others: Those operating from a siege mentality will view the “others” in a negative light. They will often treat those on the outside as less than and begin to believe that they are not as good as the people in the group. This can lead to hateful actions toward others.
- Conformity: Another common effect of siege mentality is conformity of the group. The leaders will pressure others in the group to begin to look, act, and think with a certain idea of what they should be. This can be disguised as a “unity” rallying cry and may result in cover-ups of disagreements and mobilization toward anyone else outside the group.
- Preparation for Disaster: Because siege mentality creates an understanding that anyone and everyone is against the group, it can also include a lot of pessimism and preparation for the worst possible scenario. Siege mentality groups often feel that they are constantly at risk of attack and must prepare for the attack when it comes.
- Panic without Control: Siege mentality needs to control the situation at hand, or at the very least appear to control it from the point of view of the members of the group. If the people in the group feel that they are losing control, they may become angry and resistant to any additional task.
Noticing these characteristics within a group will often signal that there is a form of siege mentality happening within the group that needs to be addressed.
Siege mentality has found its way into many of our groups and daily life. Understanding that siege mentality often comes from a place of trauma or reaction to a negative experience can often help us to have compassion toward those that are stuck in a siege mentality. Noticing a siege mentality and its potential causes of it may help avoid or move out of a siege mentality mindset, both in a personal and societal sense. Siege mentality can cause many issues to arise, but with the proper identification and care, it can be overcome.
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