Siege mentality

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Siege mentality is a shared feeling of victimization and defensiveness—a term derived from the actual experience of military defences of real sieges. It is a collective state of mind whereby a group of people believes themselves constantly attacked, oppressed, or isolated in the face of the negative intentions of the rest of the world. Although a group phenomenon, the term describes both the emotions and thoughts of the group as a whole, and as individuals.[1]

The result is a state of being overly fearful of surrounding peoples, and an intractably defensive attitude.[2]


Among the consequences of a siege mentality are black and white thinking, social conformity, and lack of trust, but also a preparedness for the worst and a strong sense of social cohesion.[3]


At a national level, siege mentalities existed in Bolshevik Russia, Communist Albania, Rhodesia, Apartheid South Africa, and recently in Syria from 2011 to 2013[4] as a result of ideological isolation; while a similar mentality is currently to be seen in Bahrain, Cuba, North Korea, Russia, Sudan, Israel,[5] and Venezuela where it is arguably encouraged by the leadership to help justify their continuance in power.[6]

Sociologically, the term may refer to persecution feelings by anyone in a group that views itself as a threatened minority, as with the early psychoanalysts.[7] This can be used for example in the field of sports, where coaches or managers often create a siege mentality in their players by highlighting an environment of hostility from outside the club (whether the hostility is real or exaggerated is irrelevant).

Siege mentalities are particularly common in business, the result of competition or downsizing, though here the (smaller-scale) alternative of "bunker mentality" (analogous to soldiers who have taken shelter in a bunker) may be used.[8] Some religious groups may have this paradigm, particularly if they are not traditional mainstream groups.[9]

Literary analogies

Seamus Heaney used the phrase “Besieged within the siege”[10] to describe the feeling of the beleaguered Catholic minority in Northern Ireland within the broader siege mentality of the Protestant community itself.[11]

See also

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Related psychological behaviours:


  1. D. J. Christie, The Encyclopedia of peace Psychology v1 (2011) p. 997
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  3. Christie, p. 998
  4. Christie, p. 997
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  7. A. Samuels, The Father (1985) p. 8
  8. C. Sargeant, From Buddy to Boss (2006) p. 366
  9. J. R. Lewis, Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements (2004) p. 151
  10. Seamus Heaney, Opened Ground (1998) p. 133
  11. M. Parker, Seamus Heaney (1993) p. 145

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