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 in which a group of people believe 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.
The result is a state of being overly fearful of surrounding peoples, and an intractably defensive attitude.
At a national level, siege mentalities existed in Soviet Union, Communist Albania, Rhodesia, Apartheid South Africa, and Northern Ireland during The Troubles, as a result of ideological or political isolation. The presence of siege mentality has also been described in countries such as People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Russia, United States, West Bank, Israel, Venezuela and Poland, where it is arguably encouraged by both the government—to help justify their continuance in power—or the opposition—to help justify their overthrowing the government through violent means.
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. 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. Some religious groups may have this paradigm, particularly if they are not traditional mainstream groups.
Seamus Heaney used the phrase "Besieged within the siege" to describe the feeling of the beleaguered Catholic minority in Northern Ireland within the broader siege mentality of the Protestant community itself.
Related psychological behaviours:
- Defence mechanisms: can arise when one feels the need to defend oneself while being under siege.
- Persecution complex: may develop because one feels victimized or the need to defend against an outgroup.
- D. J. Christie, The Encyclopedia of peace Psychology v1 (2011) p. 997
- "What the Siege Mentality Is". www.beyondintractability.org. Retrieved 2008-03-05.
- Christie, p. 998
- "The Siege Mentality Problem". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
- "Israel's siege mentality". The Economist. The Economist Newspaper Limited. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
- Soong-hoom Kil, Chung-in Moon (2001). Understanding Korean Politics: An Introduction. SUNY Press. p. 295. ISBN 0-7914-4890-8.
- A. Samuels, The Father (1985) p. 8
- C. Sargeant, From Buddy to Boss (2006) p. 366
- J. R. Lewis, Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements (2004) p. 151
- Seamus Heaney, Opened Ground (1998) p. 123, 'Whatever you say, say nothing'
- M. Parker, Seamus Heaney (1993) p. 145
- Pesterev, V. (2015). Siberian frontier: the territory of fear. Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), London.