What Is Siege Mentality?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021
3 min read

When the world gets frightening and confusing, people often look for ways to break down the events around them and make them simpler. You may start to view situations through a more black-and-white lens than normal, a state of mind called siege mentality. This can lead people to shut themselves off from others they don’t think of as being like themselves. 

The main idea behind siege mentality is to give yourself an identity that gives you stability in an uncertain world. 

Siege mentality is a concept found in different societies around the world. People may feel they are under attack by those with different worldviews. The focus becomes protecting and defending themselves against those they believe want to destroy their way of life.

Siege mentality in politics. Society leaders may deliberately draw on siege mentality to hold on to power. They typically present people outside of their region as those who want to harm them, and the leader becomes the only thing standing between the people and assured destruction. It’s a philosophy sometimes relied on by authoritarian leaders.

Siege mentality during global threats. Events like the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic can present an opportunity for siege mentality to happen. Many people had the foundations of their lives ripped away because of the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. In some places, people stuck to those they knew and avoided anyone outside of the group. Those practices played out in different parts of the world while people struggled to adjust to a new way of life.

The pandemic brought loss of jobs and the breakup of social networks. People found themselves working from home and stepping in as educators for their children when schools closed. High school and college graduates found themselves faced with an uncertain future. 

The cancellation of graduation ceremonies and shutdown of college campuses forced many young people to put off going off to college and stay home. In addition, many high school students found themselves unable to find summer jobs or after-school work to save money for future plans. College graduates faced an uncertain job market that didn’t seem to be getting better — one that challenged the fallout of the 2008 market crash.

The lack of identity created by these various factors around COVID-19 caused many individuals to start viewing the world through a prism of a siege mentality. That led to different conspiracy theories springing up around the virus's cause and who was responsible. Some people felt more in control if there were another group to blame. 

The protracted length of the COVID pandemic has meant that some people have held onto the siege mentality they may have adopted. 

Ongoing siege mentality can gradually drain you of the ability to view anyone outside of your group in a positive light. Those resentments may also play out within your social circle. Growing feelings of anger can get you to a place where your only response is “No,” and you can only resist when faced with changes to your routine. People stuck in a siege mentality typically fear losing control of a situation.

You can be a group of one and feel the effects of siege mentality. You may feel overwhelmed at work and find yourself resisting any efforts to work with others so that you can stay in control. You may keep on resisting those who might be able to help you.