Defiant Pattern

Interpersonal Behavior

zRefuses to follow directions or suggestions. 

Rebels against power, authority, and majority. 

Oppositional, argumentative, angry, blaming, competitive.

Rigid boundaries. Makes sure not to be taken advantage of.

Can be over-protective of others, especially against authority.


Group, Community, Organizational, and Work Behavior

Defies those in formal positions of authority

Sometimes also defies the group, goes against whatever the group decides

Often an outsider in whatever group he belongs to

Devils advocate. Disagrees for the sake of disagreeing

May try to engage others in rebellion, form splinter group, leave the company as a group

Has a need to do things his own way. Iconoclast.

 Doesn't pay attention to traditions or previous work by others.


Social Change Behavior

Sees those in power as evil and social change as a struggle against them

Leader of revolts and rebellions

Always fights against destructive things, never proactive in creating healthy alternatives

Tendency to break away from social movement or organization and form splinter group

If rebellion is successful and he comes into power or respectability, may be lost



Fear of being controlled or otherwise harmed.

Can be defiant to avoid taking in caring, if the underlying core issue is violation.


Core Issues/Origins

Harm, especially being controlled

Can be modeled on defiant parent or subculture.


Conscious Statement

Don’t tell me what to do.


Unconscious Thought

If I allow others to be in charge, I will be harmed (controlled). 



Self: assertive, self-protective

Other: harmful, controlling


Healthy Capacities Blocked

True individuation, trust, vulnerability, cooperation.

Sometimes connectedness, ability to take in.



More frequent in men.

Also common in members of oppressed groups who have been liberated.

Common with teenagers.


Activating Conditions

Situation with authority figures, controlling people.

Majority rule situations or strict social norms.

Situations requiring cooperation or surrender.



The angry pattern is a more general reaction to anything that triggers old rage, while the defiant pattern involves anger in the service of not being controlled.

The controlling pattern is also afraid of domination or harm, but goes further than defiance.

The passive-aggressive pattern is also defiant, but it is done indirectly and passively.

Defensive pattern may defy but the motive is to avoid feeling at fault.

Isolated pattern involves fear of closeness, while defiant involves fear of being controlled.

Suspicious pattern reacts to what aggression may be hidden while defiant pattern reacts to power taken directly.

Assertiveness is a healthy capacity that sometimes involves defying authority. However, this is done out of a real sense of disagreeing with the authority or setting limits on abuse of authority or asserting one’s genuine desires, rather than out of a need to defy for deeper reasons.




Black Sheep

Acts out a negative role in society. (This doesn’t include people who are breaking societal norms in really being themselves.)

Derives from being told by parents that he is bad in a certain way. He takes this on partly through internalization and partly to punish parents for not accepting him.


Combinations of Defiant Pattern with Other Patterns

Controlling: Defies by being in charge.

Isolated: Isolates by defiance

Suspicious: Provokes by defiance

Prideful: Defiance triggered when others have higher status

Codependent: Defies authorities to take care of underdog

Defensive: Defies in order to defend against underlying shame

Angry: Defies with rage

Judgmental: Argumentative. Defies by blaming the authority




Boundaries: Defiant and isolated patterns are over-bounded. Codependent, entitled, victim, and compliant are under-bounded.



People with issues of being violated or controlled may be attracted to defiant people because of their clear boundaries.


Defense Cycles

A defiant person can get into a defense cycle with a controlling or entitled client. The controlling behavior will trigger the defiance, and the defiant client’s anger may trigger the other client’s fears causing them to be even more controlling.

A defiant person can get into a defense cycle with a victim client. The victim’s indirect demands for caring can trigger defiance, and the defiance can make the victim feel abandoned, triggering even more victim behavior.


Healing Steps

As passive-aggressive or compliant clients grow, they may temporarily become defiant.


Parent/Child Interactions

A defiant parent who protects himself too much from a child’s needs and demands may produce a child with neediness, abandonment, or insecurity issues.



Transference toward Therapist

Resists therapists suggestions and interpretations directly

Challenges or even attacks therapist.


Countertransference toward Defiant Client

Resentment at resistance. Getting into power struggles with client.

Defensiveness when challenged or attacked.


Countertransference of Defiant Therapist

Difficulty in giving power to client or group when necessary, such as when group moves through conflict stage and takes more power.

Gets into power struggles with defiant, entitled, or controlling clients.


Group Roles/Positions, Strengths of some Defiant Clients

Can be leader of group rebellion.

Can initiate conflict or challenge of authority or challenge of group norms when this is needed, such as beginning of conflict stage or if norms have become restrictive.

Can get into scapegoat role if defiance is extreme and directed toward group.




Understanding Needed by Client

That the defiance is oppositional rather than just the client’s feelings or a natural reaction to domination.


Access (core issue)

Harm issue


Access (healthy capacity)

True desires, opinions, and feelings


Healing Reponses

Collaborating with client while respecting his autonomy and safety, 

e.g. ask client what he wants from therapy

e.g. ask client if he wants to try experiment before suggesting


Inner Healing

Receptivity to others, cooperation


Potential Problems 

Defiance disrupts therapeutic alliance

  • Take challenges seriously and admit any fault.

Make sure client feels it is OK to challenge and defy.

Move discussion to real emotional and power issues rather than technical questions about therapist’s skill. 

Gently engage client in exploration of his feeling reaction to therapist’s power, aiming toward his understanding the defiance and accessing origins 

Client engages other group members in rebellion against group leader

  • Don’t get defensive. Deal as above with one at a time