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Minimisation (psychology)

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Title: Minimisation (psychology)  
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Subject: Psychological manipulation, Abuse, Victimisation, Domestic violence, Narcissistic defences
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Minimisation (psychology)

Minimisation is a type of deception[1] involving denial coupled with rationalisation in situations where complete denial is implausible. It is the opposite of exaggeration.

Minimization – downplaying the significance of an event or emotion - is a common strategy in dealing with feelings of guilt.[2] Words associated with minimisation include:

Manipulative abuse

Minimization may take the form of a manipulative technique:

  • observed in abusers and manipulators to downplay their misdemeanors when confronted with irrefutable facts.[3][4]
  • observed in abusers and manipulators to downplay positive attributes (talents and skills etc.) of their victims and facilitate victim blaming.[5]

'Typical psychological defenses exhibited by stalkers and guilty criminal suspects include denial, rationalization, minimization and projection of blame onto the victim'.[6]

A variation on minimisation as a manipulative technique is "claiming altruistic motives" such as saying "I don't do this because I am selfish, and for gain, but because I am a socially aware person interested in the common good".[7]

Cognitive distortion

Minimization may also take the form of cognitive distortion:

  • that avoids acknowledging and dealing with negative emotions by reducing the importance and impact of events that give rise to those emotions.
  • that avoids conscious confrontation with the negative impacts of one's behavior on others by reducing the perception of such impacts.
  • that avoids interpersonal confrontation by reducing the perception of the impact of others' behavior on oneself.

It is frequently observed in victims of a trauma who use it to downplay that trauma so as to avoid worry and stress in themselves and others.[8]


  • saying that a taunt or insult was only a joke
  • a customer receiving a response to a complaint to a company for poor service being told that complaints like his from other customers were very rare when in fact they are common
  • suggesting that there are just a few bad apples or rogues in an organization when in reality problems are widespread and systemic (common in private corporations and nonprofit organizations, as well as in public government functions)


Understatement is a form of speech which contains an expression of less strength than what would be expected. Understatement is a staple of humour in English-speaking cultures, especially in British humour.

Related but separate is euphemism, where a polite phrase is used in place of a harsher or more offensive expression.[9]


Redefining events to downplay their significance can be an effective way of preserving one's self-esteem.[10] One of the problems of depression (found in those with clinical, bipolar, and chronic depressive mood disorders, as well as cyclothymia) is the tendency to do the reverse: minimising the positive, discounting praise,[11] and dismissing one's own accomplishments.[12] On the other hand, one technique used by Alfred Adler to combat neurosis was to minimize the excessive significance the neurotic attaches to his own symptoms[13] - the narcissistic gains derived from pride in one's own illness.[14]

Social minimisation

Display rules expressing a group's general consensus about the display of feeling often involve minimizing the amount of emotion one displays, as with a poker face.[15]

Social interchanges involving minor infringements often end with the 'victim' minimizing the offence with a comment like 'Think nothing of it',[16] using so-called 'reduction words',[17] such as 'no big deal,' 'only a little,' 'merely,' or 'just', the latter particularly useful in denying intent.[18] On a wider scale, renaming things in a more benign or neutral form — 'collateral damage' for death — is a form of minimisation.

Literary analogues

See also


  1. ^ Guerrero, L., Anderson, P., Afifi, W. (2007). Close Encounters: Communication in Relationships (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
  2. ^ Robert Hoyk/Paul Hersey, The Ethical Executive (2008) p. 68
  3. ^ Simon, George K. In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People (1996)
  4. ^ Minimization: Trivializing Behavior as a Manipulation Tactic
  5. ^ Discounting, Minimizing, and Trivializing
  6. ^ Abby Stein, Prologue to Violence (2006) p. 6
  7. ^ Kantor, Martin The Psychopathology of Everyday Life 2006
  8. ^ Blackman, Jerome 101 Defenses: How the Mind Shields Itself (2003)
  9. ^ Euphemism Webster's Online Dictionary.
  10. ^ E. R. Smith/D. M. Mackie, Social Psychology (Hove 2007) p. 136-9
  11. ^ Paul Gilbert, Overcoming Depression (London 1999) p. 63 and p. 98
  12. ^ Jacqui Lee Schiff, Cathexis Reader (New York 1975) p. 84-5
  13. ^ Alfred Adler, Superiority and Social Interest (1964) p. 192
  14. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 462
  15. ^ Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (London 1995) p. 113
  16. ^ Erving Goffman, Relations in Public (1972) p. 177
  17. ^ Robert Hoyk/Paul Hersey, The Ethical Executive (2008) p. 68-9
  18. ^ N. Symington, Narcissism' (1990) p. 116

Further reading

  • Henning, K & Holdford, R Minimization, Denial, and Victim Blaming by Batterers Criminal Justice and Behavior, Vol. 33, No. 1, 110-130 (2006)
  • Rogers, Richard & Dickey, Rob (March 1991) Denial and minimization among sex offenders Journal Sexual Abuse Vol 4, No 1: 49-63
  • Scott K Denial, Minimization, Partner Blaming, and Intimate Aggression in Dating Partners Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol. 22, No. 7, 851-871 (2007)
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