Minimisation (psychology)

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

Minimisation may take the form of a manipulative technique:

Typical psychological defences exhibited by stalkers and guilty criminal suspects include denial, rationalisation, minimisation 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

Minimisation may also take the form of cognitive distortion:


School bullying sometimes minimised as a prank

School bullying is one form of victimisation or physical abuse which has sometimes been unofficially encouraged, ritualised or even minimised as a sort of prank by teachers or peers. The main difference between pranks and bullying is establishment of power inequity between the bully and the victim that lasts beyond the duration of the act. [8]


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. In this humorous form, the understatement is expected to not be interpreted literally.

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 minimise 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 minimising the amount of emotion one displays, as with a poker face. [15] Social interchanges involving minor infringements often end with the 'victim' minimising 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

A scene in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail involving the Black Knight character, demonstrates an absurd level of minimisation. For example, the knight's response to his having his left arm severed is "It's just a flesh wound." Compare with the Monty Python Dirty Fork sketch, which is the opposite extreme of absurdity (catastrophisation).

See also

Related Research Articles

Psychological projection is a defence mechanism of alterity concerning "inside" content mistaken to be coming from the "outside" Other. It forms the basis of empathy by the projection of personal experiences to understand someone else's subjective world. In its malignant forms, it is a defense mechanism in which the ego defends itself against disowned and highly negative parts of the self by denying their existence in themselves and attributing them to others, breeding misunderstanding and causing untold interpersonal damage. A bully may project their own feelings of vulnerability onto the target, or a person who is confused may project feelings of confusion and inadequacy onto other people. Projection incorporates blame shifting and can manifest as shame dumping. Projection has been described as an early phase of introjection.

Blame is the act of censuring, holding responsible, or making negative statements about an individual or group that their actions or inaction are socially or morally irresponsible, the opposite of praise. When someone is morally responsible for doing something wrong, their action is blameworthy. By contrast, when someone is morally responsible for doing something right, it may be said that his or her action is praiseworthy. There are other senses of praise and blame that are not ethically relevant. One may praise someone's good dress sense, and blame their own sense of style for their own dress sense.

Abuse is the improper usage or treatment of a thing, often to unfairly or improperly gain benefit. Abuse can come in many forms, such as: physical or verbal maltreatment, injury, assault, violation, rape, unjust practices, crimes, or other types of aggression. To these descriptions, one can also add the Kantian notion of the wrongness of using another human being as means to an end rather than as ends in themselves. Some sources describe abuse as "socially constructed", which means there may be more or less recognition of the suffering of a victim at different times and societies.

Psychological abuse, often called emotional abuse, is a form of abuse characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another person to a behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Silent treatment</span> Refusal to communicate verbally with someone who desires the communication

Silent treatment is the refusal to communicate verbally and electronically with someone who is trying to communicate and elicit a response. It may range from just sulking to malevolent abusive controlling behaviour. It may be a passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse in which displeasure, disapproval and contempt is exhibited through nonverbal gestures while maintaining verbal silence. Clinical psychologist Harriet Braiker identifies it as a form of manipulative punishment. It may be used as a form of social rejection; according to the social psychologist Kipling Williams it is the most common form of ostracism.

Coping refers to conscious strategies used to reduce unpleasant emotions. Coping strategies can be cognitions or behaviours and can be individual or social.

Verbal abuse is a type of psychological/mental abuse that involves the use of oral, gestured, and written language directed to a victim. Verbal abuse can include the act of harassing, labeling, insulting, scolding, rebuking, or excessive yelling towards an individual. It can also include the use of derogatory terms, the delivery of statements intended to frighten, humiliate, denigrate, or belittle a person. These kinds of attacks may result in mental and/or emotional distress for the victim.

Workplace bullying is a persistent pattern of mistreatment from others in the workplace that causes either physical or emotional harm. It can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, and physical abuse, as well as humiliation. This type of workplace aggression is particularly difficult because, unlike the typical school bully, workplace bullies often operate within the established rules and policies of their organization and their society. In the majority of cases, bullying in the workplace is reported as having been done by someone who has authority over the victim. However, bullies can also be peers, and rarely subordinates.

Mind games are actions performed for reasons of psychological one-upmanship, often employing passive–aggressive behavior to specifically demoralize or dis-empower the thinking subject, making the aggressor look superior. It also describes the unconscious games played by people engaged in ulterior transactions of which they are not fully aware, and which transactional analysis considers to form a central element of social life all over the world.

Moral disengagement is a meaning from social psychology for the process of convincing the self that ethical standards do not apply to oneself in a particular context. This is done by separating moral reactions from inhumane conduct and disabling the mechanism of self-condemnation. Thus, moral disengagement involves a process of cognitive re-construing or re-framing of destructive behavior as being morally acceptable without changing the behavior or the moral standards.

In psychology, manipulation is defined as subterfuge designed to influence or control another, usually in a manner which facilitates one's personal aims. Definitions for the term vary in which behavior is specifically included, influenced by both culture and whether referring to the general population or used in clinical contexts. Manipulation is generally considered a dishonest form of social influence as it is used at the expense of others.

Relational transgressions occur when people violate implicit or explicit relational rules. These transgressions include a wide variety of behaviors. The boundaries of relational transgressions are permeable. Betrayal for example, is often used as a synonym for a relational transgression. In some instances, betrayal can be defined as a rule violation that is traumatic to a relationship, and in other instances as destructive conflict or reference to infidelity.

Playing the victim is the fabrication or exaggeration of victimhood for a variety of reasons such as to justify abuse to others, to manipulate others, a coping strategy, attention seeking or diffusion of responsibility. A person who repeatedly does this is known as a "professional victim".

The effects of domestic violence on children have a tremendous impact on the well-being and developmental growth of children witnessing it. Children who witness domestic violence in the home often believe that they are to blame, live in a constant state of fear, and are 15 times more likely to be victims of child abuse. Close observation during an interaction can alert providers to the need for further investigation and intervention, such as dysfunctions in the physical, behavioral, emotional, and social areas of life, and can aid in early intervention and assistance for child victims.

Setting up to fail is a phrase denoting a no-win situation designed in such a way that the person in the situation cannot succeed at the task which they have been assigned. It is considered a form of workplace bullying.

Abusive power and control is behavior used by an abusive person to gain and/or maintain control over another person. Abusers are commonly motivated by devaluation, personal gain, personal gratification, psychological projection, or the enjoyment of exercising power and control. The victims of this behavior are often subject to psychological, physical, mental, sexual, or financial abuse.

Bullying is abusive social interaction between peers can include aggression, harassment, and violence. Bullying is typically repetitive and enacted by those who are in a position of power over the victim. A growing body of research illustrates a significant relationship between bullying and emotional intelligence.

Machiavellianism in the workplace is a concept studied by many organizational psychologists. Conceptualized originally by Richard Christie and Florence Geis, Machiavellianism refers to a psychological trait concept where individuals behave in a cold and duplicitous manner. It has in recent times been adapted and applied to the context of the workplace and organizations by many writers and academics.

DARVO is a reaction that perpetrators of wrongdoing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior. Some researchers indicate that it is a common manipulation strategy of psychological abusers.

Denial or abnegation is a psychological defense mechanism postulated by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.


  1. Guerrero, L., Anderson, P., Afifi, W. (2007). Close Encounters: Communication in Relationships (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications. ISBN   978-1412949538
  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)[ ISBN missing ][ page needed ]
  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 Psychopathy of Everyday Life 2006 [ ISBN missing ]
  8. Goldsmid, S.; Howie, P. (2014). "Bullying by definition: An examination of definitional components of bullying". Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. 19 (2): 210–225. doi:10.1080/13632752.2013.844414. S2CID   145146347.
  9. Euphemism Webster's Online Dictionary.
  10. E. R. Smith/D. M. Mackie, Social Psychology (Hove 2007) pp. 136–139
  11. Paul Gilbert, Overcoming Depression (London 1999) pp. 63, 98
  12. Jacqui Lee Schiff, Cathexis Reader (New York 1975) pp. 84–85
  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) pp. 68–69
  18. N. Symington, Narcissism (1990) p. 116

Further reading