Minimisation (psychology)

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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]

Manipulative abuse[edit]

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[edit]

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.


Main article: Understatement

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 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[edit]

Display rules expressing a local social consensus about feeling displays 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 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.

Other words associated with minimisation include:

Literary analogues[edit]

See also[edit]


  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[edit]