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- 1 Reduction words and renaming
- 2 Characteristics
- 3 Understatement
- 4 Euphemism
- 5 Depression and self-esteem
- 6 Transactional analysis: discounting
- 7 Adler's minimization
- 8 Display rules
- 9 Literary analogues
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
Reduction words and renaming
'Reduction words...are words that we often use to minimize unethical behavior: sort of/barely/no big deal/not more than/only a little/all I did was/kind of/once/just/merely'.
Similarly ' renaming is the use of benign or benevolent words to replace words that have negative connotations...using the word "collateral damage" removes us from the horror of its meaning'.
Minimisation may take a number of forms and appear in several different contexts.
Minimisation of intentionality
Minimisation may take the form of a denial of intentionality. '"I just opened my umbrella", said the man who hit the woman in the eye with it. "Just" is the great give-away word. Listen to how often you hear it. The word "just" is supposed to mean that the action had no source..."Concreteness" is the psychiatric term used to refer to such action divorced within from the source'.
Minimization may take the form of a manipulative technique:
- observed in abusers and manipulators to downplay their misdemeanors when confronted with irrefutable facts.
- observed in abusers and manipulators to downplay positive attributes (talents and skills etc.) of their victims and facilitate victim blaming.
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".
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.
- 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.
Understatement is a form of speech which contains an expression of less strength than what would be expected. This is not to be confused with euphemism, where a polite phrase is used in place of a harsher or more offensive expression. Understatement is a staple of humour in English-speaking cultures, especially in British humour.
A euphemism is the substitution of a frank expression that might offend or otherwise suggest something unpleasant to the audience, for a mild, inoffensive, relatively uncontroversial phrase.
Depression and self-esteem
It is a normal reaction that 'when threatened by external events or negative feedback, people must defend their sense of who and what they are', and one strategy is 'redefinition of an event's importance...[to] downplay importance' of the event.
One of the problems of depression is that a reverse tendency appears: 'when we are depressed, we often discount the small positive things we do...discounting or dismissing praise'. In extreme cases of manic-depression, 'these individuals discount external reality at a high level, which facilitates the discounting of accomplishments'.
Transactional analysis: discounting
Post-Bernian transactional analysis explored the role played by discounting in maintaining dependency relationships: 'the discounting of the child by the parent figure, initially by the real parent and later by the child's internalized parent. When one person discounts another, he acts as if what he feels is more important than what the other person feels, says or does'. What came to be called 'the "hierarchy of discounts"...existence, significance, change possibilities and personal activities ' was evolved, the highest automatically including those below: 'a discount of the existence of problems is equivalent to discounting the significance'.
In a rather different usage, Alfred Adler spoke of his therapeutic technique of 'minimizing the significance of the symptoms...you must strive to debase the great significance which the neurotic attributes to his symptoms'.
'The social consensus about which feelings can be properly shown when' has been called 'display rules. One is minimizing the display of emotion...mask[ing] their upset with a poker face. Another is exaggerating what one feels by magnifying the emotional expression'.
- 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 "'Tis but a scratch". Compare with the Monty Python Dirty Fork sketch which is the opposite extreme of absurdity (catastrophization).
- Guerrero, L., Anderson, P., Afifi, W. (2007). Close Encounters: Communication in Relationships (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
- Robert Hoyk/Paul Hersey, The Ethical Executive (2008) p. 68
- Hoyk/Hersey, p. 68-9
- Hoyk/Hersey, p. 69
- Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (London 2003) p. 116
- Simon, George K. In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People (1996)
- Minimization: Trivializing Behavior as a Manipulation Tactic
- Discounting, Minimizing, and Trivializing
- Abby Stein, Prologue to Violence (2006) p. 6
- Kantor, Martin The Psychopathology of Everyday Life 2006
- Blackman, Jerome 101 Defenses: How the Mind Shields Itself (2003)
- Euphemism Webster's Online Dictionary.
- E. R. Smith/D. M. Mackie, Social Psychology (Hove 2007) p. 139 and p. 136
- Paul Gilbert, Overcoming Depression (London 1999) p. 63 and p. 98
- Jacqui Lee Schiff, Cathexis Reader 9New York 19750 p. 84-5
- R. G. Abell/C. W. Abell, Own Your Own Life (1977) p. 120-1
- I. Stewart/V. Joines, TA Today (1987) p. 185 and p. 182
- Stewart/Joines, p. 184-5
- Alfred Adler, Superiority and Social Interest (1964) p. 192
- Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 462
- Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (London 1995) p. 113
- 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)