Minimisation (psychology)

For other uses, see Minimisation.

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:

'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:


School bullying sometimes minimised as a prank

School bullying is one form of victimization or physical abuse which has sometimes been unofficially encouraged, ritualized 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]


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 (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. 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.
  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

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