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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 is one of the most common ways we reduce our feelings of guilt..."It's not that big of a deal"'.[2] Words associated with minimisation include:

  • discounting
  • downplaying
  • euphemism
  • making light of
  • meiosis
  • minification
  • trivialising
  • understating

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'.[3]

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'.[4]


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'.[5]

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.[6][7]
  • observed in abusers and manipulators to downplay positive attributes (talents and skills etc.) of their victims and facilitate victim blaming.[8]

'Typical psychological defenses exhibited by stalkers include denial, minimization and projection of blame onto the victim'.[9]

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".[10]

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.
  • observed in victims of a trauma to downplay that trauma so as to avoid worry and stress in themselves and others.[11]


  • 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. 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.


Main article: Euphemism

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.[12]

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'[13] 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'.[14] In extreme cases of manic-depression, 'these individuals discount external reality at a high level, which facilitates the discounting of accomplishments'.[15]

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'.[16] What came to be called 'the "hierarchy of discounts"...existence, significance, change possibilities and personal activities '[17] was evolved, the highest automatically including those below: 'a discount of the existence of problems is equivalent to discounting the significance'.[18]

Adler's minimization

In a rather different usage, Alfred Adler spoke of his therapeutic technique of 'minimizing the significance of the must strive to debase the great significance which the neurotic attributes to his symptoms'.[19]

His target was what Freudians termed the neurotic's 'secondary gains...narcissistic gains through pride in illness'.[20]

Display rules

Main article: Display rules

'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'.[21]

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. Hoyk/Hersey, p. 68-9
  4. Hoyk/Hersey, p. 69
  5. Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (London 2003) p. 116
  6. Simon, George K. In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People (1996)
  7. Minimization: Trivializing Behavior as a Manipulation Tactic
  8. Discounting, Minimizing, and Trivializing
  9. Abby Stein, Prologue to Violence (2006) p. 6
  10. Kantor, Martin The Psychopathology of Everyday Life 2006
  11. Blackman, Jerome 101 Defenses: How the Mind Shields Itself (2003)
  12. Euphemism Webster's Online Dictionary.
  13. E. R. Smith/D. M. Mackie, Social Psychology (Hove 2007) p. 139 and p. 136
  14. Paul Gilbert, Overcoming Depression (London 1999) p. 63 and p. 98
  15. Jacqui Lee Schiff, Cathexis Reader 9New York 19750 p. 84-5
  16. R. G. Abell/C. W. Abell, Own Your Own Life (1977) p. 120-1
  17. I. Stewart/V. Joines, TA Today (1987) p. 185 and p. 182
  18. Stewart/Joines, p. 184-5
  19. Alfred Adler, Superiority and Social Interset (1964) p. 192
  20. Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 462
  21. Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (London 1995) p. 113

Further reading

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