The first time I came across the psychological concept of minimizing, I was reading a self-help book. And as I read, I found myself scoffing in disbelief and reluctant acceptance. Oh. That’s me. At its core, minimizing is the opposite of exaggerating; underselling versus overselling. It’s a not-so-healthy mix of denial and rationalizing one’s self into downplaying something which really shouldn’t be made light of. 

Like bullying being labelled a prank, taunts or insults called jokes, calling a serious injury a flesh wound, or abusers downplaying their abuse or downplaying their victims’ positive traits in an effort of manipulation. 

Examples of minimization don’t only include situational minimizing, they extend to behavior and linguistic minimizing as well. Moments like making yourself smaller in preparation to make room for others automatically, without the need even present. Moments like hunching in when you feel uncomfortable or less confident. Deflecting compliments or brushing your accomplishments under the rug.

“Moments like hunching in when you feel uncomfortable or less confident. Deflecting compliments or brushing your accomplishments under the rug.”

Prefacing or following your questions or ideas with words or phrases like “just”, “only”, “small”, “quick”, “maybe this isn’t important”, “I’m such a klutz lol”, “I can be so scatterbrained hahah”, or “it’s not a big deal but…”. Peppering your language with discounters or disclaimers – ie “thanks for the compliment but…” or stating your opinion with an “I think” attached – undercurrents it and puts you out of balance. All these actions send a subconscious cue to the person in front that you’re unsure or not worth it because you’re lacing the subtext with that nuance. 

Personally, I’m guilty of it all. The importance of consideration has been ingrained in me so deeply that I feel bad for not anticipating the needs of a stranger. For the same reason, I steered clear of assertive behavior as it was associated with rudeness. I ended requests and opinions with questions at times, asked people if what I said made sense, basically undercut myself. The result? I probably came off as an indecisive, incapable and unconfident person.

“The result? I probably came off as an indecisive, incapable and unconfident person.”

Leaving people with that kind of impression, especially in a work setting, can be damaging. People don’t have the time to peel back the layers of another person’s personality at work. Managers, especially, make quick decisions based on the strengths they see. Moreover, the more you minimize yourself, the more likely you’ll be to continue to emulate such qualities. 

For starters, I cut out the words “just” and “only” from my vocabulary in the context of self-minimization. I pushed myself to hold a strong posture, even when I don’t feel it, and learned to walk the line between being considerate and allowing others to take advantage of me. I learned to say no more often.

I’m not going to pretend that I changed overnight or that I never minimize anymore. I slip sometimes. It happens but I keep at it because every moment I try is a moment I get closer to making what I’m at time faking. And here’s another thing though. While you may be minimizing yourself, it’s possible you’re minimizing others too. 

Where did it come from though? It largely stems from bad emotional experiences, like when a child’s feelings are belittled or passed off as inconsequential repeatedly, they learn to accept it as fact. Other examples include being told to “man up” or “it’s not worth crying over” – cases of emotional invalidation.

It’s a way to avoid being called dramatic, to protect yourself, to remain unaffected. Being minimized over and over again makes you feel as if you don’t have the right to feel a certain way and thus begins the cycle of self-minimizing. As with any other habit that needs to be broken, it begins with a realization. Once you confront and accept that, it’s about unlearning then. It is, undoubtedly, a long process, but not impossible and definitely worth it.

  • Sana Panjwani

    Armed with a journalism degree and a passion for reading, Sana is on a mission to find her voice, gives Would You Rather? questions a little too much thought and is a recovering procrastinator.