While some people tend to catastrophize, others inappropriately minimize significant actions making them seem unimportant. They refuse to see negative or desirable qualities in their partners or in themselves in order to protect their attachment to their partner, no matter how destructive that attachment may be.
A relationship becomes truly toxic when both partners are minimizers, but each in a different way. The abusive partner downplays his (or her) own misconduct and fallibilities, and denies responsibility in an attempt to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. He belittles his partner’s desirable qualities in an attempt to keep her dependent and make her feel worthless and incapable of finding a better relationship.
On the other hand, the abused partner makes light of verbal or physical abuse because she (or he) fears losing her partner. The longer the abuse continues, the more her self-esteem suffers, causing her to lose the confidence required to stand up for herself or move out on her own.
Understandably, these two types of minimizers feed into each others’ distorted thinking. Thus, it’s difficult for them to foresee and avert the resulting descent into a nightmarish relationship based on fear and contempt.
To avoid spiraling into a self-reinforcing pattern of oppression and suffering, it’s helpful to check your own tendencies to minimize. If those who tend to demean others start looking for positive traits in their partner, they will discover that their relationship can actually become enjoyable and based on desire rather than dependence.
On the other hand, those who tend to understate their own desirable qualities should beware of allowing this perspective to damage their own self-respect. Verbal abuse should not be minimized as it erodes the mutual respect that is the basis of happy and thriving relationships. Physical abuse should never be overlooked or tolerated, as it is antithetical to love, fulfillment, and life itself.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD