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As an abuse survivor, have you ever said to yourself or someone else: “It’s really not that bad,” “He’s never actually hit me,” or “It only happens when he’s drinking"?
Statements like these are a brain’s attempts to minimize abuse or make it seem as though it’s not as bad as it is. And, it’s very normal.
“When you minimize certain things, it’s as if they’re not really there,” says Ambroes Pass-Turner, Ed.D., a clinically certified domestic violence counselor with a doctorate in counseling psychology. “Minimization is a coping mechanism to get through difficult times.”
Survivors minimize for other reasons as well. “They may minimize because they want to believe deep down their abuser loves them,” says Nikki Martinez, a psychologist and licensed clinical professional counselor. Or, they may minimize the situation because their abuser does.
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“People who abuse are so good at power and control, they’re able to convince their partners that there’s nothing else for them. And then survivors might think to themselves ‘maybe this isn’t so bad.’”
Minimization’s Time and Place
Minimization has benefits and drawbacks. “It can be healthy to some extent to be able to do the things you need to do in the short-term, like take care of your children,” Pass-Turner says. “It can also hinder a person by not allowing them to deal with things. And if we don’t deal with the things going on in our lives, it makes it difficult to see what’s happening and to get out.”
Martinez agrees the coping mechanism can be useful in certain situations.
“Minimization might serve a survival purpose at the time if it’s not safe to leave yet,” she says. However, she cautions against minimizing abuse in the long-term.
“Some people get in this cycle where they go from abuser to abuser,” Martinez says. “If you’re not being truthful with yourself about the abuse, you’ll never break the cycle.” Additionally, minimizing too frequently may prevent you from recognizing the amount of danger you are in. Learning the warning signs of possible lethal behavior could be lifesaving.
How to Stop
Both Pass-Turner and Martinez agree that building self-esteem is the best way to see abuse for what it is.
“There are a lot of people who feel like this is what they deserve,” Pass-Turner says. “It takes working on their self-esteem to get them to see the real picture and give them a reality check.”
Having healthy self-esteem can help you recognize and walk away from abuse.
“We attract how we feel about ourselves,” Martinez says. “With counseling or a support group, you’ll come to the realization that you deserve more and start breaking the pattern. When you have self-esteem, you won’t stand for a situation at the first sign of abuse.”
Abuse, whether physical, psychological or social, has lasting effects. Find out what they are in “ Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds.”
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