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Minimization


"It wasn't that bad."
"What happened to me is nothing compared to what you're going through."
"Well, at least... {insert positive thought here}"
"Others have had it so much worse."
"It was a long time ago."
"Well, there's nothing I can do about it now."

Our brains and bodies are experts at self-protection, and minimization is one way we shield ourselves from the reality of abuse. Survivors of trauma can become so good at minimizing their experience, their own self-deception becomes a core identity. Minimization leads to denial and dissociation. Dissociation can lead to split personality disorders and other forms of psychosis.

There is another word for minimization. Lying.

As I have confronted and come to terms with the real, long term effects of psychological and child sexual abuse in my life, I am shocked how much I minimized the impact over the years. I lied to myself that I was fine. I lied to everyone else that nothing was wrong. Minimization, guilt, and shame was how my abusers silenced me into going along with their charade. And yet, as each layer of the onion is peeled away, more truths and more connections are allowed to emerge.

For a long time, I was confused about whether what happened was really abusive. I was so used to minimizing the elephant in the room, that I eventually tricked myself into thinking it was no longer there. I am no longer confused. I have rich clarity on the subject. I am mad woke. There is an elephant in the room called abuse, and it has stomped on every area of my life. And now I have 40 years of elephant shit to clean up. I really wish I hadn't waited so long.

Abusers use minimization as a manipulation tactic to silence their victims. Often it is the voice of the abuser in the mind of the victim saying, "It's not that bad," or "You're making mountains out of molehills." Usually there is a solid serving of guilt and shame to go along with it. One of the trickiest aspects of healing from abuse is to extract the voice of the abuser from the mind of the victim. Survivors are brainwashed and gaslighted into thinking those warped thoughts are their own. If a survivor believes that all they have to do is forgive and forget without fully realizing the damage, they continue to live their lives numb to truth and detached from deep relationships. They feel deeply threatened if anyone pokes the elephant. They will respond with fear, anxiety, and even anger if anyone mentions anything remotely elephant-like in their presence. They expend all their energy trying to maintain their own facade, then wonder why they feel drained. Elephant reduction is exhausting, futile work.

Lies separate us from what is good, beautiful, and true. Lies separate us from a relationship with God, others, and ourselves. Sometimes, the biggest hurdle to overcome is not the lies from our abusers, but the lies we told ourselves in the aftermath. When we minimize, we become accomplices. Sometimes, healing from abuse means owning up to the mess we made by minimizing what happened.

There is a saying, popular in 12 Step programs, that goes, "You're only as sick as your secrets." Minimization is a form of secret keeping. What might have started out as a necessary survival strategy often becomes debilitating as the years tick by. For survivors of early trauma, minimization is especially insidious. In my case, I am deprogramming forty years worth of "it's not that bad." But I am progressing, slowly. For me, the long term effects of minimization were impacting my mental, emotional, and physical health. I decided that I didn't want to be sick any more. I am healing, one exposed secret at a time.




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