Why Manipulators Minimize
Character-impaired folks often minimize the seriousness of their misbehavior. Some professionals once thought they did this because they felt so bad. They assumed their conscience bothered them so much they had to trivialize what they’d done to live with themselves. But the primary reasons folks with character disturbances minimize are more troubling than that. First, they don’t want you to see them for the flawed characters they are. Second, they want to convince you their actions were not what you perceived. And if you buy into their narrative, they succeed in manipulating you.
There’s an art to convincing others that something you did wasn’t really so bad or harmful. And a really skilled manipulator might actually admit part of what they did (usually, not the most serious part) just to appear like they accept responsibility. But conceding a point or two doesn’t equate with taking full ownership of one’s wrongdoing. It’s merely part of the game of impression management. Moreover, it’s how already conscience-impaired folks perpetuate their character flaws. You can’t take the task of changing your ways seriously and minimize the gravity of your actions at the same time. And tricking someone into thinking you’re not so bad a character is not the same as really working to be a better person.
The Harm Done
Disturbed characters lie and lie often. And when they minimize they deceive themselves as well as others about their character deficiencies and behavior problems. So you know that when someone continues to trivialize matters, they’re not going to take seriously the problems they need to correct. That’s the harm done by all the behaviors I call manipulation tactics. (See: Chapter 9, In Sheep’s Clothing.) Engaging in these behaviors obstructs the internalization of healthy values and standards of conduct. It’s the way disturbed characters fight the very process of learning and accepting responsibility. Minimizing is just one way to obstruct the process of healthy socialization. Still, it’s a significant way. As long as a person trivializes the seriousness of their conduct, they can’t possibly embrace the need to change that conduct.
Those folks I describe in my books as “neurotic” are very different from disturbed characters. (See: Chapter 1, Character Disturbance.) Disturbed characters tend to manipulate, avoid responsibility, and put undue stress on others. But neurotics tend to stress themselves with an excessive sense of responsibility. They take things very seriously. Seasoned manipulators are good at exploiting this difference.
Manipulators often combine their minimizing with other tactics such as rationalization. (See also Rationalizing Away Wrongdoings.) Overly conscientious folks go the extra mile to understand. So they can let excuses and minimizations sway them. But when it comes to wrongful behavior, whatever might have prompted it (i.e. the “excuse”)is irrelevant. And whether what they did “wasn’t as bad” as someone else’s behavior, or as bad as last time, is irrelevant, too. If a behavior is wrong, it’s wrong and needs to be corrected. And if someone’s trivializing it or making excuses for it, they won’t correct it. In fact, you can be pretty sure they’re going to do it again.
The first of my 2018 workshop schedule can be found on the Seminars page.
Character Matters on Sunday, April 22, 2018 will feature a rebroadcast of an earlier program. So, I won’t be able to take live calls.