Minimalization: Accepting the Unacceptable
Minimalization: A Case Study of Jane
Jane was married for twenty five years. Her husband filed for divorce, and Jane struggled to understand what happened. “Disappointed,” was Jane’s response when I queried as to how she felt. Over and over she spoke of her disappointment.
Jane was diagnosed with depression during the marriage. She shut down emotionally. She was not accessible to her husband or children. I asked her if she was happy in the marriage. “Not really, but life is hard.” Her husband, a dominant, verbose guy, didn’t like to hear Jane’s complaints, so after a while she learned to keep them to herself. She tried to minimize them, (“This is not that important”) or rationalize them (“He really didn’t mean that”). Years of minimizing her own pain and trying to hold it in turned into depression for Jane. She wasn’t just disappointed. She was really, really angry.
Minimalization – Why do we Minimizie?
Why do we minimize our feelings? Many of us lack the tools to express what we feel in a positive, productive manner. For example, Jane grew up in a volatile family, and Jane did not learn that anger was a feeling. She saw it as a behavior, and a frightening one at that. When she expressed her own anger, she sometimes threw things or slammed doors. She felt out of control when she was angry and this terrified her. Feeling guilt, regret and shame, she saw no other option than to suppress her feelings. Jane felt trapped: expressing her anger frightened her; yet suppressing it resulted in depression.
Beyond our concerns of expressing what we feel lies a deeper fear; that of change. There is always the risk that if we voice our pain/anger that it might lead to changes. For many of us, living an unhappy life feels preferable to facing the unknown that comes with change. Even those who are worriers minimize; by focusing on things they cannot change, they avoid looking at those things they can change.
This suppression of our own needs does not just occur in unhappy marriages. We stay in all kinds of unacceptable situations to avoid change; fractured marriages, less than desirable work situations, and abusive relationships with friends and families are a few of the areas where we minimize to “keep the peace” and maintain the status quo.
Having sometimes spent years in unhealthy situations, it is not surprising that our self-esteem is damaged. Feeling worn down, we are overwhelmed by the idea of facilitating any change at all! So reliance on minimalization helps us avoid change. We simply keep going. Unfortunately, like Jane discovered, this can also make us sick. To begin to heal, first we must simply acknowledge that we really want to be happy. That conviction can fuel our energy to combat our fear of change.
Jane had both the strength and courage to deal with life changes, but not the tools. One of those tools Jane learned in therapy was how to deal with her anger effectively and non-violently. When she learned the tools and how to implement them, she could move forward and look life squarely in the eye without undue fear. With an increasing sense of her own worth, she developed the confidence to deal with her anger productively; and this empowered her to face change rather than avoid it.
Ironically, Jane’s husband freed her from her unhappy situation when he filed for divorce. Now just a few years later, Jane is comfortable in her own skin, doing work she loves and building a stronger relationship with her children. She is no longer depressed.
Ask yourself — Am I making excuses for other people’s bad behavior? Am I trying to adapt constantly? Am I tip-toeing around everyone? Do I feel trapped, unheard, powerless and really angry? Do I suffer a lot from physical ailments or depression? I can make healthier choices but first I need to pay close attention to what I am really feeling.
Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in Farmington, CT, and is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback. To purchase Click here or visit www.donnaferber.com
Published with permission from Ms. Ferber’s blog article, Minimalization: How We Accept the Unacceptable, posted on May 6, 2012.
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Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC
Donna F. Ferber, is a psychotherapist in private practice for 28 years. She is a licensed professional counselor, a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor and an educator. Donna works with individuals and in groups. Her office is in Farmington, Connecticut.