Magnification and Minimization

by Monica A. Ross, LPC

This is it. The last unhelpful thinking style we’ll be covering. As I said, there are just 10. This final unhelpful thinking style is called magnification and minimization. And it is pretty much just as it sounds. Have you ever looked through a pair of binoculars from the opposite end? What happens? Everything looks smaller. And then when you flip it and look through them the usual way, they do what binoculars do, they magnify everything.

So how does this apply to psychology? Sometimes in life we look through the binoculars from the opposite end and we tend to minimize our contribution. If we score high on a test, we might say to ourselves, “Well, I just got lucky.”

If we’re cooking dinner for friends and someone says, “Hey this is really good, you’re a fantastic cook!,” we might respond with, “Oh that’s something I cook all the time, it’s just a simple recipe.” It’s as though we are downplaying our attributes, skills, and abilities.

In Western culture, there seems at times to be some unwritten rule that we are to be humble about our accomplishments. Maybe it comes from religious undertones. I’m not saying here that we should go around bragging, but at the same time when was the last time you patted yourself on the back and said, “Job well done.”

It’s good to take those positive comments that we receive at times and really absorb them. Let them soak in. A person who might have a tendency to deflect compliments may also have the tendency to magnify what others are doing.

That might go like this: “I don’t know how to add 2 + 2, but my brother got his degree in physics he’s so much better at math. Well, he’s just so much better at most things in general. He really has his stuff together, unlike me.”

With that sentence, the person is magnifying their brother’s accomplishments at the expense of their own. How do these things surface? Minimization may come from issues with low self-esteem and perhaps the person who also magnifies has lived a life where they have heard those around them characterizing this or that person as the mark to live up to.

That person may have been the “golden child” in the family. It sounds like it in the example above. Sometimes in life we get typecast into these roles and then have a tendency to live out our role without question even after we’ve left our family of origin homes.

It’s important at times, though, to stop and question things. “Where did this idea that I need to live in someone else’s shadow come from?”

The aim here is empowerment. And we have the ability to empower ourselves. We have this power on a daily basis. When we undercut our positive attributes it’s like usurping our power. “Oh they’re just being polite, it was nothing really.”

Maybe it was something. At any rate, maybe it was something to you. So go on being your big, bad self!

We also sometimes magnify and minimize when it comes to situations. We might magnify the negative aspects of a situation and minimize the positive aspects. For example, if we get fired from a job.

In that instance, we might magnify the stress that we believe that it will cause on our lives. We might worry about finances, about the impact on our family, we might worry about our ability to find another job.

Similarly, we might minimize the positive things that the job loss could bring like the ability to start our careers over, should we choose to do so. The job loss could offer the possibility of spending more time at home with our family during the time of transition, which could be a blessing in and of itself. It could give us time to push PAUSE and reflect on our priorities and values.

So just think about this one, play with it. Notice yourself magnifying and minimizing. And in each instance observe how it feels. What are the subsequent thoughts that follow? How does it feel in your body? What movements do you make? What postures do you get into?

When you catch yourself saying the phrase “Oh they were just being polite,” is that a moment where you notice yourself standing tall and smiling? Do you feel good about yourself in that moment? Is it a moment of looking downward, rolling your shoulders up, digging your foot into the ground? And if so, how does that feel?

Alternative phrases to use when we get those compliments might be...

“Well thank you, you know it’s something that I’ve been working really hard on lately. It feels good to get a compliment.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it, it’s one of my favorite recipes to make.”

“I’ve always really enjoyed building things with my hands, I’m glad you think I did a good job on it.”

Just something to notice and observe.