Minimization, Denial and Blame: It is All in How We Frame It

Signpost of blame defensives

One of the first concepts that most of us learn when we are training to facilitate BIP groups is the need to address minimization, denial and blame. We learn that those who batter will use these tactics in order to avoid responsibility for their behavior, and they sure do. We are taught to challenge these tactics when they arise in group conversation, and focus on the dysfunction of using these tactics to escape responsibility. While bringing their attention to these behaviors is valuable, how we frame our response is crucial. 

Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps our participants’ use of minimization, denial and blame is a positive indicator of awareness of their behavior being wrong? If they were not aware on some level of their behavior being “out of bounds”, they would not need the benefit of these tactics. If this is contrary to how you have approached this challenging issue in your group, please allow me to explain.

“…our participants’ use of minimization, denial and blame is a positive indicator of awareness of their behavior being wrong.”

There is a great vignette in the DAIP videos where a man looks up the stairs to check if the kids are nearby, prior to grabbing his partner’s hair and throwing her on the floor. Once he sees that the coast is clear, he continues with his abusive behavior. He looks up the stairs first because, on some level, he clearly KNEW his behavior was wrong.

Many of those who attend BIP classes already know that their violent behavior was wrong. Because of this, they will frequently minimize, deny and blame in order to psychologically ease the discomfort of their actions. If they didn’t believe that abusive behavior is wrong, they would not need to avoid accountability at all. Instead of confronting this avoidance of accountability and ownership, facilitators can point out that minimization, denial and blame are positive indicators of awareness, but evidence of psychological immaturity. The more a participant can speak genuinely about their abusive behavior without distancing, the more psychological maturity they possess. 

"The more a participant can speak genuinely about their abusive behavior without distancing, the more psychological maturity they possess."

 Of course, the goal is for people to be able to be responsible for their behavior with as little distancing as possible. If we challenge and confront these tactics too sternly, we run the risk of harming the emotional safety in the room. More so, if we frame this behavior as a negative, we can unintentionally make our work to keep victims safer more challenging. By framing minimization, denial and blame as evidence of some emotional health, we can be more effective.

The next time one of your participants minimize, deny or blame, try saying something like, “I am sure glad you minimized that statement, because you are telling us that you knew what you did was wrong. What’s at risk for you to be fully responsible for your behavior?” See if this doesn’t open a door to a deeper conversation about personal responsibility. It really is all about how we frame it. 

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