In last week’s post I talked about the struggle of communicating with others about your infertility journey and introduced the four types of responders: the fixer, the minimizer, the existentialist, and the blamer. As you move through your infertility journey, more and more people will start discussing it with you. This can come in the form of questions about the process, support, prayers, concerned looks, sympathy, empathy, pity, sorrow, avoidance, and self-involvement.
Most of the time, your friends and family want to support you, they just don’t know HOW. Unfortunately, this leaves you with not only figuring out how to deal with infertility and the emotional turmoil that comes with it, but also how to interact with the people in your life that you consider most important. When you feel like a good friend is always condescending or your mom’s only concern is that she’ll never have grandchildren, it’s easy to want to avoid the topic altogether. What happens at that point is isolation and loneliness. It’s really hard to survive when you’re the only one on the island.
So here’s where I get to the next type of responder – the minimizer. A “minimizer” is a person who downplays what you are going through, usually by comparing it to something else that’s “worse” or that they consider worse. They might even do the “one-up” where no matter what you say, they’ve been through something bigger or have a friend that has. If someone starts a sentence with “at least” or “don’t worry about it”, they are likely a minimizer. Here’s how a conversation might go with a minimizer (the person going through infertility is Person I):
Minimizer: “So when are you going to have a baby?”
Person I: “Well, it’s hard to know. We’re actually having some trouble getting pregnant.”
Minimizer: “Oh, well it will be ok. If you just relax it’ll probably happen.”
Person I: “It might not be that simple. I was diagnosed with infertility, and we’re in the beginning stages of treatment. It could be a long process.”
Minimizer: “Well at least you have more time to sleep in. When you have babies there’s no time to sleep.”
Person I: “We’ve wanted this for a long time, so we’re willing to lose some sleep.”
Minimizer: “It’s going to be fine, my sister’s friend’s cousin did three rounds of IVF, then they decided to adopt, then that fell through. They had it really bad. They never even figured out why they couldn’t get pregnant, and you have an answer. You’ll see that everything will be ok for you, I just know it.”
The “minimizer” is well meaning and when anything uncomfortable or painful comes up, they want to take away that pain. The easiest and quickest way they can think of during these hard conversations is to downplay what’s happening. They try to help you see things from a different perspective, the silver lining. I’m pretty sure everyone can think of a time when a minimizer did help them see things from a different perspective in a way that was helpful. Some problems are small and we’ve built them to be big in our heads, and in those cases minimizers are awesome. Unfortunately, no one can take away the pain of infertility. No one can make it smaller than it is, and therefore the minimizing strategy is probably not a helpful one. Like fixers, minimizers forget to check in with where you are because they are searching for ways to take away your pain.
In the midst of a conversation, how can you deal with a minimizer effectively?
1. Be direct: A minimizer has done this so many times, they don’t really have to even think of ways to make the problem smaller. They are the glass half full kinds of people. Tiptoeing around your pain will communicate to them that their strategy is successful. You are going to need to be direct about what you are experiencing and feeling, as well as how important it is that they listen and understand.
2. Give them permission to feel sadness and pain: Sadness and pain are too much for minimizers because they’ve been taught somewhere along the way that to get through it you have to see the positive or change your perspective. Again, those can be great strategies for some things or at certain times, but usually not in infertility conversations. They don’t know HOW to discuss pain in a real way. Give them that permission by saying “you know, it’s really ok for me to be sad about this right now, and it’s really ok for you to feel sad too. It’s a sad thing, and I’m really scared.”
3. Use analogies: Minimizers are great with analogies because it already falls in line with how they think about things. They’re always looking for comparisons and silver linings. Help them understand your pain by describing it as an analogy or metaphor so that they can get a glimpse into your experience. You can ask them “Do you know what a rainbow baby is? A rainbow baby is a baby that is born after infertility or a miscarriage. It’s the beautiful part that comes after the dark and scary storm. Right now, I’m still in the storm.”
4. Reinforce that you know they want to help, and tell them how to help you: Knowing that minimizers want to take away your pain, give them better ways to take away your pain that don’t include minimizing it. Let them know that you appreciate that they want to help, but that what they are doing is hurtful because it makes you feel alone. Tell them other ways that you need support.
Although it may feel impossible, I think it is necessary to look at the function of how people respond in conversations about infertility or really anything painful. When you’re going through infertility, people’s insensitive comments feel selfish and hurtful. But when we understand that that person’s intentions are to take away our pain, it’s easier to stay connected with them. They won’t always go about supporting you in the right way, but they desperately want to. Stay with them, help them understand what you’re going through. It can be a healing and meaningful process for both of you.
If you are struggling with infertility and looking for more support, visit RESOLVE.org for more information. If you are interested in infertility counseling as a support during this most difficult journey, I would love to work with you. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist located in the Clear Lake area of Houston, Tx. I provide free phone consultations to determine if we are a good fit and to allow you space to address any concerns or answer questions. Call now at (832) 827-3288.