Discounting In Relationships

The Psychology Of Relationships:


Discounting is an internal process during which we, out of conscious awareness, ignore information relevant to the solution of a problem.

A discount always entails some distortion of reality, which confirms our script beliefs.

Discounting is a form of putting oneself, another person, or the world in general down.

Put another way, discounts help us to maintain the status quo rather than change.

It’s generally a rather unhelpful thing to do, but sticking to what we know and what we normally do helps us to feel safe. Unfortunately, this is often at the expense of a richer life.

A good example comes from the fable of the fox and the grapes. In the story a fox would very much like to eat some grapes, but they are too high up on a vine and he can’t reach them easily. In the end he gives up and says to himself “Well, they are sour anyway, I don’t want them”.

The fox firstly discounts the grapes as “not good” or put in slang “they’re crap anyway”.

Secondly, he discounts his desire for them, and thirdly he discounts his own ability to act on his desire and do something to reach the grapes despite the difficulties he is having. (He could come up with some clever ideas, as foxes usually do in such stories!)

We often unconsciously discount ourselves when we say “I can’t do this”. What are we actually saying about our own abilities to solve problems and change?

Often when we can do things, we might choose not to, or we may need some help, or we may need to learn more, or we may need to try a couple of times. In reality we often can do things, even though it might not be straightforward.

In saying “I can’t do this” we are discounting our own abilities and we ignore the fact that there are always other solutions or options to deal with a problem than just the obvious ones.

However, I also think that one can take this a bit too far. Sometimes people can’t do things (like feel safe), because they have never been shown how to.

When we discount we do so by making a statement in our heads. It is an internal process, and so a discount itself is not observable.

However, other people will be able to observe manifestations of a discount which you make. Some behavioral signs are doing nothing or passivity in response to a problem, over-adaptation, agitation or incapacitating oneself in some way (e.g. getting ill).

Grandiosity is also part of discounting. Every discount is accompanied by grandiosity, which is an exaggeration or minimization of some feature of reality (e.g. making a mountain out of a molehill or vice versa).

People can discount on 4 different levels. They are ranked in severity from denying or discounting the existence of an issue to discounting one’s personal options to do something about a problem:

1 Discounting the existence of a problem. Example: I was not drinking last night, or: I am not an alcoholic.

2 Discounting the significance of an event or problem. Example: Well, yes I was drinking last night, but it doesn’t do me any harm.

3 Discounting the possibilities for change. Example: Yes, I am an alcoholic, but I was born that way.

4 Discounting one’s personal ability to change: Yes, I am an alcoholic, it’s killing me and I know other people manage to stop, but I can’t.

As you may have concluded, discounting can be quite a nasty habit and the best thing to do is to confront it in oneself and other people.

It is especially damaging in a relationship if one partner uses discounting to avoid changing or taking responsibility. In that case, don’t allow the hidden agenda of “I can’t” and collude in it, when actually the person should be saying “I won’t”.

Discounting is also a possible start for a psychological game. Remember not to discount your own ability to change and take control (go into Victim mode) or the other person’s ability to do the same (Rescuer or Persecutor mode).