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4 Ways to Cope with Microaggressions

Updated: Aug 1, 2019

Microaggressions are comments or gestures made intentionally or unintentionally towards a member of a minoritized group. These comments or gestures are often considered anywhere from unfavorably aggravating to harmful by those on their receiving end. See below for more specific examples.

Microaggressions are a part of life. In fact, these uncomfortable social blunders may feel particularly on the rise during this Trump and Kavanaugh infused political period. You may be unfortunately acutely aware of the impact of microaggressions (y’all want to talk about it?) due to your beautiful and personal intersectional realities. You may live, breathe, and grow through microaggressions which have been a reality long before your conception. Other people in your life, namely individuals in places of considerable privilege, may not inherently “get it,” but may seek out articles such as these for clarification (If that’s you– You go Glen Coco! Glad to see you present).

Allow me to demonstrate:

Women minding their own business are often told by strangers that they should smile. This is a microaggression.Gay individuals are likely jaded by being told that their new hetero acquaintance wants to introduce them to the only other gay person that they have ever met. This is also a microaggression. In the years P.B (Pre-Barack, clearly), a young black man may have been told by a teacher or classmate that he is deluded for believing he could have a chance at winning office. This is a notable microaggression with potentially long lasting and inhibiting impact *insert big sigh here*.

So…How do we cope with microaggressions?

While there is no one-size-fits-all coping skill, I’ll name a few to prompt your personal brainstorm:

1. Call it out

By this, I don’t necessarily mean confronting the perpetrator of said microaggression. If you have experienced enough of these, you know that it is not always easy or safe to relay how someone’s words have impacted you, and frankly, you may be sick of trying to teach people. That’s alright–it’s not your job. What I mean by “call it out,” is work to acknowledge what is going on for you. This internal process could look something like, “Wow, I can’t believe that [optional expletive/individual] said that to me. Their statement made me feel _________ –which is completely understandable because it was a harrowing thing to say.” While this process may not completely alleviate the sting, checking in with yourself emotionally can help normalize your mood. This is often in contrast to racing thoughts branching into other frustrations with nowhere else to go for the remainder of your evening.  

2. Call it in

The worst micro-aggressions could be particularly painful because they were made by a loved one. This can be layered and thus difficult to navigate. Calling something in, implies that you don’t necessarily want to alienate or shame your loved one, rather, you may want to enhance understanding and connection with this person. While your head may be stirring with anger, confusion, shock, or disappointment, it may be easy to remember this basic formula. You’ve heard about it before and here it is again: The “I-Statement;"

I feel _________ when you say _________"

Ex. “I feel frustrated when you tell me to smile,” (correct!) vs. “How can you be so clueless? (tempting, but no, incorrect).

In this way, your loved one cannot argue with you about owning the way you feel. Using an, “I statement,” may diffuse the uncomfortable energy of your mental state by giving power to it through expression.

3. Seek validating relationships and environments

Humans often lead with the assumption that others live life with the same value system. Needless to say, this is false and leads to disappointment. In a world that may have us out of breath from feeling like we are swimming against the current so often, we can find refuge in validating environments. Finding a tribe in which you are able to “come as you are,” (thanks, Cobain) could be ultimately therapeutic. Imagine, being in whatever authentic state you are, and being embraced without question. This is a place in which you don’t have to defend or explain yourself (I’d like a one-way ticket, please).

4. Breathing, journaling, and other tips and tricks

Let’s be real, life can lead to overwhelm. Taking a breather (literally–have you ever practiced deep breathing?), journaling to process your feelings further, or meeting with a mental health professional who “gets it” are all valid ways of maintaining your sanity. Coping entails finding the right formula that works for you. Trust–we see that not everyone starts on the same playing field or are dealt the same opportunities. We know it’s not just and we can talk about it (seriously–we can talk about it).

Not sick of microaggressions yet?

Watch this funny and normalizing video:

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