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Understanding Microaggressions and How to Address Them in the Moment

Understanding Microaggressions and How to Address Them in the Moment

Microaggressions are indirect, often subtle, unintentional statements, actions, or incidences of discrimination against members of a marginalized group. It can be an insult, comment, or gesture. Microaggressions are extremely common, happen every day, and are harmful. 

The difference between overt discrimination and microaggressions is someone who commits a microaggression might not even be aware of it. An example of a microaggression can be commenting on how well an Asian-American speaks English, that is the person presuming that the other person wasn’t born in the U.S. Another example is presuming a black person is violent, following a person of color around a store, or hiding your purse when in their presence.

What do you do if you have been complicit in microaggressions or are a victim of microaggressions? 

It starts with a conversation. Addressing microaggressions is essential to changing these acts, which may seem small but like any form of discrimination can cause great harm. A 2014 study of 405 young adults of color found that experiencing microaggressions can lead to suicidal thoughts.

Having these conversations is often uncomfortable but can be the first step in creating lasting change. It is all about addressing them as you see them if you are able. 

Here are some tips for addressing microaggressions in the moment: 

1.) Recognize that a Microaggression has Occurred

The first step to changing any behavior is awareness. The problem with microaggressions is they are often done without the person being aware that they have done something wrong. Educating people on what microaggressions are and pointing out when one has occurred is recognizing that it has happened. After a few times of recognizing that microaggressions are being committed, people will become more aware of their actions. 

microaggression response

2.) Dissect the Message of the Microaggression 

What is the person trying to say with their verbal or nonverbal act? Where are they coming from? Do they seem to be aware of what they have done? Try to have an open mind, as difficult as that can be especially if you are the victim. 

3.) Weigh the Consequences of Responding

When deciding whether or not to respond to a microaggression, it is wise to first weigh the consequences of responding: Is your physical safety in danger? Will the person likely become defensive and argue? How will this impact your relationship with this person (especially if this is a coworker or boss)? Will you regret not saying something? By not saying something, does that make you accepting of the act? 

4.) What are your Response Goals

Do you want to respond to the microaggression simply because you want to be heard? Or, are you wanting to educate the person on why what they did was wrong? 

microagressions discrimination peace

5.) Have a Response Ready

If you do decide to respond to the microaggression, it is important to be prepared. These things often happen so quickly that it is hard to respond. Having some statements prepped can help things to go smoother. For example, you could:

  • Ask for Clarification: “What do you mean by that?” “Where did that idea come from?” Making the other person think about what they did will help to bring awareness to the situation.
  • Separate Intent Vs Impact: “I know you may not have realized this, but when you did xyz it was hurtful because of xyz. Instead, you could do this…”
  • Share your process: “I noticed you did xyz. I used to do that too until I learned xyz and now I do this…” 

Take Care of Yourself

Whether you choose to respond to a microaggression or not is a personal choice. But simply being aware that they are happening and working to change your own personal actions is a great first step. 

If you are a victim of microaggressions make sure you are taking care of yourself. Take time for yourself to process your feelings. Find a safe space where you are free from such discrimination. Seek help if you need it. 

If you are struggling with your mental health as a result of microaggressions or other factors in your life, consider seeking the help of a licensed mental health professional. A counselor or therapist can help to guide you through these toxic experiences and to a brighter future. 

Ready to begin counseling in Pennsylvania? 

Our professionally-trained and licensed counselors have openings. Just call our office at 717-462-7003×1 and speak to our administrative assistant. Get started to feeling better today. You can get the tailored help you need right now. We are here for you.


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