Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Microaggressions in Counselling

This is a response to a few articles I have read in regards to microaggressions, and I feel that my insight and reading the originals may help someone to understand what an issue microaggressions truly are. 
I have heard of microaggressions several times and maybe I am naive but I tend to believe that they are unconsciously spoken, not intentionally said to demean a person. At least that is how I have tried to view them when directed at me for being a woman. It is a perpetual intentional blind spot. People want to think of themselves as not racist, and not privileged especially in America. We want to think we earned everything ourselves, that we are tolerant of everyone and be perceives as such. The fact is that racism is ingrained into American culture and it is not over. It takes acknowledging that it might just be how you view people too, however small of a level. I realize that some people do intend to inflict harm verbally through the use of microaggressions sadly, and we should not ignore them, we need to educate them if racism is ever to be a thing of the past.
When the article mentioned that “most White Americans are unaware of the advantages they enjoy in this society and of how their attitudes and actions unintentionally discriminate against persons of color” (Bucceri, et al., 2007) I couldn’t agree more. It is very true that it is not seen nor acknowledged that white people as the “majority” culture in America do not see and refuse to believe we have it easier. If I had been born another ethnicity and a woman I would be facing even harder up hill battles in my life to be treated equally. It hurts white self-perception to actually succumb to the reality that you did not earn much of the respect and ease at which you travel through your life.
I have experienced microaggressions for being a woman frequently. Comments about how I dress or hints at how I belong at home, not working, etc. I find that women are looked down upon as a lesser species by many men. Phrases like “Just let it go,”, “You are overreacting,” or “It’s not a big deal”. Minimalizing my feelings because I am a woman. As a woman I face unequal wages for no other reason than my gender when in the same position as a man with the same credentials. (Making the Invisible Visible: Gender Microaggressions, 2013).
Some examples of what women go through all the time are: “An assertive female manager is labeled as a "bitch," while her male counterpart is described as "a forceful leader." (Hidden message: Women should be passive and allow men to be the decision makers.) A female physician wearing a stethoscope is mistaken as a nurse. (Hidden message: Women should occupy nurturing and not decision-making roles. Women are less capable than men). Whistles or catcalls are heard from men as a woman walks down the street. (Hidden message: Your body/appearance is for the enjoyment of men. You are a sex object.)” (Sue, 2010)
I have never been afraid of being a strong smart woman, but knowing I will be judged for it does serve to worry me. It can make me rethink how I say something, how I present myself making my requests with more smiles or a gentler voice so as not to be seen as a threat. It should not have to be that way. I have been catcalled, but luckily it has never been face-to-face only with a car driving quickly by. Catcalls and male aggression are terrifying to me.
My only disagreement is that I think that it is a combination of people becoming more and more “touchy” over smaller perceived slights as well as people thinking just that. If you just push aside others’ perceived insult as insignificant you are part of the problem. I believe it is both sides, we should endeavor to be less offended because we cannot know truly what someone means, but we should attempt not to gloss over how people feel. It is imperative to try to understand others’ feelings and also try not to cause offence because it is the right thing to do.
As a counsellor, as a human being, be aware you have them, you do them, you say them. Be honest with yourself that they happen, even by accident and try to change them over time. We may never abolish them completely because no one is perfect. Try noticing when other people say these things, recall if you have said something similar in the past or even just thought it. Being aware is the first step, then preventing saying or doing anything that can be a microaggression. We can all improve and do better, and we need to in order to be culturally competent counselors.


Baruth, L. G., & Manning, M. L. (2012). Multicultural Counseling and Psychotherapy: A Lifespan Approach (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Bucceri, J. M., Capodilupo, C. M., Esquilin, M., Holder, A. M., Nadal, K. L., Sue, D. W., & Torino, G. C. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist(May-June), 271-286.
Making the Invisible Visible: Gender Microaggressions. (2013, Fall). Retrieved from University of New Hampshire : http://www.unh.edu/sites/www.unh.edu/files/departments/affirmative_action_and_equity_office/unh-advance_microaggressions_v3-a.pdf
Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions: More than just race . Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201011/microaggressions-more-just-race

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Cultural Autobiography

Cultural Autobiography
My cultural background is mixed, but I am always been quite fascinated by it. I was told I was English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh as a child, and as an adult I have questioned that so I have opened an account with Ancestry.com and used their DNA kit to discover my heritage. I discovered I am in fact Irish, Scottish & Welsh (32%), Scandinavian (17%) and also my heritage can be traced back to the western parts of Europe such as France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands (31%), Italy/Greece (7%) as well as eastern Europe like Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Romania (6%) (it was not as precise as I would have hoped). All in all about 97% European, as I assumed and it matched up with the family history I had uncovered as well.
In my early childhood I was blessed with the opportunity that my family hosted several Foreign Exchange Students. Our first student was from Germany when I was about 4-years-old. Her name was Eva and she was one the swim team at the high school. I think she is the reason I love to swim as much as I do. I do not have many memories of her, just that she had a pixie cut and raven black hair and she was pale as snow and I remember how sweet and kind she was to me, and she treated me as if I were her little sister, reading me books and always making time for me. Our next exchange student was Andrea from Slovenia. She was a buxom blonde who wore a lot of the typical 90’s acid washed jeans and loose-fitting plaid button-up over a plain white tee. Then there was Peter from Hungary, he was a bookish young man who wore glasses and liked to sit on our roof. About this time we had Ekaterina, or as we called her Katya. She was a tall pale redhead from Russia. She was absolutely stunning, but she was an ice-queen. She had been very well taken care of in Russia by her family. They spoiled her and sent her money often. She was not as warm to me as Eva had been and she probably though I was a pest. I remember her collecting dolls (which I loved and wanted desperately to play with) and she drew often, many of the times she drew Vampires, of which she was obsessed. She was a Vampire for Halloween that year. Looking back she may be a large part of the reason I pursued an artistic life, why I love fashion and many other things. Lastly there was Julia, a student from China but I do not believe she lived with us long. I do not remember Andrea, Peter or Julia living with us long, several of our students changed households while in America.
We were invited by Eva to visit Germany and stay with her family, and of course we accepted. We went to Germany when I was maybe 5 or 6 and I believe we stayed there for weeks, but as a child everything seems to last so much longer than it really does so who knows. We travelled and visited many countries, Morocco, England, France, Denmark, Belgium, etc. It was a magical experience, and I have wanted to return ever since. I remember only some events, one such was getting fully outfitted in equestrian gear, (helmet, riding pants with chaps and padding, a vest and a turtleneck sweater and riding boots) built in such as riding a Lipizzaner horse and it rearing with me in the saddle and I remained calm,. Then I remember Eva’s family remarking how well I had done and insisting I should stay to learn to ride. They ran an equestrian business of some sort. I remember eating waffles in Belgium, and buying a garter in France. I recall going to a market because I was a picky eater and would not try many of the different foods and I picked out a jar of miniature hotdogs and eggs. I remember peering into the edge of the Black Forest and how much it looked like a place of fairytales.
My multicultural experience as a child puts me in a minority in America. How many children get to interact with people intimately from 6 different countries for a year? How often do children get to experience another country and see the culture first hand? Few, the rich and the military are the types of families I can imagine that see what I got to see all before I was 10 years old.
During my late childhood, between about 7 and 13 years old, my family met several Irish families who had emigrated to America. We spent every holiday with them and they became our extended family and have since heavily influenced my cultural outlook, my identity and my deep abiding desire to move to the United Kingdom. I feel all these cultural experiences colored my worldview and broadened my perspectives.
We moved to Clovis when I was 13 and I grew to loathe being told what to do, being asked was one thing I had no problem with, but being “forced” made me dig my heels in and do the opposite. My rebellious streak was always there, it just grew as I hit puberty. I am a natural rule follower, but if I feel like people tell me I cannot do it, I want to sometimes. Assuredly I was in the majority here, teens all like to rebel on some level.
I was raised in a “liberal” Mormon household, where my mother taught me to think for myself and never trust that I could depend upon a man. That is a bit counter-culture in Mormonism, where women are designated to the realm of the home primarily and told not to work unless it is necessary. I was taught by my mother to get an education and be able to support myself, and the Latter-Day Saint Church does encourage everyone, men and women, to get a college degree if possible, just a woman’s education often is of no practical use. She also had a more lenient view on the Word of Wisdom (the lifestyle guidelines in the Latter-Day Saint church), where caffeine is typically a no-no my mom was a heavy Pepsi drinker, and I became a regular tea drinker. I also was not held back from having feelings for the opposite sex, whereas the church guidelines basically forbid dating exclusively until after age 16. Those, in my life, seemed like small differences but they were hugely different than all the children I was raised with. My LDS upbringing within Mormon culture would be a minority, to be an active member and yet not follow all the rules, even more odd is that we were open about our differences!
 I was also raised with the typical “Christian guilt” that sin brings, and it heavily affected my childhood and my teen years. I was a very judgmental child and teen, and my mind did not expand until I went through my own trials. Me sinning as a teen colored my views, I could no longer judge people who had done what I had done because that would make me a hypocrite. I struggled with the idea that I had failed God, that my mistakes meant I was worthless and that I could never recover. I also felt alienated by the members my age, which did nothing to help me attend church. I felt lost, adrift and lonely but I still kept my beliefs close even though I felt like I was no longer worthy to attend church. I prayed often, feeling stupid for asking for forgiveness for something I knew for a fact I would only do again and again. In my mind repenting meant that you “go and sin no more”, and it was false of me to ask to be forgiven when I would continue to sin regularly. To fix this I more or less bullied my ex-husband into marriage at 18 before we had even graduated, and that caused a slew of new problems. I was simultaneously in the majority and the minority with my religious upbringing, in this part of America so many are Christians who I am sure have faced similar struggles, but my “sect” of Christianity is small here in Clovis, New Mexico.
I also took courses in high school that permanently broadened my mind, i.e.: psychology and world religions. After this my thirst for knowledge of different cultures, religions and how the mind works has set me on the current path I am on. I, still, cannot seem to get enough knowledge about all things different from me as well as learning every more about myself. I enjoy taking IQ tests, interest inventories, quizzes, or reading about things I relate to. It is as if I am dying of thirst to learn and only knowledge can quench it.
In high school I also had my first taste of a yoga class, which I immediately fell in love with. Throughout college yoga has been another cultural passion of mine, of which I have seriously considered making a career path. I love the theology and the history behind yoga and I have become enchanted with India. All of the cultural exploration I have done in the past few years has overlapped, I take classes simultaneously that enhance and support one another so I learn all about the religion of an area while at the same time immersing myself in the history and culture in another class. This more or less sums up my undergraduate career.
Young adulthood for me has been learning to put all of my values into a cohesive whole. To somehow balance my love of all religions, and how I believe they each have merits and truths, and still profess Mormonism. How I can balance my huge feminist streak with my appreciation for gender roles. Contrast is my life, I have values on many “opposing” things, but I do not believe they have to clash.  I feel like I walk the middle road, and dabble one each side. This makes me feel like the minority because I feel too many people are far right or far left with no one finding the middle ground where I stand.
I feel like the minority in that I support so many different beliefs and lifestyles, but it may just be the part of the world where I currently reside.
I can see how each stage of my life was influenced by a different culture, my youth by Europe (especially Germany), my later childhood by Irish culture and people, my teens by American society and my rebelling actively and inactively against my church upbringing, young adulthood has been colored by world history and religion with a healthy dash of psychology. I enjoy learning how and why people think as they do, while maintaining my own idea of right and wrong. My opinion of the right way to do things is fairly broad, basically if it does no harm (mentally, physically, emotionally, etc) than it should not be a problem. If something hinders someone else’s life (such as takes away their rights, freedom or equality) I am against that. My hope is to fight for the underdog, to help people to realize their worth and power. I feel like the underprivileged deserve to be heard and helped.