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

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