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What is microaggression?

Microaggression is a verbal or non-verbal expression of one person that affects another in an oppressive way. Microaggression affects the victim’s identity by creating a feeling of not being appreciated or respected.

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Emergence of the concept

The term “microaggression” was coined in the 1970s by Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce. With this term he marks gestures or insults directed at black people by whites. According to the psychiatrist, these types of experiences can have a serious impact on a person’s psychological and physical health over time.

Nowadays, the term microaggression expands its meaning, being used not only in a racial context, but also in domestic violence, toxic work environments, problematic relationships between children at school, differences based on religion, gender identity, and more.

Types of microaggression

Microaggressions can be intentional or unintentional. In general, they arise from certain beliefs, attitudes or biases of the aggressor based on public opinion. Microaggressions are based on stereotypes related to ethnicity, age, gender or race. In the context of domestic violence, microaggressions are a way of subjugating and controlling the victim and following the wishes of the aggressor. However, their use can drastically lower the victim’s self-esteem in the relationship, as well as develop feelings of inferiority.

Six types of microaggression are distinguished:

  1. Microabuse – conscious gestures (verbal and non-verbal) through which the aggressor demonstrates contempt, disapproval or superiority over his partner. These manifestations are “subtly” presented, often in the form of a joke, with the aim of suggesting to the oppressed person that they are misunderstanding or taking what is said out of context.
  2. Microattacks – derogatory comments delivered in the form of a compliment. The subtext is a gross insult or attack on the person’s identity.
  3. Micronegations – random comments or statements that belittle or dismiss the oppressed person’s experiences. This type of microaggressions trivializes oppressive or discriminatory events, thereby disregarding the oppressed person’s sense of justice.
  4. Microaggressions – overt manifestations of microaggression, which can be both verbal and non-verbal. They are characterized by explicitly aggressive behavior that is apparently aimed at attack. Microaggressions can be both insulting words and behavior with a discriminatory or other type of disparaging attitude.
  5. Microinsults – words thrown by chance and incidentally or carrying out regular communication with a visible expression of rudeness, insensitivity, arrogance and desire to disparage the other party. They are formed in the mind based on various stereotypes about race, gender, religion and others.
  6. Micro-invalidations –words or acts of behavior that clearly demonstrate hostility towards marginalized racial groups. They are based on highly expressed racism, which causes the aggressor to be indifferent to the normal human feelings, experiences and thoughts of the victim. Offensive comments and actions may be based on a different characteristic (gender, appearance, religion or ethnicity) other than race.

Examples of microaggression in domestic violence

  • The aggressor intentionally startles the victim and then laughs.
  • Gender-related compliment, eg “You drive very well for a woman”.
  • Suggesting to an overweight person that they should eat less or that they should not eat certain foods.
  • Making an assumption about a person’s personality based on their gender, race, etc.
  • Making statements with which the aggressor underestimates the victim’s ability/skills to cope in a particular situation, for example: “I always thought you could make a baby stop crying.”
  • Use of sexist language, etc.

Victims of domestic violence feel these microaggressions all the time. Even if the aggressor ends the active form of control, does not use physical violence causing visible injuries, microaggression is a way by which he can continue to be indirectly abusive and controlling. Microaggression causes a feeling of fear, pain, insecurity, etc., to overcome which serious and systematic work is required to improve the mental health of the victim.

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