Mind Matters – How big is your list of ‘micro oppressions’?

I’ve noticed a tinge of annoyance when reading in the media about ‘Micro aggressions’. Having reflected, I realise it is because it is a concept that encourages us to be constantly vigilant in terms of the behaviour of other people. Of course it can be a relief to have a concept like ‘micro aggression’ to help us make sense of our experience of others and yet at the same time the negativity of the word itself may well result in us feeling less comfortable. I’m not saying that feeling uncomfortable around difficult behaviours is not appropriate but is it always helpful? I wonder the degree to which conflict in relationships escalates as these negative labels make their way into everyday conversations?

Instead I prefer to change the focus away from labelling what is external to us towards finding ways to understand our internal experience. This is because when we become clearer about what feels wrong for us in all situations we are able to decide what action and change we can make. This I believe is so much more empowering than trying to use concepts and labels to try and get others to change and in my experience much more likely to succeed because when you are clear about something feeling wrong for you those around you generally want to help find a solution.

Of course we are not talking about abusive and unsafe situations, instead we are talking about those experiences that are such that life and relationships contain painful experiences that we are certain are unnecessary and damages feelings of trust and ease, in other words life would simply be better without them.

So I ended up thinking about a new term ‘micro oppressions’. I know that oppression sounds a bit dramatic and yet the dictionary does offer ‘mental pressure or distress’ as a definition and what I particularly like about it is that just thinking about sorting out oppression can be a positive experience before you even get started. What I mean by micro oppressions are those seemingly minor things in life which always cause some discomfort, make your day less enjoyable, make your interactions with people less satisfying and involve you in additional time, energy or even money. So thinking about your life, what are the things on a day to day basis that routinely oppress you?

In my thinking, and from what my patients share with me, things such as the alarm clock, Sunday evenings, the last afternoon each month filling out expenses forms, the dripping tap, when your partner forgets – as they do regularly – to put the bins out, feeling uncomfortable on a particular part of a footpath home, the way it feels when you are again waiting for the friend who is always ten minutes late, the way that family member always rolls their eyes when you say you are fed up with something or other, the way your colleagues split the bill when you go out for drinks even though they drink far more than you do, the software updates that ask you to accept their new terms and conditions, the self serve checkout thats dirty and won’t scan the barcode?

So what do you think now? Do you have micro oppressions in your life? How does it feel for you having micro oppressions in your life? Maybe you have just thought of them as a fact of life and to be put up with but isn’t that in itself a micro oppression?

So what is the route to freedom from these micro oppressions? The first thing to remember is that if it matters to you then you are being given a message that something needs your attention, not the attention you are currently giving it but a new attention. Something is acting to oppress you and so think about what is the actual source of that pressure or distress, think about what you have tried and ask yourself what you haven’t tried. Pay particular attention to things that you wouldn’t try and see if you can provide a concrete reason as to why that is. Think about the power of paradox and how doing the opposite of what we expect of ourselves can be a way to freedom.

Returning to the list of micro oppressions given as examples earlier then the following possibilities now come to my mind of things I might try:

  • Change the alarm clock to a wake up light clock
  • Make Sunday nights fun nights
  • Fill out your expense forms as you go along
  • Practise mindfulness using the dripping tap as your focus
  • Put the bins out yourself and stop doing something else that you don’t much like anyway
  • Go home a different way
  • Be ten minutes late yourself
  • Don’t tell that person when you are fed up
  • Start your own tab
  • When there is a new software update look at the new conditions and marvel at just how many there are
  • Go back to the manned checkouts and enjoy the little bit of extra human interaction

As this article comes to close I guess I am wondering – do you feel better from having spent a bit of time thinking about the things that oppress you and what you might do to gain greater freedom? And do you also think you feel better than you would have done thinking about things through the lens of micro aggression?

Nicholas Rose

UKCP accredited Psychotherapist

Psychotherapy, counselling, relationship therapy and coaching.

PGDip, MA, Adv Dip Ex Psych

Nicholas Rose & Associates
Counselling, psychotherapy and coaching for children, adults, couples and families.


Read more blogs by Nicholas Rose

Read the next post – Mind Matters – Feeling fine or feeling F.I.N.E?

Read the previous one – Mind Matters – The power of nostalgia

See all Nicholas’s Mind Matters blogs here

Read a profile of Nicholas here

Read more on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Chiswick Calendar News & Features