AEDP Institute

Microaggressions: Spotting them and repairing them


On Microaggressions towards racially marginalized groups: Many white people are fearful of “saying the wrong thing”. As human beings we sometimes say the wrong thing … It’s what we do after that makes all the diference. If we retreat in the midst of shame and guilt, that exacerbates the harm.

Self-awareness and self-regulation is key for us to bear the discomfort that arises when opening to face implicit biases when they arise and cause harm. The way to heal and repair the consequences of these actions and behaviors is for us to be willing to bear discomfort and bring focus to what needs to be attended to.

Acts of microaggression are wounding to people from various oppressed and vulnerable groups. For example, race, class/economic vulnerability, religion, sexual orientation, sex, non- binary gender identity, disability— visible and invisible, size, age, and other aspects of idenity all may have an impact on a person’s sense of safety or belonging, although we accept that this a non-exhaustive list. In this way, speaking from unexamined racial bias, mis-gendering a non-binary person; or making assumptions about someone’s economic or educational background; being “U.S.-centric” or “European-centric”, are examples of what may be experienced as microaggression. This may require that we re-examine our assumptions about our own relative “power”, or recognizing “privilege”.

There can be a confusion between intentions and consequences. The person in the “privileged position” often wants to exonerate themselves by explaining “I didn’t mean to” rather than staying with the consequence of the action, exploring and attending to the injury.

To commit to the repair is the point – to recognize and recalibrate and move to repair. This is what deepens the relationship.


For each of the steps to repair, here are suggestions for how to address microaggressions. Each
step suggests actions for the offender, and also for an ally of the person who has been offended.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Attend to the Injury
My way of letting you know that I know that what I said was harmful or hurtful. (This serves the
relationship.)

Attending to the Injury as an ally
My way of letting you know that I know that what was said or done was harmful or hurtful. (This serves the relationship, and also acts as a teaching opportunity to the mircoaggressor.)

LINK TO PAST EXPERIENCE OF THE PERSON

Attend to the Injury

This lets them know that you are aware that you are not the only person to have done this micro aggression, and even though it seems small to you, aggressions have a cumulative effect that you are acknowledging. e.g. “I wonder when I said ….” this will not have been your only experience of this,
and that I am adding to the trauma you already carry.

Attending to the Injury as an ally
My way of letting you know that I am aware that even though it seems small to you, aggressions have a cumulative effect that I am acknowledging. e.g. I am aware that when …. was said this will not have been your only experience of this, and that this added to the trauma you already carry.

AFFIRMATION

Attend to the Injury
My way of saying to you that what you say or experience is the way it is. This is the reality I am operating from – even when I am convinced I have been misunderstood. (Selflessness)

Attending to the Injury as an ally
My way of saying to you that what you say or experience is the way it is. This is much harder, as the person who has made the microaggression may have moved to defensiveness, minimizing and even
gaslighting. However, even if you are convinced that the aggressor has been misunderstood it is important to affirm that lived experience of the person, again linking to their past experiences potentially. This may need to be done in private and in a safe space, or could be done with the microaggresor to act as a model for them to manage their discomfort.

PLEDGE OF DIRECT TARGETED ACTION

Attend to the Injury
I am pledging to you the ways I will do this next time. I will change my behavior.

Attending to the Injury as an ally
I am pledging to you the ways I will do this next time.

APOLOGY

Attend to the Injury
An authentic apology can convey what I am apologizing for. We aim for the person to experience feeling seen and felt.

REQUEST FOR FORGIVENESS

Attend to the Injury
I understand that I may be undeserving of forgiveness, the person may need more time. My request doesn’t guarantee forgiveness. I want to convey that I value our relationship. I hope you can forgive me and I know there is no guarantee.

ENDING THE CONVERSATION

Attend to the Injury
Be clear that you are not now waiting for them to take care of you or to sooth you, or find something that they need to apologize for.

SELF CARE

Attend to the Injury
The experience of managing your own shame and dysregulation within your body may take a toll, and needs to be acknowledged by you and you need to take care of the feelings this will bring up. This is a relational risk and process.

Microaggressions often reveal an unconscious bias. If I am not clear what I did – this is where I might cross the line about making oppressed people educate me. The requirement isn’t for me to know exactly what I did – this point is to acknowledge that you experienced hurt and harm by what I did.

For example: if I have stepped on your toe, the right action will be for us to attend to the bruised and bloody toe. It will add insult to the injury if I advise you “don’t wear those thin shoes again” or “next time stand further away from my feet”. We need to attend to the toe that is throbbing.

Part of dealing with microaggressions is allyship, being able to stand for those who have been marginalized when microaggressions occur. This is important to distinguish from Saviourism: moving in to protect someone without regard to how they need to be cared for. Allyship may mean stepping up to undo their aloneness, validating their experience, especially when they are being gas lit, and joining with their voice to reinforce the fact that a microaggression has occurred.

Attending to the Injury as an ally
The experience of managing your own shame and dysregulation within your body will also take a toll, and needs to be acknowledged by you.


Microaggressions: Spotting them and repairing them
Based on Kenneth Hardy’s presentation at Marin CAMFT October 23, 2021 as summarized by Karen
Pando Mars and amended by Jacqueline Lynch and Kate Halliday, AEDP DBEI Committee Members.