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The Negative Impact of Microaggressions and How to Overcome Them

When it comes to our physical and mental health, there are a variety of factors that determine our well-being. But how precisely are we affected by the way we are perceived by other individuals? Some recent studies regarding microaggressions have looked into this and this is what they’ve found.

What are microaggressions? In essence, these are the everyday negative behaviors — whether verbal or nonverbal, intentional or not — that individuals exhibit when targeting others based solely on their marginalized group membership. Although the original studies back in the 1970s focused on African Americans as the targets, the categories have since expanded to include women, members of the LGBT Community, people with mental and physical disabilities, the impoverished, and religious minorities.

Although microaggressions can occur based on how a person consciously perceives any of these marginalized groups, their attitudes and actions can also occur without that person recognizing their actions have such a negative impact. Regardless of whether the behaviors are explicit or not, the end result is a great deal of harm as it relates to the marginalized individual’s well-being.

When people experience stress, some of the typical responses include increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and the secretion of hormones such as cortisol. One such stressor includes discrimination. Indeed, in one study African-American participants who felt they had been discriminated against were less likely to get a proper sleep, which is necessary for maintaining a healthy immune system and overall mental function. Furthermore, such stresses increased the likelihood of chronically high blood pressure and heart disease.