Microaggression and its effects on health

Updated on April 27, 2024

Microaggression is a term first coined in the 1970s, and it is defined as the daily insults, slights, or other displays of antagonism or belittlement that people tend to make (consciously or not) towards members of marginalized groups, based solely on a person’s belonging to such a group.

At first, microaggression mainly referred to the daily displays of hostility that many people of color would experience. However, nowadays, a lot more groups are recognized as potential targets of microaggressions. Religious, racial, and ethnic minorities, LGBT people, people with disabilities, or ones coming from a poor socioeconomic background are among the groups that are most commonly targeted by microaggressions.

It is commonly accepted that there are three forms of microaggressions:

Microassaults 

This most obvious and apparent form of microaggression refers to direct verbal and/or behavioral insults and slights towards marginalized people. In almost all cases of microassaults, the hostile behavior is intentional and done consciously.

Microinsults

Acts of reassertion of prejudiced stereotypes that are demeaning of a person’s intelligence, morality, or social status through insensitive comments is what’s typically referred to as microinsults. Sometimes, a microinsult can be made unintentionally, by people who are simply inconsiderate rather than hostile.

Microinvalidations 

This is the mildest of the three types of microaggressions, and it refers to comments that belittle and downplay the experiences of people who come from marginalized groups. Micro-invalidations are not necessarily intended to be hostile or antagonistic, but people targeted by them can still feel significant emotional discomfort from them.

It’s a complicated subject

It is important to understand that the topic of microaggression is a quite sensitive one and also that, though there are some definitions in place, acts outside of them can also be categorized as microaggressions. Often, the act itself may seem like a careless remark, and indeed be that to the person making it, but, to the individual on the receiving end of the remark, what’s being said could have a significant negative emotional impact. At the same time, however, not everything that seems like a microaggression is truly an antagonistic behavior – a lot depends on the context of the current situation and the interpersonal dynamics between the people involved in it.

With all that said, one thing cannot be denied: getting targeted by microaggressions on a daily basis can have a negative impact on a person’s mental and physical health. This is why it is important to be aware of the potential effects of such behavior, especially considering that many people don’t even realize they are performing acts of microaggression.

Microaggression’s impact on mental health

To nobody’s surprise, being insulted on a daily basis, be it overtly or in an indirect way, can raise a person’s stress levels and cause overall discomfort that could persist for the entire day. Obviously, some people are less sensitive than others, and where a given person may not even notice a derogatory remark, another one might brood over it for days. In the latter case, this could eventually trigger emotional and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, and even lead to suicidal thoughts within the target of the microaggressions. In either case, making discriminatory and offensive comments about people is not okay regardless of how thick-skinned or sensitive a given person might be. 

On the flip side, if you’ve found yourself at the receiving end of such hostile remarks, you need to understand that there’s nothing you can (or should) do to change the people acting in this way. The only mature and constructive response is to understand that what that person has said or done doesn’t reflect who you are, but who they are as a person. It shows that they are crude, inconsiderate, and with bad manners, while you, being able to rise above such comments, only shows that you are a mature person who has confidence in themselves and isn’t shaken by random hostile comments.

Microaggression’s impact on physical health

Unfortunately, in addition to mentally impacting a person, microaggressions can also have negative effects on their physical health. It’s a well-known fact that elevated levels of cortisol – the stress hormone – can adversely impact one’s health in a number of ways. From increased heart rate over long periods of time and raised blood pressure, to a weakened immune system if the cortisol levels don’t get normalized for too long. 

The stress caused by microaggressions could also lead to unhealthy and outright harmful behaviors such as overeating, excessive alcohol consumption, and drug abuse, all of which can be destructive to a person’s health.

Admittedly, the actual impact that getting targeted by microaggression has on physical health is directly tied to how emotionally sensitive the specific person is to the antagonistic behavior. However, it must be said that even people who don’t seem to get too emotionally affected by microaggression displays could still be impacted by them on a subconscious level, which also leads to more stress.

Microaggression at home

Microaggressions can happen at any time, anywhere, including at home. An emotional person can be mean towards their partner through microaggressions or a parent can display demeaning behavior towards their child based on their sexual orientation. Those, and all other displays of microaggression at home can be defined as domestic abuse, and it is important to be able to recognize them and avoid them in the future. Domestic abuse is a very serious topic and what might start as occasional insulting remarks can quickly turn into toxic and abusive behavior, if not stopped on time.

Therefore, learning more about microaggression and domestic abuse is essential, regardless of whether you are in such a situation at the moment. The good news is that there are many ways to learn how to handle and avoid such situations – specialized books, resources from reputable websites, etc. You can also take part in a certified domestic violence course to have everything explained to you in an accessible and straight-to-the-point manner. Whatever approach you choose, know that staying informed is the best way to keep yourself, and the people you love, from becoming victims to any type of domestic violence.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.