How to Navigate Internalized Oppression
In what is an undoubtedly diverse society that is increasingly more tolerant of each other’s differences, discrimination and oppression are still too prevalent. Among others, we still have a measurable wage gap between men and women; immigrants still have undue difficulty finding jobs despite being well educated; and members of the LGBTQ community continue to experience violence and harassment.
Such oppression takes a toll. It tends to generate stereotypes that, sadly, some end up unintentionally internalizing. That is, having been discriminated against and oppressed for so long, sometimes people end up believing and incorporating these falsehoods into their understanding of themselves. For instance, some women in the workforce may actually believe that they deserve less pay than their male counterparts because they feel that, somehow, how much they earn is a measure of their competence. Similarly, people struggling with obesity might think of themselves as lesser than those in a slimmer body because that is how they have been treated. As a result, it is common for non-dominant individuals to experience lower self-esteem, lower self-respect and even depression.
If you are feeling this way, how can you challenge internalized oppression? These are strategies that have worked for some and may be helpful for you as well:
Take Some Time to Celebrate Who You Are as a Person. Take pride in yourself and your values, beliefs and everything that defines you. This may be printing a picture that is important to you and posting it in your living or work space; it may be playing music that matters to you; or sharing an interest of yours with someone you care about.
Engage in Simple Acts of Love Toward Yourself. When you are engaging in healthy habits – such as enjoying a healthy snack, taking a 15-minute walk just for air or 5 deep breaths so you have a chance to really breathe – you are giving yourself a message that you are worthwhile.
Group Solidarity. Meet with others belonging to similar cultural groups in order to heal from internalized oppression. Meeting with others who have had similar experiences to your own and hearing their stories helps normalize your own experiences, and allows you to connect and heal together. Validating each other’s pain is part of the growing process, as is looking for small signs of healing and new steps forward.
Supportive Others. In addition to spending time with individuals from similar cultural groups, spend time with supportive individuals who are not from the same cultural groups as well. For example, a female in the workforce with male colleagues can spend time with other males who are supportive of her initiatives. Similarly, an LGBTQ member can spend time with other individuals who are straight allies. At times it can be powerful and healing to connect with individuals who have not experienced the same oppression, and who also may be a member of the traditional oppressor group.
Becoming an Ally. This ties back to the group solidarity strategy. Connecting with others is a great way of healing and overcoming difficulties in life. So, become an ally to individuals struggling with internalized depression; share your own journey with them. This will accelerate your own healing process because you will begin to take pride in the positive impact that you are having on another’s life. Examples include becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, or working at the LGBTQ support help line.
Internalized oppression can affect any of us, whether it be due to our age, sex, gender, race, sexual orientation, weight status, or otherwise. Acknowledging internalized oppression sets you up to take on these challenges, healing you one step at a time.
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Wegscheider-Cruse, S. (2012). Learning to love yourself: Finding your self-worth. Deerfield, FL:
Health Communications Incorporated.
Farah Premji, MSc., specializes in the areas of depression, anxiety, and self care, as well as many others. For more information on Farah and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.