It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.
—W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folks (1989 :3)
Internalized oppression is defined by Pyke (2010) as the impact of ideologies, values, stereotypes, and images on a mind when those entities perpetuate dominance on an oppressed group. The psychological impact is multidimensional and can take many forms. Pyke (2010) makes it very clear that internalized oppression is (1) “not the result of some cultural or biological characteristic of the subjugated;” and (2) not a weakness, ignorance, or shortcoming. This repetitive and negative psychological exposure creates feelings of self-doubt and disrespect for one’s own group or self. Pyke and Johnson (2003) explain that internalized oppression can become a “hidden injury.” Hardy (2013) describes it as an “assaulted sense of self.”
In order to be whole, we must recognize the despair oppression plants within each of us…[a]nd we must fight that inserted piece of self destruction that lives and flourishes like a poison inside of us, unexamined until it makes us turn on ourselves in each other…[W]e can lessen its potency by the knowledge of our real connectedness, arcing across our differences. -Audre Lorde (1984, 142)
We have adapted five steps that folx can practice to mindfully unlearn internalized oppression. These five steps are adapted from Beth Berila’s book, “Integrating Mindfulness into Anti-Oppression Pedagogy.”
- Become familiar. We must be aware of how internalized oppression shows up and impacts each of us individually because it will present itself at various degrees. When do you find yourself behaving in ways that exhibit self-doubt? When do you demean a community that you are a member of due to stereotypes that surround you? What are the emotions that arise when a moment of internalized oppression shows up for you? Becoming familiar with the answers to these question (and more) can help you start the process of consciously recognizing when these harmful thoughts show up.
- Lean in to it. Berila makes note, “While it is not surprising that we have internalized some of the negative messages the saturate the society in which we live, we will not unlearn them if we harden against them–at least in relation to ourselves.” During the moments that we experience or engage with these traumatic thoughts it is important to recognize that they are present and lean into them. Why–is an important question that we should ask ourselves. If we ignore that we are engaging in these behaviors and put up barriers then we will not be successful in dismantling them.
- Resist alienation. The first instinct of internalized oppression (when we recognize its existence) is to not discuss the experience with others (both inside and outside your identity group). Berila (2016) makes note that mindfulness can help us “learn how to use those moments of pain to connect with others rather than to separate ourselves.” This process relies on connecting with others and finding community.
- Reflect. Folx who experience internalized oppression should explore their reactions and emotions inward. Berila (2016) makes note that self-reflection “is a process, so each time we engage in it, we have another opportunity to go deeper and become more nuanced in our understanding of ourselves and others.” It is important to build up your toolbox with contemplative practices such as journaling, meditating, yoga, and breathing techniques.
- Confide in Others. The best way to hold ourselves accountable is to invite others into our process. Then, our close friends, family, and colleagues can recognize the moments when internalized oppression is manifesting and help us dismantle it in our lives.