Living with Chronic Pain
Effects of Microaggressions on Those With Chronic Pain
What is a microaggression?
Microaggressions are subtle phrases or acts to a marginalized individual that are forms of prejudice. Often, the individual has no intent of causing harm, and they may intend to be helpful or friendly. They may not realize how their words or actions are harmful or insensitive. However, microaggressions can leave individuals feeling as if a part of their identity is being ignored, disrespected or unconsidered.
Examples of microaggressions
Microaggressions may be intentional or unintentional. They can be verbal, nonverbal, insults, snubs, environmental, etc. A few examples may include the following:
- “You speak English well.”
- “You don’t look disabled.”
- “That’s so gay.”
- “You’re too young to know real depression.”
Microaggressions against those with chronic pain
Disabled individuals, particularly those with chronic pain, frequently experience high levels of microaggressions. This may include statements such as “You don’t look sick,” “It could be worse,” “You’ll get better soon,” or “You’re such an inspiration.” They may also encounter behavioral acts of microaggression, including dirty looks or unkind words for not giving their seat to someone else, parking in a handicap space, or the location of their mobility device. Additionally, certain environmental factors are considered microaggressions. Examples include buildings where the button to activate the automatic door is small or hard to find, or a classroom where the seats are bolted to the floor and the pathway is too narrow for certain mobility devices.
How do microaggressions impact chronic pain?
People who experience microaggressions may notice a significant, direct impact on their health. The name “microaggressions” may appear to represent small and non-impactful instances. However, even small occurrences of prejudice can build up over time and cause health problems. It has been shown that higher levels of discrimination can lead to increased blood pressure, faster heart rate, elevated production of cortisol, and reduced “slow-wave” sleep, which is the most restful sleep.
Poor sleep can negatively impact a person’s health in various ways. It is associated with the immune system, hormones, and cognitive function. Microaggressions can increase levels of depression and cause other mental health issues that are interconnected with chronic pain. If an individual with a chronic pain condition experiences microaggressions due to the condition, the related stress will likely elevate pain levels.