Despite laws put into place specifically to protect individuals against discrimination, many people say they have experienced it in some form over the course of their lives. It can affect anyone, of any race, sexual orientation, age, or gender, and while everyone reacts to it differently, it can truly take a toll on a person’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Because discrimination can come at any age and for various reasons, it is especially dangerous for young people due to the fact that they are often not emotionally equipped to deal with the repercussions.
Discrimination can lead to everything from job-loss to low self-esteem to violence, all of which can in turn lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse. It’s imperative, then, that we understand exactly what discrimination is and how to handle it in a healthy way.
Discrimination comes in many forms, but the most common ones include unfair treatment of an individual based on the color of their skin, gender, sexual orientation, age, education level, or appearance. This can lead to a person losing a job or not being seriously considered for one, being refused service at a restaurant or other place of business, being bullied, and/or being treated as untrustworthy based on someone else’s prejudices.
According to the University of Southern Indiana, discrimination doesn’t always present itself in an overt way. There are three types of “microaggressions” which are commonplace in work or school situations:
Because these instances can occur several times per day, several days per week, it’s important to be able to identify them for what they are in order to properly address them.
Dealing with the weight of someone else’s prejudices can be overwhelming and detrimental to your self-esteem, but it can also make you feel isolated, which is when many people seek comfort in dangerous substances like drugs or alcohol.
You may feel like no one could possibly understand what you’re going through, but you’re not alone. It’s unfortunate that so many people have experienced discrimination, but it also means that there are support groups and counselors who can help, and many times talking it out can help tremendously. Don’t keep your anger and sense of injustice bottled up; this can only lead to problems down the line and can make you feel out of control.
It’s also important to talk to someone about what you’ve experienced so that you can receive feedback about what happened. You may be used to having your feelings and opinions invalidated by others, so it’s important to be open about what you have been through in order to understand that it really happened and that you have a support system behind you. It can be hard for some to talk about the discrimination they’ve experienced, in part because it’s painful but also because they are afraid they’ll be labeled as “overly-sensitive” or that no one will believe them. Talk to your family or a close friend about your feelings; they may have had a similar experience.
It’s important to keep in mind that reporting discrimination in the workplace can lead to uncomfortable situations with co-workers or superiors. Even though there are laws protecting employees from being victimized for reporting discrimination, a manager who means well otherwise might unintentionally label you as a troublemaker when it comes time to delegate or promote.
Because discrimination can be difficult to prove or document, it’s important to write down what happened along with the date and any other pertinent information, especially if there were no witnesses. Be sure to use your own computer or other supplies to do this so you won’t be accused of misusing company property, and never record someone without their permission. Breaking the law now won’t help you down the road.
Be calm and professional when reporting the discrimination; relay only the information that is important to the situation at hand and keep personal feelings out of it. Still, it’s imperative that you remain firm in your resolve and don’t back down.
It’s important to keep in mind that discrimination could lead to a hate-crime, which should be handled differently. According to the Anti-Defamation League, there are steps you and officials can take in response. Working to combat these behaviors is extremely important because it can lead to a negative impact on communities that can result in aggression.
It’s very difficult – and for some, nearly impossible – to move past some types of discrimination. It’s OK to feel angry about what happened; you are only human and being made to feel less-than is painful and embarrassing. Maybe you want to speak up in your own defense but are afraid of the backlash it could cause. Being unable to stand up for yourself can lead to explosive feelings that will only do harm to you or others; some might keep their feelings inside until they unleash on someone else on accident, while others turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with the pain or to help them sleep.
The fact is, substances only make things worse. Physically, alcohol changes the makeup of the brain, dehydrates you, and changes your sleep patterns so that you aren’t actually rested when you wake up. Long-term substance abuse can have serious effects on the liver and heart and can exacerbate depression symptoms, leading to possible suicidal thoughts.
Rather than allowing those negative feelings to take over, focus on yourself. You know your own mind and actions better than anyone else; don’t let another person’s opinion change the way you see yourself. It can be difficult to hear a negative belief about yourself over and over and not internalize it, but it’s imperative that you not buy into it. Make it a point to really look at your strengths and channel time and energy into them. Keep telling yourself that you can overcome these difficult times and come out on the other side a stronger, wiser person.
You might not think you are the creative type because you’ve never tried to make art before, but have you ever seen a child turn down the opportunity to participate in a craft project? Not likely. They understand the beauty and sheer joy that art can bring even at a young age; they don’t worry about whether or not they are “creative”. Humans have always enjoyed making something out of nothing – and you probably will, too.
Art has long been utilized as a type of therapy for many different people and for various reasons. Being creative can help an individual get in touch with parts of themselves they haven’t seen for years or never knew about, draw out negative emotions and build self-esteem, and help them foster a sense of pride that may not have been there before. Whether you want to try visual art – such as painting, drawing, sculpting, or making a collage – or find something more physical, there are many different creative genres to pull from. Some of these include:
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One of the best ways to pull yourself out of a negative situation is to turn it around into something positive. You can get involved with your church, a local youth group, or an online support group to help people who have had similar experiences with discrimination. Young people will particularly benefit from spending time with someone who is older, wiser, and has been through a similar situation, especially if they are being bullied. You can also start a blog or use social media to draw attention to the issue and make your voice heard.
Going out of your way to help people who are being discriminated against due to factors beyond their control sets a good example for others, as well. Don’t be afraid to speak up on behalf of someone else, especially if they don’t feel they can do it on their own. Remember to challenge the behavior and not the person who is doing the discriminating, however. Keep in mind that people make mistakes, and that change can only happen if we show each other – especially young people – how to behave and treat one another.
It’s important to remember to take care of yourself after experiencing discrimination. Being treated unfairly can leave you with low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy, so being mindful of ways you can make yourself happy and healthy is imperative. Some things you can do to achieve this are:
One of the best ways to prevent discrimination and prejudice is to start at home. If you have children, make it a point to teach them about the dangers of judging a book by its cover (many children’s shows – such as Sesame Street – tackle these topics with sensitivity). Help them understand ways they can be empathetic to others no matter what they look like or what disabilities they may have. Let them know that name-calling is hurtful and unacceptable and do not accept it from anyone else; lead by example by not staying silent on the issue when someone uses slurs or stereotypes a group of people.
Often, young children simply don’t understand what makes people different or why a person might use a wheelchair instead of walking like they do. It’s important to be open with your child and allow them to ask questions so you can teach them about the correct way to treat others. You might also look for books that are made for little ones which will help them learn all the ways people are different and why that’s OK.
Experiencing discrimination of any kind can make a person feel ashamed, unwanted, angry, and powerless. Those are heavy emotions to have, especially when they all come at once, so it’s important to be honest with yourself about your feelings and how you are dealing with them. Don’t be afraid to speak up about what you’re going through and seek professional help if you feel you need counseling. Take comfort in the knowledge that you don’t deserve to be mistreated, and you are not alone.