April 6, 2015

10 Liberating Ways to Overcome Internalized Oppression.


Growing up as immigrant brown-skinned girl, oppression occurred all around me as the white boys on my block did everything they could to hold my family and me down.

We were told we were terrorists, to go tend our 7-11s, to go home. Forced to eat “brown like us” dirt, we entered a hostile landscape of perpetually being the terrorist bad guys in childhood not-so imaginative play.

We literally fought for our lives everyday. We were the “other” and the “enemy” clearly, even to kids who couldn’t spell their own names yet.

As a child, I listened to what I was told. “Don’t take up space, don’t speak. You are unlovable, unworthy, ugly.” These were all messages I received and started to believe. And even when I fought back the barbs went in despite my defenses.

Necessity grew me up to be a pretty good fighter; I could hold my own in any fisticuff throw-down. But what I didn’t see coming was the subtle battle I lost because I didn’t even know it was happening. When we constantly hear again and again that we are bad/ugly/evil/the enemy, despite our strongest intentions, it can start to seem real. I internalized a lot of beliefs about the inferiority of my kind.

Internalized oppression occurs when we take in and believe the misinformation, stereotypes, lies and prejudices a dominant group perpetuates about a target group.

The effects of internalized oppression can be devastating. From diminished self-esteem, to lower performance in school, to isolation, and depression it has insidious power that can rend a life.

It can affect individuals as well as groups and works on a systemic and structural level just as power does. The effects of internalized oppression are never the fault of the person or groups who are harmed by it.

Yet we can transform ourselves as we heal the community as well. As we overcome the misinformation, stereotypes and prejudice that have gone inside, we are more capable of fighting against it both within and outside of ourselves.

I found and followed a powerful path to freedom from my own self-hate. These tools are effective for transforming personal internalized oppression. These are guideposts on the path to spiral along while working to cultivating freedom and to liberate ourselves from internal oppression.


Celebrate self, culture, gender, sexuality, uniqueness.

First, I began to take pride in and celebrate my own unique self and culture. All of a sudden, instead of feeling ashamed of the different practices I had or foods I ate, I was willing to show it off and share it, to those who were interested.

Take up space, own our place on the earth.

I started dance and movement practices that helped me find my balance and ground. For most of my childhood I was clumsy and would bump into people, poles or anything in my path. Soon, I began a more intentional practice of occupying space. The clumsiness disappeared. I became more and more sure that the space I took up was mine.

Breathe for power.

I took deep breaths, filling my lungs and opening my arms wide. When I bent my chest backwards a bit, and opened my arms up wide to breathe in, there was nothing I couldn’t do!

Hone voice: Tell truth and speak it loudly.

I honed, honored and shared my voice. As a young person, I often bit my tongue or stayed quiet in conversations where my point of view just didn’t seem to fit. Instead, as I started to find my voice, I spoke up and shared my perspective. Not everyone was happy, but people felt they knew me better. I started to stand up for what was right and speak against injustice and oppression with my truth and power.

Affirm your true beauty.

I looked closely at the ugly words I had heard, and inquired whether they were true. When I really looked, what I saw was that I had always been a cute, cool, fun little kid. The truth was, none of those insults were true. It took a long time of re-affirming to myself my beauty and goodness before I believed it. Affirmation of self is key.

Burn through insecurities with core work.

It sounds strange, but dropping and doing 10 crunches works wonders. Working on my core helped develop inner strength and confidence. I began to trust myself and know I was worthy of any challenge.

Free ourselves from a strong sense of self.

One of the biggest ways I freed myself from internalized oppression was by giving up my grip on being the mistreated, badly oppressed one. Once I let that identity go I was completely free. The insults still came but they had no power over me anymore. I was so much more than any label.

Practice love and kindness.

I found this freedom through loving others and myself. I practiced loving kindness by saying phrases like, “May I be well. May I be happy. May he be free of his suffering. May he be full of joy.” This kept me strong and loving. It also allowed me to do the next key step to overcoming internalized oppression.

Feel compassion and, when you are ready, forgive.

With practicing compassion I started to understand the people who put me down were afraid and suffering themselves. This realization helped me forgive them for the harm they caused me. This became my key to freedom. Instead of suffering in response to their cruelty, I just wished them joy and love. I suffered less and they no longer had the power to make me suffer. And they actually seemed to have a bit more joy, which meant they tried to torment others less.

Internalize liberation with love.

Wishing oppressors joy and love is not giving in to them. It is a subtle reversal of the insidious power of internalized oppression. It externalizes strength, confidence and power. It makes us more powerful to challenge, interrupt and subvert injustice and oppression. It invites transformation not only of myself, but of those who no longer can see me in a limited view. Love and freedom give us an immense power.

Combat internalized oppression.

Internalize liberation. Practice it. Feel it. Pass it on.




Why does a bully Bully?


Author: Susanna Barkataki

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Author’s Own


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