How to Respond & Deal with Microaggressions

Microaggressions are subtle, indirect forms of discrimination that can be either intentional or unintentional. You can encounter microaggressions in various situations and settings, including the workplace, academic arenas, or personal relationships.

Knowing how to deal with microaggressions can be tricky — it requires a delicate balance of being confident and asserting yourself while being able to maintain the relationship. With the right strategies, though, you can effectively handle these inappropriate and dangerous interactions.

Use our tips to prepare for when and how to respond to microaggressions. The following techniques will empower you to rise above and set your boundaries.

Identify the Type of Microaggression

Before effectively responding to microaggressive behavior, you need to identify the problem. There are three types, and understanding each is the first step in knowing how to respond to microaggressions effectively:

  • Microassault: For example, a coworker makes an offensive joke about your ethnicity.
  • Microinsult: For example, a professor expresses surprise at your grade or test score because of your gender.
  • Microinvalidation: For example, a friend dismisses your concerns about racial profiling with a snarky retort, “all lives matter.”

A recent review looked at 138 studies on microaggressive behavior that were published from 2007 – 2020. Researchers found microaggressions happen in a variety of settings, target minority groups, and that there are also secondary forms that occur after someone challenges an offender. Gaslighting, ’splaining, speaking for others, and victim-blaming are typical reactions when someone is called out on microaggressive behavior. 

Decide If and How to Respond

It won’t always be in your best interest to respond to every microaggression. How, and if, you respond will depend on several factors. You’ll need to address the pros and cons of each incident before you decide how to react.

“HIstorically, microaggressions were attributed to racial minorities. However, over time, it had evolved to be a part of any marginalized population. Responding to these microaggressions starts with whether or not the affected person wants to address the microaggression. Each person is different and how they react to microaggressions is different. When deciding to respond to microaggressions, it is important to consider the different ways to confront it. It usually starts with clarification and moves on to correcting the offender in some way. While it is upsetting to the offended person, how they address it (i.e. tone) is important too.”

– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Strategies for Responding to Microaggressions

You may be hesitant to have a difficult dialogue, but addressing such behavior is important. There are several strategic ways you can respond to a microaggression. Of course, which of these you use will depend on the offender, the environment, and the actual aggression that was made. Not all of these will be appropriate in every instance, but these can aid in addressing microaggressions.

Asking them to clarify

Request that they further explain their statement. This could prompt the offender to reconsider their view, statement, or action, or they might double down. Either way, you’ll have a better idea of your next steps.

Addressing the impact on oneself

You might try to explain how a comment or behavior has affected you personally. Helping someone become more self-aware can go a long way with some people, especially if their actions are unintentional.

Using empathy

Sometimes you can show understanding towards the offender while still being able to assert your feelings. Try putting yourself in their shoes and think about why they might have made a comment or behaved in a certain way. Understanding their perspective may lead to a more constructive conversation about biases and stereotypes.

Challenging the stereotype

You can challenge stereotypes by showing that you don’t fit into a preconceived notion. Offer examples from your own life or point out exceptions within the world. Discuss topics like environmental racism and the model minority myth, and how even unintentionally targeting a minority or marginalized group can be devastating and harmful.

Educating the offender

You might try to explain why a comment was offensive and why it might be taken personally. You can offer information about why a statement is destructive, sharing what you know about racial trauma and the effects it has on mental health. You could also share resources, like articles, videos, or books encouraging learning while avoiding arguments.

Separating intent from the outcome

Try to figure out if the offender was aware of their words or actions and how they might come across. Then, you can focus on addressing what happened instead of assigning blame. This is a non-confrontational way to manage a microaggressive situation.

Sharing your process

You can be vulnerable in front of the offender by explaining how their behavior, actions, and words make you feel. If applicable, share your personal experiences to try and create understanding.

Expressing your feelings

It’s OK to be honest about how microaggressive behavior affects you emotionally and personally. Sometimes this can help the offender see how destructive their actions can be. It might even foster empathy in them.

“Microaggressions are so subtle sometimes that it isn’t always clear if it has occurred. When it is apparent it isn’t always clear how to approach the person or if it should be addressed at all. Talking to others like one’s support system, therapist, and/or other trusted community leaders is a start in navigating the structure and nuisances of microaggressions.”

– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Considerations When Responding

As you’re deciding how to respond to a microaggression, you should consider the several possible outcomes or ramifications of your response. Of course, it’s essential that you always make your safety and the safety of others around you a priority.

It’s a good idea to assess each situation case by case before reacting to a microaggression.

Start by looking at the following to help determine what your response will be:

  • Context and timing: Are you at work? Is it professional to respond? Sometimes it won’t be appropriate or feasible to address workplace microaggressions immediately. If this is the case, you can decide whether discussing the issue at another time in the near future might be more effective.
  • Relationship with the offender: Is it your boss, a colleague, or a peer? Can you respond appropriately? Consider your relationship with the person before you decide how to react. If it’s someone you’re close with and you genuinely care for one another, having an open conversation about their behavior might be an effective way of addressing microaggression behavior.
  • Power dynamics at play: Do you have power or authority over them? Or vice versa? When you’re aware of power imbalances, you can decide if confronting someone might lead to a negative outcome. If you’re worried about retaliation, it might be best not to respond right away.
  • Emotional state: How comfortable are you addressing the issue? It’s important to be resolute and firm when confronting microaggressions. If you’re not up to it, it might be best to wait until you have strength or support so you’re not vulnerable. 
  • One-time or pattern: Is this a one-time incident or an ongoing pattern?
  • Do you feel safe in responding: If there’s any risk of physical harm or retaliation, it might not be wise to respond this time. Instead, you might seek support or help from a trusted colleague or address appropriate channels in the chain of command to file a complaint or report the behavior.
  • Tone and delivery: Try to remain calm and composed when you address microaggressions. This helps keep the situation from escalating. Use “I” statements to express how you were affected by the comment. Resist the temptation to be accusatory or attack the other person, which can make them more defensive and refuse to listen.

How to Deal with Microaggressions

Dealing with microaggressions can be challenging, but when you’re prepared and armed with the strategies and techniques we’ve given you here, it can be less emotionally draining. It is possible to navigate microaggressions while keeping your mental health and well-being intact.

Use the following tips if you’re trying to learn how to deal with microaggressions:

  • Get support: Seeking support from others, like friends and family members or colleagues, can be beneficial. Especially if they’ve experienced a similar situation, they might be able to offer you valuable advice. Most importantly, it can be a safe space to vent your feelings.
  • Talk to a therapist: Mental health professionals are skilled in helping you process and respond to microaggressions. Managing the emotions triggered by microaggressive behavior can be hard, but it’s possible, especially when you have coping mechanisms. Leaning on culturally sensitive therapy can be beneficial in dealing with such situations if they’re aimed toward your race or culture.
  • Establish boundaries: When you know how to set healthy boundaries, it can be easier to maintain a healthy relationship, even if you’re dealing with microaggressions. Make sure you clearly express your limits and that you’re assertive.
  • Educate yourself about different forms of discrimination: Understanding different types of bias can be empowering. It can allow you to address them effectively and non-confrontationally. You can read books and articles or listen to podcasts, or even attend workshops on cultural diversity and inclusion — all of which will help broaden your knowledge and offer you a strategic platform to respond from.
  • Use self care: Dealing with microaggressions requires emotional resilience. Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself and using self care. Activities like meditation, yoga, journaling for mental health, and even eating healthy and getting enough sleep can all preserve your mental and physical health.
  • Document all incidents: Especially if microaggressions are happening at work, you should keep a record of it. Include the date, time, and as much detail and context as possible. Hopefully, it won’t be needed, but documentation can be helpful if you end up reporting an incident or discussing it with someone who has authority.

Learn to Deal with Microaggressions with Talkspace

Confronting microaggressions can result in negative feelings and emotional turmoil. It can be a complex process to navigate and manage, especially if you’re trying to do it on your own.

Getting help from a qualified and experienced mental health professional can help you develop coping mechanisms, so you know how to deal with microaggressions while being able to protect your own mental health. Talkspace is an online therapy platform that makes getting support easy.

Talkspace can be an invaluable resource in your journey. Your therapist can be a reliable support system and offer you all the tools and support you need to effectively and successfully address microaggressions. You don’t have to let these subtle forms of discrimination take a toll on you, your relationships, or your mental health.


  1. Current understandings of microaggressions: Impacts on individuals and Society. Association for Psychological Science – APS. Published September 13, 2021. Accessed April 21, 2023.

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