We are all born into a world filled with and built on prejudice, which the dictionary defines as preconceived ideas. We are all socialized into the existing prejudicial arrangements. Although we cannot escape the current reality of prejudice in the human condition, we can challenge it. Before we can do so, however, we need an understanding of prejudice and, if possible, some new insights.
5 Reasons Prejudice Exists
There are five important reasons why prejudice exists:
- Threat Assessment. We use categories to quickly process information. Our threat processing minds use categories as a defense against outside threats. We learn that a hot stove can hurt so a hot stove is a category of potential harm. From our earliest days, we are building up an inventory of causes of potential harm. Some we learn from experience and others are passed down to us from our family and social group. Sometimes we question our perceptions and assumptions. Most of the time, however, we probably do not question what we consider to be potentially harmful. Since we are all vulnerable creatures we often protect ourselves by being “safe rather than sorry.”
- Survival. We survive through the support and protection of our social group or “tribe.” We adopt the attitudes and beliefs of that group as a way to maintain our membership. We are built to live in groups. One way we know that is that our brains give us an error message when we deviate from group norms, according to research on how the brain supports social conformity. So not only are we meant to live in groups, but our brains reinforce our conforming with our group. Not to do so will raise a perception of threat in the mind. We will continue to feel a threat whenever we act outside of group norms unless the consciousness of the group changes.
- Group Structures. Groups create structures around their beliefs, which also reinforce them. Because social structures require a significant investment in time and other resources, it can be difficult to change them. In addition, since people develop skills that enable them to succeed within a particular structural system, they may not have the skills for a different social arrangement.
- Identity. We often form our identities around our social group and our place in it. It can come to feel like “home,” making it difficult for us to envision a different set of circumstances for ourselves. Often we treat our circumstances as reality when they are really a situation, and situations can change. Losing our group and individual identities can seem very threatening but can ultimately be freeing.
- Expectations. Group norms, structures, and identities all have a profound effect in that they create and perpetuate expectations. Expectations can be comforting. They can help us feel that we understand or know our world when in fact we do not. They give us predictability and stability in a world that is always changing.
How Prejudice Creates Grief
Prejudice is a natural although harmful result of our species effort to create stability. As we have learned more, human beings are finally recognizing the mistakes created by many biases since they are too often wrong. Prejudice based on physical characteristics denies the humanity in each person. Sensitive people experience a unique form of prejudice around aversions to feelings, sensitivity, and the feminine.
Cultural systems inevitably value some characteristics over others. Sometimes the values are hurtful especially in our highly commodified cultural system. When a culture’s values, demands, and expectations differ too greatly from who we are, we may feel that parts of ourselves are not welcome. The result will be feelings of loss around:
- our openness
- our wonder
- our innocent trust
- our true self
- our status as co-creators of our world with others
- our hope of being welcome fully as ourselves
- our self-respect
- our dreams
All cultural arrangements that promote security often do so at the expense of our true and whole self. The resulting feeling of loss may be reinforced when we interact with others who do not understand or get us. We may feel unseen. It does not matter what the prejudice is, we can become stuck in a process that rewounds us. The pain can feel like a rejection of our true selves and cause us to withdraw from social engagement. A process of self-diminishment can develop over time and even accelerate.
The Path To Recovery
Recovery from the wounds of prejudice can take some time.
Here are some important steps you can take to support your own healing:
- set up a grieving process for yourself. Group therapy and writing in journals can be very helpful in finding acceptance for your pain.
- develop a health program for yourself. Every act of self-care is a validation of your life. It is something you deserve and it feels good.
- find some energy healing practices like EFT, reiki, and meditation to help you heal since they can address deeply buried hurt.
- recognize the greatest causes of reinjury for yourself and start to move away from them into activities and social groups that offer greater self-acceptance.
Prejudice and all the pain and emotional harm it does often hurt our health. Reclaiming our health is part of reclaiming our lives.
Deep-seated prejudices are being questioned more and more as the world becomes kinder.
As the world changes, we will all benefit and feel better, but as the process unfolds we all need to do our part by engaging with our own grief and grieving process as we join with others to create the world that we all want to live in.
It is worth the effort. We are worth the effort.