Overcoming Internalized Oppression

One of the effects of unjust treatment is starting to believe the negative messages you hear about people who share your identity.

There are a lot of reasons why you may not like yourself at times. Feeling this way is a typical part of growing up. Maybe you don’t like yourself for a while because you’re disappointed with how you behaved in a certain situation, or maybe you’re feeling insecure because of your appearance. But do you ever dislike yourself because of, say, something you don’t have control over? Perhaps the color of your skin or your family’s socioeconomic situation?

What Is Internalized Oppression?

Oppression is a form of unjust treatment. One part of oppression is the long-standing untrue, harmful and negative messages that get circulated in society about certain groups of people. These groups often have identities that differ from those in power. This includes people with marginalized identities, and the harmful messages can be about their socioeconomic status, color of skin, culture, etc.

These messages can be so convincing that, even if you belong to the marginalized group and you know the messages aren’t true, you can start to believe them. Believing these messages and making them a part of the way you see yourself, is called internalized oppression.

Internalized oppression is harmful to your state of mind. It can cause you to dislike yourself and others like you based on your identity.

What Are the Signs of Internalized Oppression?

Internalized oppression can show up in many different ways. Some common signs of internalized oppression include:

Unhealthy behaviors

Changes in behavior that seem to help you cope with these stressful feelings can actually be harmful. For example, avoiding going outside because you don't want your skin to get tan or darker due to negative messages about people who have black or brown skin.


You may not want to be around people who share your identity.

Changes in performance

Feeling bad about yourself can affect how well you do at home, in school and in activity groups.

Tips on How to Deal

Internalizing oppression is not your fault. You can overcome negative thoughts and begin to heal by practicing healthy ways to cope.

Maintain a healthy social support network

Connect with other people who share the same experiences as you and support each other. If you or your friends notice one another internalizing negative stereotypes, remind each other why those stereotypes are wrong. You can also use this activity to reflect on who makes up your support network.

Stand up against oppression

If you experience unfair treatment (like discrimination or racism), or if you see someone else experience it, call out the unfair act or talk to a trusted adult.

Build pride

Take time to write out what's great about you and your identities. What makes you proud? What are your accomplishments and talents? Make a list and refer to it when you're feeling down. The Understanding Identity worksheet might be a good place to start!

Healing practices

Our day-to-day lives are full of naturally healing activities that can help when overcoming internalized oppression. These can look different for everyone. Try out your personal, familial or community healing practices and see what works for you. Some examples may include:

  • sharing a meal
  • time in nature
  • talking with peers or elders
  • gathering together
  • spiritual or faith practices.


If negative thoughts happen most or all of the time, talk to a trusted adult about the possibility of working with a mental health practitioner. Check out this resource on seeking mental health services and support under the age of 18.

Change to Chill Has More Tips On How to Overcome Internalized Oppression

If you’re dealing with internalized oppression and/or have in addition to other mental health concerns, like anxiety or depression, Change to Chill has more helpful resources for you. Explore our site to find more healthy ways to cope with hard feelings and do what works for you.