Self-Care in the Face of Oppression

4 min read
Samantha Stein

Source: Samantha Stein

The philosopher Martin Buber tells the story of a well-known 17th-century Chasidic rabbi named Zusya, who, on his deathbed, became very fearful.

When his students asked him why, he said he feared standing before the judgment seat of G-d. His students were puzzled and tried to comfort him: Their leader had nothing to fear. Zusya was wise and kind.

Zusya answered them:

It is true. When I get to heaven, I won’t worry so much if G-d asks me, ‘Zusya, why were you not more like Abraham?’ or ‘Zusya, why were you not more like Moses?’ I know I would be able to answer these questions. After all, I was not given the righteousness of Abraham or the faith of Moses but I tried to be both hospitable and thoughtful. But what will I say when G-d asks me, ‘Zusya, why were you not more like Zusya?’

The challenge for all of us in life—our ultimate task—is to be our unique, authentic selves. Our best selves.

This, however, is often easier said than done. Especially for those whose very existence places them in a group hated for who they are.

Self-care is often viewed as a privilege that can seem out of reach for members of minority groups, but it’s necessary for self-preservation. It’s also essential for any of us to blossom into our best selves. So, how do we care for ourselves in the face of oppression, prejudice, or hate?

Several approaches can be helpful:

  • Allow yourself to feel however you need to feel. It is crucial to let yourself feel all your feelings regardless of how painful they are. This is an important act of honoring yourself.
  • Find trusted social support to share your feelings with. Many people may not understand what you’re feeling. Find those who can.
  • Make an appointment with a therapist to process the pain of current events. Having a safe space with a trusted person who is only there for you can be very helpful.
  • Find and embrace your community by engaging in places, spaces, and people that are physically safe, familiar, and culturally congruent. This can help with feelings of isolation and fear.
  • Challenge what’s considered normal. Be yourself even when it goes against the grain.
  • Set boundaries. Be empowered to tell people you don’t want to engage with them. Protect yourself from online craziness.
  • Take time to think. It’s good even when it may not be productive.
  • Take time for being. It’s always productive, even when you cannot immediately see the results.
  • Remember: Most life exists in the gray, between black and white.
  • Rest. Rest helps the mind be clear and can be a radically crucial act. Try transcendental meditation.
  • Have a gratitude practice. Take time daily to take stock of what you’re grateful for and learn.
  • Give it time. Sometimes, we must walk away from a situation and return to it later to get clarity.
  • Focus on what you can do. If you focus on what you can’t change, it leads to overwhelm and hopelessness. Putting your energy into what you can do leads to empowerment and hope.
  • Claim joy and pleasure despite a legacy of oppression. Remember those who came before you who thrived and lived their fullest lives.

Self-care is necessary for everyone, especially for members of oppressed or hated minority groups. Self-care can also be seen as a tool of resistance for people frequently exposed to systemic oppression and discrimination.

When we take care of ourselves, we thrive. Thriving is a profound way to assert our right to a fulfilling existence. We can only be our most creative and authentic selves when thriving.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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