How To Understand Your Pain

During my most recent talks, I’ve had the pleasure, and challenge, of clarifying the differences between relational and social microaggressions. These are the “little t” terrors I mention repeatedly in the #2016SupremeLoveSummit. I want to share my thoughts with you because, when focused on healing, it’s important to be clear about the form, function, and origin of suffering. When these facets are not understood, healing can’t be focused.

So, here goes:

Relational microaggressions (little terrors) happen in relation to intimate partners. An intimate partner can be someone with whom you’re engaged sexually (i.e. sharing various forms of physical play or intercourse). An intimate partner can also be someone with whom you’re engaged emotionally (i.e. sharing high stakes communion with….a parent, sibling, best friend, significant other, spouse, etc.). These microaggressions are often fleeting, yet relentless criticisms, slights, put downs, erasures, gaslighting, splitting, countermanding, proxy recruiting, etc. They erode healthy concepts of self-worth little by little, over time. They block intimacy, as a result. And, here’s the trick: They’re small and sticky. They zip and whiz by in flashes, along a continuum in time. It may look like they disappear. You may think they do…somehow getting lost…swept under rugs and forgotten. Little terrors don’t work that way. They don’t disappear. They waft, then rest, just under the skin, behind the ear, on the tips of breasts, on eyelashes, between toes, within nostrils, between legs, and in the coils of hair. They rest all over, then cluster, and grow.

Social microaggressions (still little terrors) happen in relation to personal or professional acquaintances, strangers, or fictive characters created by authors, for example. These aggressions also happen in relation to teachers, waiters, police officers, colleagues, supervisors, TV shows, and news programs, etc. They’re descriptively the same as relational aggressions. They’re just often more ubiquitous because there are many more partners and participants involved in generating, inflicting, receiving, and carrying social microaggressions.

Relational macroaggressions (big Terrors) are most easily understood as the types of intimate partner violences that often make the news or you can file a police report about. Think: molestation, rape, battery, stalking, etc.

Social macroaggressions (big Terrors) are most easily understood as the types of public partner violences that also (can) make the news or be reported to authorities. Think: bullying, state-sanctioned violence, corporal punishment in schools, public harrassments and threats, etc.

I recently found a meme that offers one example of relational and social microaggressions (terrors), being spewed in tandem, from various relational and social partners. It is included at the end of this post.

These microaggressions terrorize recipients because of:

  1. their encompassing and continual nature (it’s nearly impossible to hide from them because they are sanctioned in many families and society as “caring” and “considerate” behaviors);
  1. their relentlessness (it’s very difficult to take breaks from them because they’re so uncompromisingly persistent in multiple realms of life); and because of
  1. their randomness (it’s very hard to prepare for them; they lack rhyme and reason)

Given these features, people who are marginalized in our society (particularly people of color and women, and people who are both of color and women) manage an exorbitant and disproportionate amount of emotional stress, cognitive weight, and somatic pain. This is, of course, in addition to the fact that socioemotional literacy (healthy awareness and expression of, and respect and affection for, Self and Others) is not taught in most homes or schools.


QUESTION: So, what are the results of this pain?

RESPONSE: An oceanic topography of t/Terrors exacted and experienced over the lifespan.

Thank God we can be saved, healed, made conscious, and empowered with counter rhetoric and practices to notice, build, manifest, receive, and give love, from the inside/out. #SupremeLove provides a way.


In the meantime, check out the meme. I am committed to noticing and healing when this type of microaggressive terror builds up in my Spectrum of Personhood. I am also committed to noticing and stopping this type of terror building up in schools and society. How? By remaining vigilant in my attempts to not do this to people. And, by selectively intervening or redirecting when I notice these terrors directed toward me or others.

I apologize to everyone that I have ever terrorized.

I apologize in my heart and will do so in person as well.

I forgive those who’ve terrorized me, remembering that they learned terrifying ways of thinking, speaking, believing, and relating, just as I have.

Now, I pledge to keep my exterior space as loving and wholesome as my interior space.

Will you join me?  #SupremeLoversUnite


Visuals credit: “Handcrafted by Valdanjello for iFunny :)” @

Jeanine Staples is Associate Professor of Literacy and Language, African American Studies, & Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. Her book, The Revelations of Asher: Toward Supreme Love in Self, is an endarkened, feminist, new literacies event (Peter Lang, 2016). In it, she explores Black women’s t/Terror in love. She produces research-based courses and methodologies that enable marginalized girls and women to realize internal revelations that fuel external revolutions.

Dr. Staples’ next book details the evolution of her acclaimed undergraduate course, The Philadelphia Urban Seminar. In it, she explores Supreme Love in schools. She shows how she generates curriculum and methodologies that incite anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-ableist pedagogical stances among teachers interested in urban education and equity for all people in schools and society.


Click here to join the Supreme Love Project group to ask Jeanine questions and comment on the blog.