BERKELEY, CA – This week, a working group for the future DSM-VI, the well-recognized psychiatry diagnosis manual, announced that they will be focusing on the plethora of offensive encounters facing the average human being each day. Coining the term “nanoaggression.” Experts hope to build recognition from the growing awareness of the better-known microaggression – those everyday moments of disrespect that an increasing number of Americans are reported to endure daily. Prominently discussed on college campuses nationwide, the topic of microaggressions recognizes the seemingly minor, but powerful insults and offenses that many encounter during daily life. What is not as clearly known is the constant barrage of the even more insidious “nanoaggressions.”
According to social scientist Dr. Stanley Hurt, founder of the Institute for the Study of Aggression and Nanoaggression in Everyone (InSANE), the modern human being exists in a climate of near-continuous psychological danger, surrounded by potentially offensive situations.
In modern medical encounters, the potential for hidden insult is exponentially increased, especially when couched under the guise of “patient safety” or “quality.” In the hospital setting, researchers are only just now recognizing how many offenses can be given without anyone even realizing what has occurred. Such “nanoaggressions” take place in a deeper and more hidden way than even microaggressions.
Gregory Shaft, PhD, head of Embarrassment Research for InSANE, highlights the widespread hospital practice of asking patients for their date of birth. “This is a classic nanoagression, in that it reminds patients of their age and seeks to verbally place them in a position of weakness.” This deeply disturbing practice is repeated throughout a typical hospital admission, beginning at registration, prior to bedside procedures, in the operating room, and even at discharge. In some extreme cases, the patient’s date of birth is loudly and publically announced in the operating room in the presence of the surgeon, anesthesiologist, nurses, and many others.
Unlike the more obvious and blatant microaggressions, such as asking a patient if they have recently immigrated to the United States, “nanoaggressions” are more subtle but no less damaging. “Consider the oft-encountered offense of being looked directly in the eyes. Now imagine how this insulting experience would be dramatically magnified during an ophthalmologic exam!”
“Most Americans are acting offensively, and at the same time are themselves being offended by others, all without even trying,” notes Dr. Hurt. “Daily life for most of us is filled with sights, sounds, and encounters which can offend, and which are therefore objectively offensive.” He cited several examples in recent memory in which he was a victim to such aggressions, including being abruptly passed on the interstate by a speeding ambulance and being asked for his tetanus vaccination status by a triage nurse. “Most people are completely oblivious to the offensiveness of their actions. Take the question about my tetanus vaccine – it was so intrusive and it triggered all sorts of unwelcome memories of walking barefoot, buried metal, landfills – I could go on and on.”
“Once you open your eyes to these insidious ‘nanoaggressions,’ you realize that each day is overflowing with opportunities to be offended. The possibilities are endless.”