Reflections on privilege

This subject seems very sensitive, not only because of the association with race and historical inequalities but perhaps also because what may appear privileged may also hide other neglects and hurts.


As a pale-skinned British woman, I am aware of only some of my blind spots, others regrettably are inevitably presumably submerged out of my awareness. I meditate and reflect on accessing further blind spots but I can only wait for these to become conscious.

Speaking with humility and thought hopefully leads to sensitive conversations able to take place, yet I fear inadvertently I am responsible for treading on other’s toes and speaking in ways which intrude on others' sense of dignity. I continue to try to become better informed and make efforts to get to know others who are different to me, enriching my sense of self invaluably, I can only hope at no or minimal cost to others.

It has been a learning curve to embrace my own privileges, which help with understanding the impact of my words and actions on others from different cultural backgrounds. It has been eye-opening to recognise the often hidden neglect within wealthy families. For example, the impact on children growing up with nannies who may have different values and ways of parenting to their own parents, to whom they then need to adjust, is extra stress for such children, and may well be often overlooked.

I wonder whether feelings of loyalty, shame and guilt, for example, may prevent individuals from reaching out for therapy help, about which I reflect on and work to make the response to these seeking help as comfortable as possible.

I speak to as many individuals as possible from different cultures and backgrounds to me, since I am interested in people but also in difference. Having studied Philosophy and Theology at a London, Jesuit College, with no known Catholic family background, my mind was opened in ways that I would never have imagined. I then studied Psychology of Religion at the same London University College (Heythrop) and again, these two years broadened my thinking beyond any expectations I could have imagined or hoped for. Inclusivity and fairness have been the main guiding principles throughout my life, my mother influencing these values, from a teaching background.

I recently met a man from Asia who spoke of his background in Africa and Asia where he lived and where his family were not lacking in any way materially. He was sent to boarding school in the UK at 11 years old and the parent then returned to Asia. At 13 years old, he relayed how he would go to one of the family homes and live there alone. The lack of guidance from his parents screams loudly, a young person becoming an adult at such a tender age. I wonder how many people have had to bring themselves up in this way.

Understandably, when anyone indicates a slight parental tone touches on pain and consequent defensiveness and it can be understood how hard it is to let others in when anger has had to be born and has settled internally as a mixture of upset and anger in the form of an armour to the world.

It is unsettling to understand that he is approached by others who want to talk to him about his privilege in financial terms and the often-resentful way in which this is expressed to him in a hostile envious manner, but having to take this on board whilst being aware of the lack of affection and parental guidance which presumably would not want to be shared with this person, is hard to bear. Perhaps we need to be mindful of what appears to be the case and remain open-minded to discovering more about a person before allowing our own resentments to be vented.   

I wonder if I am indeed entitled to write this little article but I hope that for what it’s worth, it may raise a reflective mindset, which I also need to keep deepening in myself, particularly as a pale-skinned British citizen who is only aware of the tip of the iceberg of my white privilege.

Having lived in London for the majority of my life, I am gladly surrounded by diversity. Yet, I understand increasingly just how much Black and Asian people suffer day in and day out due to micro and macro aggressions. I think that young people in particular have a hard time with authorities and there is much work to be done in this area, almost feeling that adolescence evokes envy and resentment in others.

Therapy can help to talk through feelings of shame and guilt in a safe and confidential environment, to process painful memories and change the way that one views such events in the past. It can be helpful to acknowledge racial differences in the therapy room to move to open and honest discussions, and ultimately to be heard and have a feeling of being understood by the therapist. I think that there is enormous potential in therapy to move forward with experiences of privilege and underprivilege, towards a better quality of life, requiring careful and sensitive work.

I enjoy working with individuals, couples and families from a diversity of backgrounds and cultures and I am used to holding open, creative dialogues about often very difficult experiences in therapy. If you need a safe, confidential place to start to think about sharing what is on your mind, please think about contacting me. I look forward to the possibility of our paths crossing in the near future. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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