Implicit Biases and Prejudices: How They Can Keep You from Growing Spiritually

Prejudice and implicit bias are two concepts that we often talk about but don’t always understand. Prejudice is an attitude or opinion that is formed without any knowledge or experience of a subject. Implicit bias, on the other hand, is when we make judgments based on our unconscious assumptions and prejudices. In this blog post, we will explore how these two concepts can limit our spiritual growth and what we can do to overcome them. By recognizing the negative effects that prejudice and implicit bias can have on our lives, we can begin to take the necessary steps to break free from their shackles and become the best version of ourselves.

What is implicit bias?

We’ve all experienced it at some point – a backhanded compliment or an insensitive remark. Whether intentional or not, these comments can have a lasting impact on how we perceive ourselves and our place in the world. This type of behavior is called implicit bias. It is a form of prejudice that arises out of a person’s personal experiences and beliefs without conscious awareness. Implicit bias is pervasive in society and affects how we interact with each other and the decisions we make. It is based on stereotypes and assumptions about people’s backgrounds and can lead to discriminatory behavior. For example, when looking for a life coach, many people tend to assume that someone with a bigger following is more qualified to offer a service. This may or may not be true–what IS true in this situation is that this person has an excellent marketing team.

Implicit biases are often difficult to identify because they operate outside of conscious awareness. They can influence our thoughts, feelings, and behavior without us even realizing it. Even though we may think of ourselves as being open-minded and unbiased, implicit biases can still creep in and have an effect on our day-to-day interactions with others.
The key to reducing the impact of implicit bias is to become more aware of our own biases. Taking the time to reflect on our prejudices and the ways they might be influencing our decisions can help us become better allies and better people overall. By recognizing our implicit biases and actively working to challenge them, we can create a more just and equitable world for everyone.

Examples of how implicit bias can play out

One of the toughest jobs I’ve ever had was working at a residential facility for adolescents at the start of my social work career. I had worked the night shift for the first time in my life and was leaving when my boss met me at the door and said something that confused me at first. “I thought you’d work harder since your people always try harder”, she said.
She was referring to the fact that I am an immigrant.
Honestly, I was too shocked and sleep-deprived to understand what she was saying right then and there, but I vaguely recall telling her that my parents both worked all the time and decided that I didn’t want that kind of a work-life balance.

Everybody is sitting around saying, ‘Well, jeez, we need somebody to solve this problem of bias.’ That somebody is us. We all have to try to figure out a better way to get along.

Wilma Mankiller

My interaction with my boss was an example of a privilege assumption or the implicit bias that I must work harder because I am not American. According to her experience, immigrants tend to be humble and hardworking. I did not present this way and she felt it did not meet her expectation.
Implicit biases also come up in the form of unexpressed expectations you have of a person or group of people- in other words, your expectation of them is different from the expectation they might have of themselves and, consequently, may result in people underperforming and living without being fulfilled.
Another type of implicit bias I experienced is at training to become a CPR instructor. One of my coworkers and I had been chosen to be the trainers at our facility (same job as above) and so we drove to Nashville together to get our certifications. At the beginning of the class, when the instructor was calling roll, he left my name to the very end and, looking at me and then back at the paper, proceeded to egregiously mispronounce it. My first name is not ethnic by any means–as a matter of fact, it is a European first name.
The prejudice here was that this dark-skinned woman with a long name must pronounce it differently than it looks–a generalization.
I didn’t respond, but he kept mispronouncing my name and looking at me it until my coworker burst out laughing and corrected him. When he said my name correctly, I responded “I’m here.”
Was it petty? Maybe. Am I sorry? No.
The third example of how implicit biases can play out is from my personal life. For a long time, I did not want to befriend anyone who wasn’t part of my identified community (west Indian, millennial, and female-identified). It was a time in my life when I felt lonely and wanted the familiarity of people like me to help me feel safe. While it did help me feel safe, it also cut me off from relationships with people who may also help me feel safe and loved even though they were not similar to me in obvious ways.

The impact of implicit bias on your spiritual growth

Implicit bias is a survival mechanism that humans use to put the world into neat little boxes–everything has a designation and everyone behaves typically. This creates a false sense of safety because the world is not neat. The world is messy and complicated. The more we try to make it neat and simple, the greater the chance that our biases will lead us astray. Things and people spill over into one another, and many things have not immediately apparent layers. The world is much more complex than we want to believe. As a result, implicit bias is a problem because it leads to other phenomena like spiritual bypassing.

Spiritual growth is a way for you to thrive in an uncertain world and seeks to replace a fear-based fixed mind with an expansive and accepting growth mindset. This is not an easy task, but it is worth the effort because a growth mindset will help you to flourish.

The more you practice mindfulness and gratitude, the more your mind will relax into these states of being. This can help you develop a calmer approach to life and reduce the effects of implicit bias on yourself and others.

Steps you can take to overcome implicit bias

Overcoming implicit bias and prejudice is not an overnight job. It’s a difficult practice to master, but one that we can all benefit from. The number one remedy for the biases we unconsciously hold of other people and situations is a strong mindfulness practice. Whether you are working with your own implicit biases or those of the people around you, mindfulness can help us become more aware of these unconscious programming patterns and make better decisions about our lives.

Photo by Angela Roma on

Mindfulness is a powerful tool to help us break our biases and learn to be more open-minded. By taking the time to pay attention, we can notice where our thoughts and feelings are coming from, how they affect our behavior, how others around us are affected by their own biases, and how different perspectives can be used as tools for change in ourselves and others.

If you can be mindful and aware of what is happening at the moment, then you are less likely to be influenced by past programming that tells us how things “should” be. This can help us to be aware of our biases and make decisions based on facts, rather than assumptions.


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