Emotions in Discriminatory Situations


This activity aims to raise the issue of discrimination and its different forms. It should illustrate that people react to discriminatory practices and prejudices with various emotions. Even in the same situation, the reactions can be very diverse. Identifying these emotions leads — understandably — to the search for various solutions, to ways of defending oneself, to transformations in the life stance. In the discussion part of this activity, we focus on cases of discrimination defined by laws as well as on the whole range of practices that may create a favourable environment for the growth of discrimination.

This activity allows us to empathize with those of us who have experienced discrimination of different forms. Furthermore, it accentuates the variety of emotions provoked by any form of discrimination and the diverse reactions to discriminatory practices. Not classifying and not ordering situations according to the criterion of severity (e.g. from the most difficult to the least difficult one) is the basis for this activity. On the contrary, the activity tries to dismantle this notion of benchmark. This allows participants to put themselves in the position of another person, to understand their emotional reactions free from any judgement, and at the same time, to observe emotions of the others. With this technique, it is possible to expose — in a safe space — various coping mechanisms individuals develop during their lives while not being pushed to explain one’s reaction.


The lesser-used term for coping mechanism is the compensation strategy. This term points to the fact that it is a mechanism we use to compensate for something. Usually, it is a compensation for a difficult situation, a period of stress, a traumatic event, etc. There are two types of coping strategies: “Problem-focused” strategies, meaning we actively target the problem and try to solve it. Second type are “Emotion-focused” strategies. With these, we try to calm down. Therefore, they serve to reduce anxiety caused by a specific situation. 1

  1. Folkman, Susan, and Richard Lazarus. “An Analysis of Coping in a Middle-Aged Community Sample.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, no. 21, American Sociological Association, 1980, pp. 219–31, doi:https://doi.org/10.2307/2136617. ↩︎


Practical Information

Group Size

This activity is suitable for a group of any size. In the cases of especially large groups (approximately 30 people), it is possible to slightly change the activity and ask only a few participants in the discussion part. However, in this case, the facilitator must ask participants with various experiences (and rotate those speaking accordingly) so that no participant is stereotyped. Furthermore, it is preferable to ask all participants whether they would like to add something or comment on a discussed situation.


For this activity, reserve approximately 30 minutes in total to allow enough time for sharing after each story and for the discussion at the end.


Alternatively, when participants share their own stories:

Structure and Instructions

The facilitator presents the activity to the group, places Feeling Cards randomly in the room, and prepares sample stories. Next, the facilitator reads the first ‘story-situation’ out. The participants’ task is to imagine the emotion they would experience in this situation, find a card that resembles most accurately their emotion and stand next to it. When everyone in the group has chosen their card, participants are asked to share (voluntarily) reasons why they have selected a particular card for this situation. It is key that sharing is voluntary. The merit of this activity is the diversity of emotions that are picked, which is extremely likely to occur.

For this activity, it is key that the facilitator avoids judgemental language and respects all chosen variants as valid. After each willing participant shared their emotions, we can proceed to the next story.

“I’ve chosen confusion, because I would get this what-is-she-getting-at feeling, and then anger, because I’d want to go at her, right, but wouldn’t do it because of moral standards. And at the elementary [school] I’d feel, I don’t know what I’d feel — maybe something like humiliation when she says that to me in front of the others. That’s how I’d feel.”

Ben, 17 years, a reaction to one of the situations

“I guess I’d be nervous about the situation. I would inspect what’s wrong with my appearance and what she doesn’t like. I’d start analyzing what is wrong with my look. At first, I would think that I’m the problem, then I’d go there terribly nervous and worried whether it would be visible on the photo — the thing that’s wrong. [Later] I would even analyse people that look at the photo [to see if they notice] what looks so bad on me.”

Ellen, 22 years, a reaction to one of the situations


At the end of this activity, it is suitable to recap briefly all the previously mentioned situations. You may start a discussion with questions such as:

The facilitator may point out the diversity of emotions, the ways we work with them, highlighting that each one’s individuality is significant.

If anyone in your group wants to share their own story, you can decide for an alternative ending. Participants willing to share it can either tell their story or write it anonymously on a paper and put it into the box. Next, the activity continues as described. However, it is key to maintain a respectful and listening setting, so the story-teller(s) feel comfortable.